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"All we ask is Equal Rights"

African-American Congressmen, Judges & Lawmakers in South Carolina

Compiled by W. Lewis Burke

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Stephen A. Swails (1832-1900)

Stephen A. SwailsSwails was born in Columbia, Pennsylvania on February 23, 1832. He was a boatman on the Chemung Canal in New York State until enlisting in the 54th Massachusetts Regiment during the Civil War. He rose to become the first African-American commissioned officer in the U.S. Army. After the war, Swails came to South Carolina where he was employed by the Freedman's Bureau. Swails served as a delegate to the State Constitutional Convention in 1868. He was elected by Williamsburg County to the State Senate in 1868 and became the first African-American President Pro Tempore of the Senate in 1872, a position he held until his resignation from the Senate in 1877. While a senator, Swails began studying law and earned admission to the bar in 1872. After leaving the Senate, he practiced law in Kingstree until his death in 1900.



Bailey, N. Louise, Mary L. Morgan, and Carolyn R. Taylor. "Stephen Swails." In Biographical Directory of the South Carolina Senate 1776-1985, edited by N. Louise Bailey, vol. III. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1986.

Work, Monroe N. "Some Negro Members of Reconstruction Conventions and Legislatures and of Congress." Journal of Negro History 5 (January 1920): 63-119.