Department Home | TSLA Home

Biographies of 19th Century Legislators


38th Tennessee General Assembly, 1873-1874

Sampson W. Keeble
Born into slavery in Rutherford County, he was elected to represent Davidson County in the 38th General Assembly, 1873- 1874. He was the first African American to serve in the Tennessee legislature. Read more.

42nd Tennessee General Assembly, 1881-1882

John W. Boyd
A former slave who became a respected attorney and magistrate in his hometown of Mason, Boyd served two terms representing Tipton County in the Tennessee House of Representatives, failing in an attempt to became the first black state senator. Read more.

Thomas F. Cassels
Born free in southern Ohio, this Memphis attorney represented Ida B. Wells in her lawsuit against the railroads. He was the first black lawyer admitted to the Memphis bar, and the first to plead before the West Tennessee Supreme Court. Read more.

Isham (Isaac) F. Norris
Norris was a grocer and fuel dealer from Memphis, elected as a Republican to the Tennessee General Assembly. After his service in the legislature, he lived in the Oklahoma Territory for a while, later moving his family to Seattle where he ran a livery stable and a transfer company.
Read more.

Thomas A. Sykes
A former member of the North Carolina legislature, a U.S. revenue official, a partner in two Nashville stores, and later a school superintendent, he represented Davidson County in the General Assembly. Read more.

43rd Tennessee General Assembly, 1883-1884

John Boyd
2nd term.

Leon Howard
A Memphis porter, janitor, and cook, this Republican legislator defeated two popular African American politicians running as Democrats, to represent Shelby County in the General Assembly. He later moved his family to Bakersfield, California. Read more.

Samuel A. McElwee
A former slave who paid for his education by picking fruit, hauling turf, and peddling patent medicines, McElwee served three terms in the Tennessee House, even being nominated as Speaker, before being driven from Haywood County by night riders. Read more.

David Foote Rivers
Born free in Alabama, Rivers represented Fayette County in the legislature. He attended Roger Williams University on a Peabody Scholarship, earning a degree in theology and later teaching there. After being driven out of his county, he moved his family to Kansas and then to Washington, D.C. Read more.

44th Tennessee General Assembly, 1885-1886

Samuel McElwee
2nd term

Greene E. Evans
A former slave who worked tirelessly to become well-educated, this Republican businessman from Memphis was a member of the original Fisk Jubilee Singers. He spent his final years as a coal dealer in Chicago. Read more.

William A. Feilds
A school teacher and superintendent following Emancipation, he represented Shelby County in the legislature. Later he served as a notary public, Justice of the Peace, and county magistrate, honored by a memorial resolution from the County Court. Read more.

William C. Hodge
We know little about the early years of Hodge, who had been a jailer, railroad agent, contractor, stone cutter, house mover, and alderman in Chattanooga before being elected to the General Assembly. Read more.

45th Tennessee General Assembly, 1887-1888

Samuel McElwee
3rd term

Monroe W. Gooden
The only African American Democrat elected to the Tennessee General Assembly during the 1800s, Gooden was born a slave in Fayette County, which he later represented in the House. He was a prosperous farmer who came to own the very plantation where he had been a slave. Read more.

Styles Linton Hutchins
Born free in Georgia, this dynamic legislator was among the first black lawyers admitted to the South Carolina bar, the first admitted to the Georgia bar, and later a member of the bar in both Tennessee and Illinois. He and a law partner won a landmark Supreme Court case that is still studied in law schools. Read more.

50th General Assembly, 1897-1898

Jesse M. H. Graham
A Republican newspaper editor from Clarksville, he was the only African American legislator elected in the 19th century who was not permitted to serve a single term. Many news sources of the period list him as Sam Houston’s grandson. Read more.


Click here for a one-page informational chart about these legislators.