John Mercer Langston’s list of historic firsts is certainly noble, but accomplishment one stands above them all. On April 2, 1855, he was elected to public office in Ohio and, by some accounts, became the first African-American to do so. The attorney, abolitionist, educator, activist, and politician was also the first dean of Howard University’s law school.

Langston was born December 14, 1829 in Louisa County, Va. He was born to a White slave owner father and a former slave mother. Langston received a huge inheritance after the death of his parents, giving him an opportunity to move to Ohio to study at Oberlin College. He earned an undergraduate degree along with a master’s degree in Theology from the school. Langston attempted to enter law school but was barred from doing so. He instead studied on his own and in 1854, he passed the bar exam, effectively making him the first Black lawyer in Ohio.