Menard continued by reviewing two major points of contention. First, he discussed the redistricting of the state by the Governor, his lawlessness in doing so, and the legality of the parishes voting in the special election. Second, he brought to light the overwhelming voter intimidation occurring in Louisiana. Comparing the Republican vote in several parishes for the new state Constitution in April of 1868 to the special election in November, he emphasized the massive drop off of Republican votes. Regardless, he still had more than his opponent.
Hunt declined to speak and Congress declined to act. After a vote, neither man garnered enough support to be declared the rightful occupant of the seat. Therefore, it was decided to leave it vacant until Republican Lionel Sheldon entered the seat two weeks later.
Menard moved on, relocating to Jacksonville, Florida, where he published Island City News and he and Elizabeth raised their three children, Alice, Willis, and Marie Jeanette. In 1874, he was appointed to the state’s House of Representatives. More voter intimidation and black voter suppression by the Democratic Party resulted in him losing reelection. However, Menard was elected as a justice of the peace for Duval County. Never losing his love for the written word, he published a collection of his poems entitled Lays in Summer Lands in 1879.
The Menards returned to Washington D.C. around 1889, where he obtained a job as a clerk in the U.S. Census office. Menard died four years later on October 9, 1893. He was originally laid to rest in Graceland Cemetery, but was removed to nearby Woodlawn Cemetery when Graceland closed the following year.
At the conclusion of the House assembly, future president, Rep. James A. Garfield of Ohio, reportedly commented, “It is too early to admit a Negro to the U.S. Congress.” This is an odd statement coming from a stanch abolitionist and black suffrage advocate, yet it is possible he felt moving too fast could destroy the Reconstruction progress Republicans had made in the South. Likewise, his remark was a potential response to the voter intimidation, complete with riots and massacres, occurring in Louisiana and other Southern states.
Before the end of the Civil War, Lincoln was already working with Louisiana to readmit them into the Union. Congress required the state to write a new Constitution which addressed equal rights for blacks, including schools, jobs, and suffrage. In his last speech, given days after General Robert E. Lee's surrender, Lincoln commended Louisiana on their efforts, encouraging the North and South to work together. Furious over Lincoln's praise, support, and encouragement for black suffrage, John Wilkes Booth rewarded the president's unifying message two days later with a bullet in the head. (see )
After Louisiana's readmittance into the United States in 1868 and giving voting rights to black males, several Republicans won various government positions and seats throughout the state. In response, Democrats organized under the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) and other supremacist groups as Democrat papers warned of consequences for voting Republican. They intimidated, threatened, beat, and killed Republicans, of which almost all blacks were at the time, to the point Republicans were terrified to vote in the fall elections. No man, woman, or child was free from the Democratic Party tyranny. (see )
Newly elected Republican Governor Henry Clay Warmoth later wrote in his book War, Politics, and Reconstruction: Stormy Days in Louisiana: “Secret Democratic organizations were formed, and all armed. We had ‘The Knights of the White Camellia,’ ‘The Ku-Klux Klan,’ and an Italian organization called ‘The Innocents,’ who nightly paraded the streets of New Orleans and the roads in the country parishes, producing terror among the Republicans.”
That September, a group of blacks from Opelousas in St. Landry Parish attempted to register with a Democratic Party political group in the neighboring city of Washington. Members of the Seymour Knights unit in Opelousas, part of The Knights of the White Camellia, gathered local white Democrats and went to Washington. They violently attacked the black citizens, forcing them away from the Democratic Party. Emerson Bentley, the 18-year-old editor of a Republican newspaper in Opelousas called The St. Landry Progress, responded with an article describing the attack and capitalized on the event to encourage blacks to remain loyal to the party that freed them, the Republican Party.
