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“All for Civil Rights”

African-American Congressmen, Judges & Lawmakers in South Carolina, Compiled by W. Lewis Burke

Stephen A. Swails (1832–1900)

Stephen A. Swails (1832–1900)

Swails was born in Columbia, Pennsylvania on February 23, 1832. He was a boatman on the Chemung Canal in New York State until enlisting in the 54th Massachusetts Regiment during the Civil War. He rose to become the first African-American commissioned officer in the U.S. Army. After the war, Swails came to South Carolina where he was employed by the Freedman’s Bureau. Swails served as a delegate to the State Constitutional Convention in 1868. He was elected by Williamsburg County to the State Senate in 1868 and became the first African-American President Pro Tempore of the Senate in 1872, a position he held until his resignation from the Senate in 1877. While a senator, Swails began studying law and earned admission to the bar in 1872. After leaving the Senate, he practiced law in Kingstree until his death in 1900.


  • Bailey, N. Louise, Mary L. Morgan, and Carolyn R. Taylor. “Stephen Swails.” In Biographical Directory of the South Carolina Senate 1776–1985, edited by N. Louise Bailey, vol. III. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1986.
  • Work, Monroe N. “Some Negro Members of Reconstruction Conventions and Legislatures and of Congress.” Journal of Negro History 5 (January 1920): 63–119.