How about Hiram Rhodes Revels:
Hiram Rhodes Revels (September 27, 1827[note 1] – January 16, 1901)
was an American politician, a minister in the African Methodist
Episcopal Church (AME), and a college administrator. Born free in
North Carolina, he later lived and worked in Ohio, where he voted
before the Civil War. He became the first African American to serve as
a Republican in the U.S. Congress when he was elected to the United
States Senate to represent Mississippi in 1870 and 1871 during the
Looks like a typical political career to me.
In his maiden speech to the Senate on March 16, 1870, he argued for
the reinstatement of the black legislators of the Georgia General
Assembly, who had been illegally ousted by white Democratic Party
He served on both the Committee of Education and Labor and the
Committee on the District of Columbia. (At the time, the Congress
administered the District.) Much of the Senate's attention focused on
Reconstruction issues. While Radical Republicans called for continued
punishment of ex-Confederates, Revels argued for amnesty and a
restoration of full citizenship, provided they swore an oath of
loyalty to the United States.
So I would say he qualified as 'not a figurehead', but just a typical Senator doing his job, who happened to be African-American.