A schoolteacher by day, Bentley championed the education of freedmen, or free African-Americans, as well as Creole people. A fierce advocate of civil rights, especially for the newly freed slaves, Bentley traveled to the South from Ohio to help the freedmen receive an education, find jobs, and use their political voice. His ambitions did not sit well with the white Southern Democrat as he received a note on the schoolhouse door reading, “E.B. Beware! K.K.K”, complete with a drawing of a coffin, a skull and bones, and a dagger dripping blood.
With the presidential elections quickly approaching in November, Republicans in Washington held a meeting and were greeted by a massive group of armed Seymour Knights. Narrowly avoiding a riot following a rifle misfire, the evening ended peacefully. However, Democrats threatened Bentley demanding he print an “honest” account of the evening's events.
Bentley’s article highlighted the Democrat intimidation, earning him a visit at his school by Democrats John Williams, James R. Dickson, and constable Sebastian May on September 28, 1868. After forcing Bentley to sign a retraction, Dickerson proceeded to beat him mercilessly. Southern Democrats praised Democrat Rep. Preston Brooks for doing the same thing on the Senate floor to Republican Party founder Sen. Charles Sumner in 1856 as it was their standard modus operandi. (see ) As terrified children scattered, a small group of freedmen gathered to rescue Bentley, which sparked rumors of a black rebellion within the highly white Democrat populated parish. Thousands of well armed white men responded with another massive killing spree. Historian Carolyn deLatte commented: “St. Landrians reacted to armed Negroes and rumors of an uprising in the same manner that Southerners had reacted for generations. If anything, the vengeance visited upon the Negro population was greater, as blacks were no longer protected by any consideration of their monetary value.” Many believed Bentley was killed, however he nearly escaped with his life, fleeing back to the North.
The massacre endured for two weeks as black families were executed in their homes, or chased and killed in cold blood in public. Even C.E. Durand, the St. Landry Progress's other editor, was killed. While the actual number varies, estimates indicate roughly 250 people, mostly blacks, were murdered during the Opelousas Massacre. Democrats also burned every Republican newspaper office in the area, silencing all accurate reports of their actions as Democrat papers glossed over their atrocities as just a regular day in the city. As a result, not one single Republican vote was counted in St. Landry Parish in the November election.
This bloodbath, along with other riots and killings that summer, prompted Menard to state in his speech, “I ask this House to give these men (Republican voters)—most of whom were colored—some consideration, and not allow the rebel votes to be counted against them.”
From Menard’s election in 1868 until 1898, voters elected 23 black men, all Republican, to the House and the Senate. The Mississippi legislature elected Hiram Rhodes Revels as the first African-American senator in January of 1870. (see ) When Democrats in Congress bulked at seating Revels, Sen. Sumner demanded he be sworn in refusing to allow the Senate to do to Revels what the House did to Menard. (see and ) Later that year, Congress swore in Joseph Hayne Rainey, the first African-American to be seated in the House of Representatives. (see ) As Democrats returned to power in Southern states, district gerrymandering, intimidation, poll taxes, and voter suppression eventually resulted in blacks losing their presence in Congress. (see and )
Liberty, the more things change, the more things stay the same. Radical leaders in the Democratic Party are still silencing Republican voices, all to cover up their own atrocities. With over 85% of journalists registered Democrats, and not even one registered Republican in the White House press corps, political reports are saturated with opinion and bias instead of facts and truths. When Fox News started in the mid-1990's as the conservative voice in media, the mainstream media immediately began its attack as radical fake news. It was eventually branded "Faux News" on Social Media during and by the Obama Administration, not because they were wrong, but because they were exposing the truth.
Platforms such as FaceBook and Twitter, who promise open dialogue, are run by deeply rooted leftists who silence every Conservative they can, permanently banning voices who dare criticize liberals, Islamists, LGBTQ, or any social issue worshipped by progressives. Meanwhile, progressive darlings can call Jews termites while praising and calling for their demise without even a yawn from social media. Tech giant search engines like Google and Yahoo! suppress and hide conservative news websites, burying search results of their pages to beyond page 1.
