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Sun, 12.27.1857

Henry Cheatham, Educator and Congressman

Henry P.Cheatham

On this date in 1857, Henry Plummer Cheatham was born. He was a Black politician and a member of the House of Representatives in North Carolina.

Born a slave near Henderson, North Carolina, he attended public schools and entered the normal school at Shaw University in Raleigh in 1875. Three years later, he enrolled in the University’s college department, receiving an AB degree in 1882.  Until 1884, he was a principal at the Plymouth Normal School, after which he returned to his home and was elected to two terms as registrar of deeds in Vance County. In 1887, he received his MA degree from Shaw University and in that same year was one of the founders and incorporators of an orphanage for Black children at Oxford, North Carolina.

Cheatham was elected to the Fifty-first Congress in 1888.  He became a member of the Committee on Education and the Committee on Expenditures on Public Buildings.  He attempted to get funding to reimburse the 61,000 depositors of the Freedmen’s Savings and Trust Company and to get money for Robert Smalls and the crew of the steamer "Planter," who had performed heroic service during the American Civil War. Neither measure was enacted.

Cheatham won reelection in 1890 and became a member of the Committee on Agriculture. He was a clear advocate of legislation to inform the country of the contributions Black citizens had made to American life since emancipation.  In 1892, he requested that Congress appropriate $100,000 for an exhibit of Black arts, crafts, tools, and industrial and agricultural products.  He was also interested in securing funding for the appointment of a bi-racial panel to conduct and publish a census of the educational, financial, and social progress of Blacks; again the House failed to adopt his proposals.

Cheatham lost his reelection bid in 1892 and two years later lost nomination to his brother-in-law, George H. White. He returned to Washington D.C., and was appointed Recorder of Deeds for the District of Columbia. He also served as the president of the Negro Association of North Carolina. Henry Cheatham died on November 29, 1935.

Black Americans In Congress 1870-1989.
Bruce A. Ragsdale & Joel D. Treese
U.S. Government Printing Office
Raymond W. Smock, historian and director 1990

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