On April 2, 1855, John Mercer Langston - the first African-American in the country to be elected to public office - became clerk of Brownhelm Township, Ohio.
Langston was born free in Louisa County, Va., in 1829. His father was a white planter, and his mother was an emancipated slave who was half black and half Native American. Both died when he was 5, and he went to live with a white family in Chillicothe. He later lived in Cincinnati, where he kept company with freedmen.
He earned a bachelor's and a master's degree from Oberlin College. No law school would admit him, so he read law under Philemon Bliss of Elyria. Langston became Ohio's first black lawyer after passing the bar in 1854. He practiced in Brownhelm, where he was elected town clerk. He later served on Oberlin City Council and the Oberlin Board of Education. Langston organized black volunteers for the Union during the Civil War, and he was appointed educational inspector for the Freedman's Bureau afterward.
Langston helped organize the law department at Howard University in Washington, D.C., and he served as U.S. consul-general in Haiti for eight years. He was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1888. Langston died in 1897.
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