Today's political correctness police are just the modern day KKK, both spawned from the Democratic Party. They intimidate Republicans and Conservatives, burning down their news sites, social media pages, radio shows, and YouTube submissions. How many times have I told you, Liberty, if you do not know history you are doomed to repeat it? I give you today's Democratic Party, who have only replaced their white hoods and torches with anonymous computer handles and keyboards. But like Menard, we must continue to stand and preach the truth regardless of the consequences.
That’s my 2 cents.
February 27, 2019
The crowded Chamber hushed as John walked into the room. All eyes focused on him as he greeted House members and took his seat. When the Speaker recognized him, John stood to argue his case and to make history.
John Willis Menard was born on April 3, 1838, in Kaskaskia, Illinois, to free parents, often described as Creoles. This means their ancestry included both European and black, especially Caribbean, blood. Canadian born fur trader, Pierre Menard lived in Kaskaskia and owned several slaves. The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 forbid slavery in the Northwest Territory. (see ) However, slavery was tolerated for several more decades in Illinois, which reinstated a system of indentured servitude with service lasting up to 40 to 99 years. (see ) Becoming the state’s first lieutenant-governor in 1818, Pierre is believed to be John’s grandfather, as stated in multiple newspapers throughout John’s lifetime.
After finishing school in Sparta, Menard traveled to Ohio where he attended Iberia College, now Ohio Central College. Founded by the Free Presbyterian Church, it was one of the few colleges at the time to admit black students. Following his two years of study, Menard traveled to Canada for a time. Upon his return, he enlisted in the army where he served as a hospital steward.
During the Civil War, Menard initially moved to Washington D.C. to write for several African-American newspapers. Before long, those in the abolition movement, as well as the administration, took notice. As a result of a lively debate with Frederick Douglass regarding a colony for freed slaves, President Abraham Lincoln’s Commissioner of Emigration appointed John a clerk in the Department of the Interior. (see ) It was one of the first appointments of a black man to an administrative position in the federal government. Supporting the idea of instituting settlements for freed slaves, Lincoln sent Menard to Honduras in 1863 to explore such a possible colony.
Following the war, Menard spent a short period in Jamaica where he met and married Elizabeth. While fighting for rights for the black people there, he participated in the Morant Bay Rebellion, which began on October 11, 1865. Shortly after, the couple returned to the United States and settled in New Orleans where Menard began the newspaper The Free South, later named The Radical Standard.
When United States Congressman James Mann died in August of 1868 after only serving a month, Menard entered the special election as a Republican to fill the 2nd Congressional District seat left by the Democrat until the new Congressman was sworn in on March 3, 1869. During his campaign he emphasized: “The freeing of the long-oppressed race will not be adequate, and the great cause of equal rights will not be accomplished, until the colored man is seen in every department of the Government.”
Menard won the seat on November 3, 1868, receiving 64% of the vote, becoming the first black man ever elected to the United States Congress. However, he was not the first to serve. His opponent, Democrat Caleb S. Hunt, contested the election. Therefore, to settle the matter, the two men were invited to Washington to address the House.
On February 27, 1869, John Menard stood on the House floor to speak, the first black man ever to do so in the country’s history. He began his remarks, stating: “I have been sent here by the votes of nearly nine thousand electors, I would feel myself recreant to the duty imposed upon me if I did not defend their rights on this floor. I wish it to be well understood, before I go further that in the disposition of this case I do not expect, nor do I ask, that there shall be any favor shown me on account of my race, or the former condition of that race. I wish the case to be decided on its own merits and nothing else.”
RIOTS AND RIGHTS
He then challenged Hunt’s actions in contesting the election.
“As I said before the Committee of Election, Mr. Hunt, who contests my seat, is not properly a contestant before this House, for the reason that he has not complied with the law of Congress in serving notice upon me of his intention to contest my seat...the gentleman had sufficient time to comply with the law of Congress if he had chosen to do so…I think that if Mr. Hunt did not know the law of Congress, he was a very poor subject to be sent to Congress.”