Henry Highland Garnet was the first African American to preach to the United States House of Representatives, he did so on February 12th 1865.
Henry Highland Garnet was born a slave December 23rd 1815 in New Market, Kent, Maryland, the son George and Henrietta Garnet. When he was 10 Garnet’s family fled with the help of the Underground Railroad to New York City. He attended the African Free School, and the Phoenix High School for Colored Youth. In 1835 Garnet received a placement at the Noyes Academy in Canaan, New Hampshire. Anger over his abolitionist activities cause him to leave New Hampshire, he finished his education at the Oneida Theological Institute in Whitesboro, New York.
Garnet moved to Troy, New York in 1839, where he taught school. In 1842 he became the pastor of the Liberty Street Presbyterian Church. It was here that Garnet began publishing papers with abolitionist, religious, and temperance themes. On returning to New York City he joined the American Anti-Slavery Society and was a frequent speaker. He felt that slaves should act for their own freedom, advocating for armed rebellion, and was a supporter of blacks emigrating so they would have more opportunities, or at the least Black Nationalism in the United States with their own colony in the states. Garnet traveled in the 1850’s to England, and Jamaica as a lectures and missionary.
When the Civil War started Garnet gave up on the hopes of emigration for black. He began working for the founding of black Union army units. Garnet and his family barely escaped the July 1863 New York City Draft Riots. He moved his family shortly after this to Washington, DC, where he helped with the recruiting of black units. It was during this time that Garnet became the first black minister on February 12th 1865 to preach to the United States House of Representatives. His service was arranged by President Abraham Lincoln and his Cabinet as a special service for the Presidents 56th birthday.
After the war ended Garnet became the president of the Avery College in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He would return later to the ministry, becoming the pastor of the Shiloh Presbyterian Church in New York City. He was appointed by President James A Garfield in 1881 as the United States Minister to Liberia, and he would die there just a few months into his service on February 13th 1882. Garnet was honored by the Liberian government with a state funeral, and is buried in the Palm Grove Cemetery in Monrovia.