Langston was born free, the son of a freed slave and a plantation owner, but he was orphaned by the age of five. He was then raised in both white and Black families and was well educated at private schools.
He earned bachelor's and master's degrees from Oberlin College and became, after Frederick Douglass, the most prominent Black abolitionist and civil rights activist in the country. He became the first known African-American ever elected to a public office, when he was elected township clerk of Brownhelm, Ohio in 1855. He recruited Black soldiers for the Union Army during the Civil War and campaigned for their equal treatment.
He spent six years at Howard University, as law professor, dean, vice-president and acting president, but was fired by the trustees because of his progressive views - the entire law faculty then resigned in protest; and he was the first president of what is now Virginia State University.
He was a diplomat in Haiti for eight years and then was elected to Congress from Virginia, but the election was contested and he resigned after three months.
The village of Langston, Oklahoma and Langston University are named after him.
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