Skip to content

Jefferson Franklin Long: Georgia’s 1st black congressman

Born into slavery on March 3, 1836 in Alabama to a slave, Jefferson Long was the second African American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. Long served less than three months—the shortest term of any African-American member.

During the 1850s, his slave-holder family moved from Knoxville to Macon, taking Long with them. There, Long was sold to a prominent businessman. Still, by the end of the Civil War, Long was a flourishing. He started his own merchant tailor shop and was an active member of the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME) of Macon, which at the time was headed by Henry McNeal Turner. Under Turner’s direction, Long made his first political appearance at a meeting of the Georgia Educational Association in 1867. Long may also have had a hand in the establishment of Georgia’s Freedman’s Savings Bank, a project led by Turner and established through the AME Church.

Self-educated, Long was elected as a Republican to the Forty-first Congress to fill the vacancy caused by the House declaring Samuel F. Gove not entitled to the seat on December 22, 1870. Long served from January 16, 1871 to March 3, 1871. He was not a candidate for renomination, but still served as delegate to the Republican National Convention in 1880

Not only was Long Georgia’s first African American congressman; he was also the first African American ever to speak on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives. He spoke out against the Amnesty Bill, which restored political rights to most former Confederates in politics. Long argued against allowing unrepentant Confederates to return to Congress, noting that many belonged to secret societies like the Ku Klux Klan, which intimidated black citizens, and feigned loyalty to rebuild political strength.

According to John M. Matthews, author of Long, Jefferson Franklin, American National Biography, Long’s reputation as a radical politician eventually cost him his affluent white clientele. Unable to survive on income from his tailor shop, he started other businesses, including a liquor store and a dry-cleaning shop. He remained self-employed until his death in Macon on February 4, 1901.

Long was the last black Representative elected from Georgia until Representative Andrew Young won a seat in 1972.