John Willis Menard was a federal government employee, poet, newspaper publisher and politician born in Illinois to parents who were Louisiana Creoles from New Orleans.
Menard was born in 1838 in Kaskaskia in Randolph County in southern Illinois, to parents who were free people of color. They were Louisiana Creoles from New Orleans, of mostly European and some African descent
Menard was elected as the very first black Congressman, but ultimately, was excluded because of his race. By virtue of this conflict, he has been recorded in history as the first black man to speak in the House of Representatives by way of arguing the validity of his election. He favored black separatism and emigration, believing in a separation of the races.
Menard was a poet, the author of Lays in Summer Lands (1879). Menard was also the editor of the Florida News and the Southern Leader from 1882 to 1888.
Menard died in the District of Columbia and was buried at Graceland Cemetery in Washington, D.C. When Graceland closed in 1894, his remains were moved to nearby Woodlawn Cemetery.