John R. Lynch (1847-1939) was one of the first African Americans to serve in the United States Congress. Born into slavery near Vidalia, Louisiana (across the Mississippi River from Natchez), Lynch rose quickly in the world of state and national politics after the Civil War. He was a member of the Mississippi Legislature from 1869-1873, serving as speaker of the house of the representatives. In 1873, Lynch was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, serving for two terms until 1877, and again from 1882-1883 after winning a contested election.
Lynch strongly supported the Civil Rights Bill of 1875, which would ban discrimination on public transport and facilities, and facilitate equal education in schools. He also advocated against the racially divided politics of the day and sought to help his constituents economically.
After his last term in Congress, Lynch stayed active in politics, running unsucessfully for the House seat three times and serving on the Republican National Committee. He opened a law practice in Washington, D.C. in 1897 and served in the U.S. Army until 1911. Lynch published several articles and a book, The Facts of Reconstruction, that defended Reconstruction policies in the South. He died while editing his autobiography, Reminiscences of an Active Life, which was published in 1970. Copies of both books are in the MDAH Collection at the Winter Building.
The portrait photograph above is from 1870.
Sources: Westley F. Busbee, Jr., Mississippi: A History (Wheeling, Illinois: Harlan Davidson, Inc., 2005), 154.
Office of History and Preservation, Office of the Clerk (U.S. House of Representatives), “John Roy Lynch” in Black Americans in Congress, 1870-2007 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2008) http://baic.house.gov/member-profiles/profile.html?intID=8 (accessed August 18, 2010).