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*This date in 1844 marks the birth of James Edward O'Hara. He was a Black politician.
The son of an Irish merchant and a Black slave, O’Hara was born in New York City where he attended public schools. In 1862 he moved to North Carolina with a group of missionaries and began studying law. In June of 1871 O’Hara was admitted to the North Carolina Bar, starting practice in Enfield and Halifax County. He also served as a secretary for the Freedmen’s Bureau.
O’Hara tried unsuccessfully to run for Congress as a Republican, but did win in 1882 and took his seat in the Democratic controlled Congress as the only African American until 1884. He served on the Committee of Mines and Mining and the Committee on Expenditures. When the house considered a bill to regulate interstate commerce, O’Hara added an amendment requiring equal accommodations for all travelers on railroad passenger cars regardless of color.
He maintained that if Congress could set standards for the treatment of animals transported by rail, it could also take steps to assure equal treatment of citizens who rode the railroads. However, the Interstate Commerce Act, passed by Congress in 1887, fell short of what O’Hara had expected.
After being re-elected in 1884, he moved to the Committee on Invalid Pensions. Here, O’Hara made an effort to secure women’s rights by inserting a provision in an appropriations bill that no discrimination be made in the salaries of male and female teachers who held the same certificates and performed similar duties; this too fell short of his expectations.
After leaving Congress, he never held another public office. He returned to his law practice in partnership with his son Raphael. James O’Hara, who representing North Carolina's forty-eighth and forty-ninth congresses died in New Bern, North Carolina on September 15, 1905.
Black Americans In Congress 1870-1989.
Bruce A. Ragsdale & Joel D. Treese
U.S. Government Printing Office
Raymond W. Smock, historian and director 1990