John Willis Menard
John Willis Menard was the first African American elected to the United States Congress.

Menard was born in Kaskaskia, Illinois
Kaskaskia, Illinois
Kaskaskia is a village in Randolph County, Illinois, United States. In the 2010 census the population was 14, making it the second-smallest incorporated community in the State of Illinois in terms of population. A major French colonial town of the Illinois Country, its peak population was about...

, to parents of Louisiana Creole
Louisiana Creole people
Louisiana Creole people refers to those who are descended from the colonial settlers in Louisiana, especially those of French and Spanish descent. The term was first used during colonial times by the settlers to refer to those who were born in the colony, as opposed to those born in the Old World...

 descent from New Orleans who were free people of color
Free people of color
A free person of color in the context of the history of slavery in the Americas, is a person of full or partial African descent who was not enslaved...

. He may have been related to Michel Branamour Menard
Michel Branamour Menard
Michel Branamour Menard was one of the founders of Galveston, Texas.Menard was born in Montreal and worked for John Jacob Astor in the fur trade for a time. He was involved in fur trading with the Shawnee first out of Detroit, and later in Missouri. He later shifted into the mule and horse...

, a French-Canadian
French people
The French are a nation that share a common French culture and speak the French language as a mother tongue. Historically, the French population are descended from peoples of Celtic, Latin and Germanic origin, and are today a mixture of several ethnic groups...

 fur trade
Fur trade
The fur trade is a worldwide industry dealing in the acquisition and sale of animal fur. Since the establishment of world market for in the early modern period furs of boreal, polar and cold temperate mammalian animals have been the most valued...

r and a founder of Galveston, Texas
Galveston, Texas
Galveston is a coastal city located on Galveston Island in the U.S. state of Texas. , the city had a total population of 47,743 within an area of...

. John Menard attended school in Sparta, Illinois
Sparta, Illinois
Sparta is a city in Randolph County, Illinois, United States. The population was 4,486 at the 2000 census.The city was the principal filming location for the 1967 film In the Heat of the Night.-Geography:Sparta is located at ....

, and Iberia College in Iberia, Ohio
Iberia, Ohio
Iberia is a census-designated place in western Washington Township, Morrow County, Ohio, United States. The community is served by the Northmor Local School District which operates Iberia Elementary School in the community. Iberia is near to Galion, and Martel. The ZIP code assigned to Iberia by...


During the Civil War he worked as a clerk in the Department of the Interior under President Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of the United States, serving from March 1861 until his assassination in April 1865. He successfully led his country through a great constitutional, military and moral crisis – the American Civil War – preserving the Union, while ending slavery, and...

. He was sent to British Honduras
British Honduras
British Honduras was a British colony that is now the independent nation of Belize.First colonised by Spaniards in the 17th century, the territory on the east coast of Central America, south of Mexico, became a British crown colony from 1862 until 1964, when it became self-governing. Belize became...

 in 1863 to investigate a proposed colony for newly freed slaves. After the war he settled in New Orleans.

In an 1868 special election to fill the unexpired term of James Mann
James Mann
James Mann is an American journalist, and senior writer-in-residence at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies.-Life:He graduated from Harvard University with a B.A...

 (who had died in office), Menard, a Republican
Republican Party (United States)
The Republican Party is one of the two major contemporary political parties in the United States, along with the Democratic Party. Founded by anti-slavery expansion activists in 1854, it is often called the GOP . The party's platform generally reflects American conservatism in the U.S...

, was elected to represent Louisiana's 2nd congressional district
Louisiana's 2nd congressional district
Louisiana's 2nd congressional district is a congressional district in the U.S. state of Louisiana. The district contains nearly all of the city of New Orleans , and some of its suburbs, including the West Bank portion of Jefferson Parish and South South Kenner.The district is currently represented...

. He was denied the seat on the basis of an election challenge by the loser, Caleb S. Hunt. After hearing the arguments from both candidates, the House decided to seat neither man, but in the process Menard became the first African American to address the chamber from the lectern.

Menard moved to Florida
Florida is a state in the southeastern United States, located on the nation's Atlantic and Gulf coasts. It is bordered to the west by the Gulf of Mexico, to the north by Alabama and Georgia and to the east by the Atlantic Ocean. With a population of 18,801,310 as measured by the 2010 census, it...

, where he served in the Florida House of Representatives
Florida House of Representatives
The Florida House of Representatives is the lower house of the Florida Legislature, the state legislature of the U.S. state of Florida. The House is composed of 120 members representing an equal number of districts, with each district having an average population of 156,677.The House convenes at...

 in 1874. That same year he was he was elected as justice of the peace for Duval County
Duval County, Florida
Duval County is a county located in the U.S. state of Florida. As of 2010, the population was 864,263. Its county seat is Jacksonville, with which the Duval County government has been consolidated since 1968...

 and again in 1877.

He was a poet, the author of Lays in Summer Lands (1879). Menard was also the editor of the Florida News and the Southern Leader from 1882 to 1888. He died in the District of Columbia. His daughter, Alice Menard, married Thomas Van Renssalaer Gibbs
Thomas Van Renssalaer Gibbs
Thomas Van Renssalaer Gibbs was the only son of Jonathan Clarkson Gibbs, and a member of the 1886 Florida Constitutional Convention. He was a member of the State House of Representatives. Gibbs was a cofounder of Florida A&M College, and served as its Vice President until his death in 1898...

, the son of Jonathan Clarkson Gibbs
Jonathan Clarkson Gibbs
Jonathan Clarkson Gibbs, II was a Presbyterian minister and a prominent African-American officeholder during Reconstruction...

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