Josiah T. Walls

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Josiah T. Walls
Member of the
U.S. House of Representatives
from Florida
In office
March 4, 1871 – January 29, 1873
Preceded byCharles M. Hamilton
Succeeded bySilas L. Niblack
In office
March 4, 1873 – April 19, 1876
Preceded bySilas L. Niblack
Succeeded byJesse J. Finley
ConstituencyAt-large (1873–1875)
2nd district (1875–1876)
Member of the Florida Senate
from the 13th district
In office
January 5, 1869 – January 3, 1871
Preceded byHoratio Jenkins
Succeeded byLeonard G. Dennis
In office
January 2, 1877 – January 4, 1881
Preceded byLeonard G. Dennis
Succeeded byJohn B. Dell
Member of the
Florida House of Representatives
from Alachua County
In office
June 8, 1868 – January 1, 1869
Succeeded byRichard H. Black
Personal details
Josiah Thomas Walls

December 30, 1842
Winchester, Virginia
DiedMay 15, 1905(1905-05-15) (aged 62)
Tallahassee, Florida
Political partyRepublican
Military service
AllegianceUnited States of America
Branch/serviceUnion Army
Years of service1863
UnitU.S. Colored Troops
Battles/warsAmerican Civil War

Josiah Thomas Walls (December 30, 1842 – May 15, 1905) was a United States congressman who served three terms in the U.S. Congress between 1871 and 1876. He was one of the first African Americans in the United States Congress elected during the Reconstruction Era, and the first black person to be elected to Congress from Florida. He also served four terms in the Florida Senate.[1]

Early life and education[edit]

Josiah Walls was born into slavery in 1842 near Winchester, Virginia to unknown parents. During the American Civil War, he was forced to work without pay as a slave for the Confederate army. He was captured by the Union Army in 1862 at Yorktown. He voluntarily joined the United States Colored Troops in 1863 and rose to the rank of sergeant major. He was discharged in Florida and settled in Alachua County, Florida. Thanks to some early education and self-tutoring during the war, Walls was able to work as a teacher in nearby Archer.[2]

Political career[edit]

State government[edit]

Walls served as a delegate to the state constitutional convention of 1868, representing Alachua County. Later that year, he was elected to the Florida House of Representatives from Alachua, along with his friend, Henry Harmon, serving in Florida's first Reconstruction Legislature.[3][4]

When State Senator Horatio Jenkins was appointed to a county judgeship, Walls decided to run in the special election to succeed him. He was elected to the Alachua and Levy County district on December 29, 1868, and took office in January.[3][5] Walls served as state senator for the 1869 and 1870 legislative session.[6]


In 1870, Walls was nominated as the Republican candidate for Florida's sole at-large congressional seat after a contentious party convention. A moderate faction of mostly white carpetbaggers, led by U.S. Senator Thomas W. Osborn, supported the freedman Robert Meacham, while the majority of black delegates were split between several more radical black candidates, including Walls. Walls won the nomination on the 11th ballot, after the other black candidates withdrew to prevent Meacham from winning.[3]

Walls went on to win the 1870 general election and serve in the 42nd Congress, but the vote was contested by Democrat Silas L. Niblack. The House Committee on Elections eventually unseated Walls after finding election irregularities.

Walls ran for the at-large congressional seat again in the 1872 election and won. In office, Walls introduced bills to establish a national education fund and aid pensioners and Seminole War Veterans.

In 1874, Walls ran for re-election to Congress in the newly redistricted 2nd district. Walls won the election but Democrat Jesse J. Finley, a former Confederate colonel, contested the results of the election. Finley was eventually declared the winner by the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives.

Return to state politics[edit]

Walls again sought the Republican nomination for the 2nd congressional district in 1876. After the black delegates split between Walls and another black candidate, the nomination went to a “white carpetbagger”, Horatio Bisbee. Walls instead ran for his old state senate seat, and served a four-year term. He lost re-election in 1880.[3]

Legal career[edit]

Walls was admitted to the bar in Alachua County in April 1873. He served as mayor of Gainesville although the exact dates are unknown; he resigned on 1 September 1873 and was succeeded by a white Republican, Watson Porter.[7] In June 1874, Walls formed a law partnership in Gainesville with Henry S. Harmon, who had been the first African-American admitted to the bar in Florida, and William U. Saunders. The next year Harmon and Saunders moved their legal practice to Tallahassee.[8]

Later life[edit]

Leaving politics, Walls operated a successful farm in Alachua County until the disastrous freeze of 1894–1895, which destroyed his crops. He took a teaching position as Farm Director of the State Normal and Industrial College for Colored Students, which much later would become Florida A&M University, in Tallahassee. After nearly a decade there, he died on May 5, 1905.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Klingman, (2017).
  2. ^ Burnett, Gene M. (1988). Florida's Past Volume 2 (1st ed.). Sarasota, FL: Pineapple Press. p. 46. ISBN 0910923590.
  3. ^ a b c d Brown, Jr., Canter (1998). Florida's Black Public Officials, 1867–1924. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press. p. 135. ISBN 0-8173-0916-0.
  4. ^ Young, Darius J. (Fall 2006). "Henry S. Harmon: Pioneer African-American Attorney in Reconstruction-era Florida". The Florida Historical Quarterly. 85 (2): 184. JSTOR 30150703.
  5. ^ Reed, Harrison (1868-11-17). "Proclamation for, and Notice of Election". The Weekly Floridian. Retrieved 2018-10-19.
  6. ^ People of Lawmaking in Florida
  7. ^ Klingman, Peter D. (2017). Josiah Wales, Florida's Black Congressman of Reconstruction. University of Florida Press. ISBN 978-1947372122. Sometime during this period, Walls became the mayor of Gainesville. Neither the exact dates of his term in office nor a record of his administration are available, but a few details are clear. He served in the summer of 1873, resigning on or about September 1. His successor, a pro-Walls white Republican, was Watson Porter, Gainesville postmaster and physician.
  8. ^ Young, Darius J. (Fall 2006). "Henry S. Harmon: Pioneer African-American Attorney in Reconstruction-era Florida". The Florida Historical Quarterly. 85 (2): 185–186, 189, 191. JSTOR 30150703.

Further reading[edit]

  • Klingman, Peter D. Josiah Walls: Florida's Black Congressman of Reconstruction. Gainesville: University Presses of Florida, 1976. ISBN 0-8130-0399-7
  • Rabinowitz, Howard N., ed. Southern Black Leaders of the Reconstruction Era (1982),


U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Florida's at-large congressional district

1871 – 1873
Succeeded by
Preceded by Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Florida's at-large congressional district

1873 – 1875
Succeeded by
Seat inactive
Preceded by
District created
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Florida's 2nd congressional district

1875 – 1876
Succeeded by