During Reconstruction, One Speech Stunned The Country

John Mercer Langston portrait
Leslie Taylor-Grover
April 20, 2023

Post-emancipation, Black Americans were fighting tooth and nail for enfranchisement and access – especially in politics. So, when John Mercer Langston lost his bid for the 1889 Republican ticket, he suspected something racist was afoot. He was right.

Running for office was his attempt to insert the Black voice into American socio-political life. Langston faced opposition at every turn. His racist opponent wouldn’t even debate him.

He eventually won – but the establishment kept fighting him.

It took 18 MONTHS of battling for his win to be confirmed. Afterward, bitter racists completely sabotaged his re-election campaign. So he made what remained of his short stint in Congress unforgettable.

In 1891, he gave a powerful speech: “We will increase and multiply until, instead of finding every day five hundred Black babies turning their bright eyes to greet the rays of the sun, the number shall be five thousand ... There is no way to get rid of us. This is our native country." Congress was stunned.

Langston, brother of abolitionist Charles Henry Langston, great uncle to Langston Hughes and one of five Black Senators in Congress during Reconstruction, had the last laugh.

Despite the racist barriers put in our way, we, too, must combat anti-Blackness at every turn.