John Mercer Langston (1829-1897) was a lawyer, abolitionist, educator, and a member of the House of Representatives.
Langston was the first African American lawyer in the state of Ohio and helped found Howard University School of Law in 1869. He was appointed dean in 1870 and enrollment increased from 6 to 22 in those two years. 1870 was also the year black men earned the right to vote.
As a lawyer, Langston focused on the issues of black citizens of the time. He never attented law school, and instead, educated himself until he passed the Ohio bar examination. He became the first black man to hold an elected office position in America as a town clerk in Ohio (1854).
He helped slaves travel along the Underground Railroad in Ohio and assembled troops during the Civil War, forming the first black regiment in the nation.
Langston is best known for all of his “firsts” as an African American man in America. So often we either forget who was behind the greatness we see, or we think that because someone was already the first, we can’t strive to be the next. I did not know Langston, but I would like to think he never thought in terms of “I am going to be the first black man to…” I like to think he just thought about being his best and from that was able to do so many things we can now remember and honor him for.