James Thomas Rapier

James Thomas Rapier

Birth
Florence, Lauderdale County, Alabama, USA
Death 31 May 1883 (aged 45)
Montgomery, Montgomery County, Alabama, USA
Burial Saint Louis, St. Louis City, Missouri, USA
Plot Section 14, Lot 62, Grave 3
Memorial ID 6616007 · View Source
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US Congressman. He was an African-American Alabama Congressman serving in the United States House of Representatives during the Post-Civil War Reconstruction, who helped to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1875. Born as a free person in Alabama, he was the fourth son of an emancipated and very successful African-American barber, John Rapier and his wife Nancy; she was also born free. After his mother’s death during childbirth in 1841, he went to live in Tennessee with his grandmother, Sally Thomas. When he was nineteen-years-old, his father sent him to North Buxton, Ontario to live in a sanctuary for “run-away-slaves” that was started by a missionary of the Presbyterian Church. He studied at Montreal College; traveled to Scotland to study law at the University of Glasgow and was admitted to the bar; returned to the United States and attended Franklin College in Nashville, Tennessee obtaining a teaching certificate in 1863. There, he and his father became successful cotton planters. He began his political career with a keynote address at the Tennessee Negro Suffrage Convention in Nashville. He taught school in Nashville and was a reporter for a northern newspaper before returning to Alabama. He became active in the newly formed Alabama Republican Party and served as a delegate to the 1867 state constitutional convention. In 1869 he attended the founding convention of the National Negro Labor Union (NNLU) in Washington D. C. and, as the state president, traveled around Alabama organizing Negro labor unions. He was called a “carpet beggar”; driven from his home in the night by the Ku Klux Klan; and remained in seclusion for almost a year fearing for his life. He owned and operated the newspaper, “Montgomery Republican State Sentinel”, which was a first for an African American in Alabama. Appointed by the Governor of Alabama, he traveled to Vienna, Austria, as Alabama’s commissioner to the Fifth International Exposition; he wrote that once he stepped onto foreign soil, “distinctions on account of my color ceased”. He was not refused food and lodging there as he had been in his travels in the United States. After losing a bid for Alabama Secretary of State, he was elected in 1872 to the Forty-third United States Congress from Alabama's 2nd congressional district; he was one of three African-American congressmen elected from the state during the Post-Civil War Reconstruction Era. As a candidate for Secretary of State, he was the first Black man to run for office in the State of Alabama. While in Congress, he proposed that Congress appropriate $5 million to devote to public education in Southern schools; this was sadly defeated. He did introduce legislation designating Montgomery to be a federal customs collection site which was signed into law by President Grant. He lost his re-election to a conservative Democrat in 1874. By the time of this election, many Black voters were afraid to go to ballot boxes as the Ku Klux Kan had a present and over 100 people had been killed in the chaos of this campaign. He was appointed by the Republican President Grant as a collector for the Internal Revenue Service until failing health forced him to resign. He ran again for Congress in 1876 but was defeated. He purchased land in Kansas for a black settlement and lectured extensively on the advantages of Blacks settling in the West. He was appointed a disbursing officer for a federal building in Montgomery just before he died of pulmonary tuberculosis on May 31, 1883. While in Canada, he experienced a religious conversion and decided to devote his life to helping to promote his race’s civil rights and he did that. He never married. Author Loren Schweninger’s 1978 book “James T. Rapier of Alabama and the Noble Cause of Reconstruction” gives details on this man’s life. In 2007, he was inducted into the Walk of Honor and honored with a historical marker in River Heritage Park both in Florence, Alabama; his grave is unmarked.

Bio by: Linda Davis


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  • Maintained by: Find A Grave
  • Originally Created by: Connie Nisinger
  • Added: 18 Jul 2002
  • Find A Grave Memorial 6616007
  • Find A Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed ), memorial page for James Thomas Rapier (13 Nov 1837–31 May 1883), Find A Grave Memorial no. 6616007, citing Calvary Cemetery and Mausoleum, Saint Louis, St. Louis City, Missouri, USA ; Maintained by Find A Grave .