Joseph H. Rainey, First African American to serve in the House of Representatives   Leave a comment

Joseph Hayne Rainey (June 21, 1832 – August 1, 1887) was the first African American to serve in the United States House of Representatives, the second black person to serve in the United States Congress (U.S. Senator Hiram Revels was the first), the first African American to be directly elected to Congress (Revels was appointed), and the first black presiding officer of the United States House of Representatives. Born into slavery, he was freed in the 1840s by his father’s purchasing his freedom and that of all his family.


Early life and education

Joseph Hayne Rainey was born into slavery in Georgetown, South Carolina. He and his brother Edward were of mixed race; their mother Grace was of African and French descent.[1] His father Edward Rainey had been allowed to earn money by creating a successful business as a barber (paying a portion of his income to his master.) He saved enough by the 1840s to purchase his freedom and that of his wife and sons.[1] With education severely limited for blacks, as an adult Rainey followed his father by becoming a barber, an independent trade that enabled him to build a wide network in his community.

 Marriage and family

In 1859, Rainey went to Philadelphia, where he met and married Susan, from the West Indies and also of mixed race, French and African descent. They returned to South Carolina and eventually had three children: Joseph II, Herbert and Olivia.[1]

 Civil War

In 1861, with the outbreak of the American Civil War, Rainey was drafted by the Confederate government to work on fortifications in Charleston, South Carolina. He also worked as a cook and laborer on blockade runner ships.

In 1862, Rainey and his family escaped to Bermuda. They settled in the town of St. George, Bermuda, where Rainey worked as a barber, while his wife became a successful dressmaker with a shop. In 1865, the couple moved to the town of Hamilton when an outbreak of yellow fever threatened St. George. Rainey worked at the Hamilton Hotel as a barber and a bartender, while becoming a respected member of the community. They made a prosperous life in Bermuda.

Portrait of Joseph Rainey, Collection of U.S. House of Representatives.

 Return to the US and politics

In 1866, following the war’s end, Rainey and his family returned to South Carolina, where they settled in Charleston. His wealth helped establish him as a leader and he quickly became involved in politics, joining the executive committee of the state Republican Party. In 1868, he was a delegate to the state constitutional convention.

In 1870, Rainey was elected to the State Senate of South Carolina. Later that year, he was elected to fill a vacancy in the Forty-first Congress of the United States as a Republican. This vacancy had been created when the previous incumbent, Benjamin F. Whittemore, was censured by the House for corruption and subsequently re-elected, after which the House refused to seat him.

Rainey was seated December 12, 1870 and was re-elected to Congress four times. Serving until March 3, 1879, he established a record of length of service for a black Congressman not surpassed until that of William L. Dawson in the 1950s.

With violence against blacks increasing in the South, in 1874 Rainey purchased a “summer home” in Windsor, Connecticut. As a representative of South Carolina, Rainey could not have Windsor as a primary residence. He moved his family there and became an active member of the First Church of Windsor. The “Joseph Rainey House”, a c.1830 Greek Revival, is located at 299 Palisado Avenue (currently a private residence). It is one of 130 stops on the Connecticut Freedom Trail, established in 1996 to highlight the achievements of African Americans in gaining freedom and civil rights.

During his term in Congress, Rainey supported legislation to protect the civil rights of Southern blacks, as well as to promote the southern economy. In May 1874, Rainey became the first African American to preside over the House of Representatives as Speaker pro tempore.[2] In 1876, Rainey won re-election against Democratic candidate John Smythe Richardson. Richardson challenged the result as invalid on the grounds of intimidation by federal soldiers and black militias.

Two years later, as white Democrats solidified their control over South Carolina politics, paramilitary groups such as the Red Shirts acted as their military arm to suppress black voting; Rainey was defeated in a second contest with Richardson. After the end of Reconstruction and the white Democrats’ regaining state power, they passed voter registration, electoral and primary laws, and constitutional amendments that effectively disfranchised most blacks, stripping them of political power.

After leaving Congress, Joseph Rainey was appointed as an agent of the US Treasury Department for internal revenue in South Carolina. He held this position for two years, after which he began a career in private commerce. He worked in brokerage and banking in Washington, DC for five years.

Rainey retired in 1886 and returned to South Carolina. He died the following year in Georgetown, the city in which he was born.

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  1. ^ a b c “Joseph Hayne Rainey”, Black Americans in Congress, Office of the Clerk, US Congress, accessed 30 March 2011
  2. ^ “Joseph Rainey”, Black History Month, National Treasury Employees Union

[edit] Further reading

  • Packwood, Cyril Outerbridge (1977). Detour—Bermuda, Destination—U.S. House of Representatives: The Life of Joseph Hayne Rainey. Hamilton, Bermuda: Baxter’s. 
  • ”Joseph Hayne Rainey”, in Black Americans in Congress, 1870-2007, Office of History & Preservation, U. S. House of Representatives. Washington: Government Printing Office, 2008.; Holt, Thomas.
  • “Rainey, Joseph Hayne”, in Dictionary of American Negro Biography, edited by Rayford W. Logan and Michael R. Winston. New York: Norton and Co., 1982.

Posted February 20, 2012 by pennylibertygbow in Uncategorized

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