Friday, April 16, 2010


They ask no favors, they desire; and must have; an equal chance in the race of

- John Roy Lynch

By Cleo E. Brown

John Roy Lynch was born on September 10th, 1847 near Vidalia, Concordia Parish, Louisiana. Like Booker T. Washington, he was born a slave. His father, named Patrick Lynch, was a Caucasian Immigrant from Ireland who owned a modest plantation near Vidalia. His mother, named Catherine White, was a mulatto slave. Throughout the United States, but particularly in the Southern United States, the status of African-American children was determined according to the status of the mother. This law was established by the slave-holding south to protect the investment which the slave-owner had in his slaves, and to prohibit the wealth of the United States from falling into the hands of African-Americans through inheritance. John Roy Lynch had two older brothers named William and Edward. It is not clear if they, also, were slaves.

Patrick Lynch died from a rare bone disease before he was able to move his family to New Orleans where ha had planned to free them. After his death, John Lynch moved to Natchez, Mississippi in 1863 with his mother where they were both held as slaves. A family friend of Patrick Lynch took possession of Lynch’ property, including his slaves, upon Lynch’ death. The friend, subsequently, sold the Lynch Family to a planter from Natchez, Mississippi since the slave status of John and his mother would have been compromised if they remained in New Orleans. Despite moving the Lynch Family into the deep south to escape losing the valuable assets they had tied-up in their slaves, The Lynch Family was freed by 1864 with the passage of The Emancipation Proclamation by President Abraham Lincoln, and the advance into the deep south and Mississippi by the Union Army.

John Lynch was the recipient of very little formal education. (Arlington National Cemetery Website: “John Roy Lynch, Major, United States Army, Member of Congress, p.1) Having only four months of night school, Lynch worked a variety of odd jobs before he found his niche in Government. John Lynch’ first jobs were as a valet to Patrick Lynch and to Alfred W. Davis. Upon Lynch’ death, he went to work for Davis whom Lynch claimed was “reasonable and fair”. (Black Americans in Congress- “John Roy Lynch, Representative from Mississippi”) With emancipation (freedom) Lynch went to work as a cook for the 49th Illinois volunteers regiment where he learned the trade of photography. (p.1) According to Black Americans in Congress, with this newly acquired skill “He subsequently managed a photographer’s studio. Lynch’ business prospered, and he invested in local real estate.”(p.1)

In 1869, Lynch was appointed by Governor Ames of Mississippi to serve as a Justice of The Peace. (Congressional Biographies, “John Roy Lynch”, p.1) During the same year Lynch was elected to the Mississippi Legislature (State House of Representatives) where he served from 1869-1873. During his last term in the House he was elected as Speaker of the House. (Reminiscences of an Active Life: the Autobiography of John Roy Lynch) According to his autobiography, John Roy Lynch became the first African-American from Mississippi to be elected to the United States Congress at the age of twenty-five. Elected as a Republican, he served from March 4th, 1873 to March 3rd, 1877 in the 43rd and 44th Congresses. He was also a delegate to The Republican National Convention in 1872, 1884, 1888, 1892, and 1900. He also served, for a period of time, as the Chairman of the Republican National Committee. (Arlington National Cemetery Website, p.3 and Congressional Biographies, “Lynch, John Roy {1847-1939}” p.1) Having lost his election to the 45th Congress, he “successfully contested the election of James R. Chalmers to the 47th Congress consequently serving from April 29, 1882 to March 3rd, 1883.” With the end of Reconstruction, however, and the loss of greater educational, professional, and political opportunities for African-Americans Lynch returned to his plantation in Adams County, Mississippi.

According to Congressional Biographies: “Lynch was chairman of the Republican State executive committee from 1881-1889;{He was a} member of the Republican National Committee for the State of Mississippi 1884-1889; {He was} temporary chairman of the Republican National Convention at Chicago in 1884; {He was the} Fourth Auditor of the Treasury for the Navy Department under President Harrison 1889-1893; studied law; {He} was admitted to the Mississippi bar in 1896; {He} returned to Washington D.C. in 1897, where he practiced his profession until 1898, when he was appointed a Major and additional paymaster of Volunteers during the Spanish-American War by President William McKinley;{He} was appointed by President McKinley as a paymaster in the Regular Army with the rank of captain in 1901; {He}was promoted to major in 1906;{He} retired from the Regular Army in 1911; {He}moved to Chicago, Ill., in 1912 and continued the practice of his profession until his death in that city on November 2, 1939.”(p.1)In addition to writing his autobiography entitled Reminiscences of an Active Life,

John Lynch also wrote a revisionist history of Reconstruction entitled The Facts of Reconstruction. According to Historian Eric Foner, Most Reconstruction Histories of the era tended to derive from the Dunning School of Reconstruction which promoted the racial theories of the old planter and slave-holding Aristocracies of the South; discounting and scoffing at the accomplishments of African-Americans during this era. Lynch took these theories to task recording the accomplishments of African-Americans throughout The Reconstruction Era.
John Lynch was married twice. His first wife, whom he married in 1884, was named Ella Sommerville. John and Ella Lynch had one child together who was a daughter named Alice. The couple, however, divorced. He then married Cora Williams in 1911. After the marriage, the couple moved to Chicago where John Lynch practiced law and continued to amass a fortune in real estate. John Lynch died in Chicago at the age of ninety-two on November 2, 1939. When he died he was in the process of editing his autobiography. (Black Americans in Congress, p.4) John Roy Lynch was buried in Arlington National Cemetery with Military Honors. He was survived by his wife, his daughter named Alice, and a niece and a nephew. (Arlington National Cemetery Website, “John Roy Lynch; p.4) When he died, he died with the rank of U.S. Army Major.

About The Author: Cleo E. Brown has a Master’s Degree in Contemporary African-American History from The University of California at Davis in Davis, California. She also has a B.A. Minor Degree in Political-Science and has completed course work towards a Ph.D. in Education from The University of San Francisco in San Francisco, California. She is a Free Lance Writer and a Senior Editor at HHR


Used Lexus said...

its been years since i have seen such a real post....enjoyed reading about the great personality...thanks a bunch though..


commoncents said...

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Common Cents