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Menard, John Willis(1838–1893) - Politician, poet, Joins Post-Civil War New Orleans, Chronology

illinois african american kaskaskia

John Willis Menard was the first African American elected to the U.S. Congress. Though elected, he was not seated for this office. Menard went on to become a state legislator for Florida and to hold a number of civil service positions. Menard began various news publications throughout the course of his life that advocated for African American rights. Menard was also a poet; he wrote and published Lays in Summer Lands . Menard made many contributions as an activist, politician, writer, and publisher.

Joins Post-Civil War New Orleans

John Willis Menard was born in Kaskaskia, Illinois on April 3, 1838. Details of his early life and family background are scarce, but it is known that he and his family were not slaves. It is believed that both of his parents were born in Illinois, yet they were also believed to be of French Creole descent and to have had ties with New Orleans, Louisiana. Menard spent his first eighteen years in the small historic village of Kaskaskia. He worked on a farm in or around Kaskaskia during his adolescence. Menard attended an abolitionist school in Sparts, Illinois before attending Iberia College where James Monroe Trotter was a fellow classmate.

In 1859, twenty-one-year-old Menard delivered a speech at an event in Springfield, Illinois celebrating the end of slavery in the West Indies. In 1860, Menard penned and published An Address to Free Colored People of Illinois . During the Civil War, Menard became the first African American to work as a clerk in the Bureau of Immigration at the Interior Department in Washington D.C. The government sent Menard to the South American country of Belize to investigate the country as a possible foreign land for African Americans to relocate. Menard personally favored African Americans’ immigration to foreign lands. The journey rendered fruitless for his original search, but while traveling, he met and soon married Elizabeth, a young Jamaican woman. They had three children.



Born in Kaskaskia, Illinois on April 3


Publishes An Address to Free Colored People of Illinois


Wins Republican nomination for Louisiana Congressional seat; wins general election on November 3


Makes his case to Congress; first African American to stand on the floor of the United States House of Representatives during legislative proceeding; Congress refuses to seat Menard


Serves as Florida state legislator


Dies in Washington D.C. on October 8

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