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Black History Month: John Mercer Langston

A trailblazer in Ohio politics, the Oberlin College graduate broke barriers throughout his life.

CLEVELAND — Throughout the month of February, we are highlighting accomplishments and achievements of Black men and women with ties to Ohio. 

Our focus is on politics, for these first few days, and we begin with John Mercer Langston, a man who spent his life breaking down barriers. 

The son of a Virginia plantation owner and slave mother, Langston was, himself, an emancipated slave. When both his parents passed away, Langston went to live with family friend, William Gooch in Chillicothe, Ohio. 

He enrolled in Oberlin College, graduated in 1849 as only the fifth African-American man to get a degree from the school. He also earned his Master's degree as well. But Langston was denied admittance to law school. Steadfast, he read the law under Philemon Bliss, an Elyria resident. In 1854 Langston passed the bar exam becoming Ohio's first African-American attorney. 

He established a law practice in Brownhelm Township, in Lorain County, and in 1855 he was elected township clerk, making him one of the very first black men elected to public office. 

Prior to the American Civil War, Langston helped runaway slaves along the Underground Railroad.  

During the Civil War, Langston was responsible for the formation of the 127th Colored Ohio Volunteer Infantry – and recruited regiments for the Union Army. 

After making significant contributions at Howard University and Virginia State University, John Mercer Langston became a U.S. Congressman representing the state of Virginia.  

To read more about the many contributions of John Mercer Langston, Oberlin College has a put together more information about their remarkable graduate in their archives, found here

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