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Cain, Richard Harvey

Cain, Richard Harvey

April 12, 1825
January 18, 1887

The clergyman and politician Richard Cain was born free in Greenbriar County, Virginia (now West Virginia), and moved with his African-born father and Cherokee mother to Gallipolis, Ohio, in 1831. While still a young boy he worked on the steamboat service on the Ohio River. In 1841 he converted to the Methodist Episcopal Church, and four years later became licensed to preach in Hannibal, Missouri. He returned to Ohio soon thereafter and joined the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in Cincinnati, where he was ordained as a deacon in 1859. The following year he studied at Wilberforce University in Xenia, Ohio, before transferring to Brooklyn, New York, where he served as a minister for four years.

In 1865, at the end of the Civil War, the AME Church Council assigned Cain to Charleston, South Carolina, to minister to recently freed slaves. In 1866 he became editor of the Missionary Record, a black newspaper, a position he held until 1872. During that time he launched a political career wherein he became known as a fiery and eloquent campaigner for the Republican Party, a land reformer, and a vigorous civil rights advocate. In 1868 he was sent as a delegate to the South Carolina Constitutional Convention, where he advocated for Congress to appropriate funds to purchase land for freed blacks. In July of that year, Cain was elected to the state senate, where he served for one term. Soon thereafter he became involved in an ambitious plan to buy three thousand acres of land to sell in small plots to freedmen. The project went bankrupt, however, and Cain was indicted on charges of fraud, though the case was never brought to trial. In 1872 Cain was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, where he spent much of his time lobbying on behalf of a civil rights bill. He did not run for re-election in 1874, but he ran in 1876 and was again elected. In that session he campaigned for women's suffrage and for more funding for education. But by that time Cain's outlook on the possibilities for political advancement by blacks in the United States had diminished, and he supported the renewed Liberia emigration movement and put more of his energies into his ministry.

In 1880 Cain was elected the fourteenth bishop of the AME Church and assigned to Louisiana and Texas. He helped found Paul Quinn College in Waco, Texas, and served as the college's second president. He returned to his post as bishop in 1880 and presided over the New York, New Jersey, New England, and Philadelphia districts. He died in Washington, D.C., in 1887.

See also African Methodist Episcopal Church; Politics in the United States


Foner, Eric. Freedom's Lawmakers: A Directory of Black Officeholders During Reconstruction. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.

Logan, Rayford W., and Michael R. Winston, eds. Dictionary of American Negro Biography. New York: Norton, 1982.

Ragsdale, Bruce A. and Joel D. Treese. Black Americans in Congress, 18701989. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1990.

lydia mcneill (1996)

joseph w. lowndes (1996)

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