John Mercer Langston was born in Louisa County, Delaware, on 14th December, 1829. His mother was a black slave and his father a Virginian plantation owner. An orphan by his fifth birthday, he was sent to be looked after by relatives in Ohio.
Langston was educated at Oberlin College and after graduating in 1849 he became active in the anti-slavery movement. At eighteen he made a speech on helping fugitive slaves at America's first National Black Convention.
A member of the Republican Party, Langston became involved in local politics and in 1855 was elected as the town clerk of the Brownhelm Township. During the Civil War he helped recruit black soldiers to fight in the Union Army.
A founder member of the National Equal Rights League, Langston was elected president of the organization in 1864. Five years later he helped establish the Colored National Labour Union. At the opening meeting Langston proudly announced: "In our organization we make no discrimination as to nationality, sex or colour."
In 1869 Langston was appointed professor of law of Howard University, Washington. A post he held until 1877 when he became the United States government's minister to Haiti. Langston returned to the United States in 1885 after being elected president of the Virginia Normal and Collegiate Institute.
Langston represented Virginia in the House of Representatives between September, 1890 to March, 1891. John Mercer Langston died in Washington on 15th November, 1897.
Slavery in the United States (£1.29)