Thursday, December 12, 2013

The First Representative

Joseph Hayne Rainey the first African American to serve in the United States House of Representative was seated December 12th 1870.

Joseph Hayne Rainey was born June 21st 1832 in Georgetown, South Carolina a slave.  He was the son of Edward L and Gracia Rainey.  Rainey’s father was a slave, but was allowed by his master to earn money working as a barber, and he bought the families freedom in 1840.  Rainey followed his father and became a barber and was working in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1859 where he married.

When the Civil War started Rainey was living in Charleston, South Carolina, and working at the Mills House Hotel.  He was forced into service with the Confederacy, working on Charleston’s fortifications, and then latter as a cook on blockade runners.  In 1862 he managed to get his family and himself to St George, Bermuda, were they lived out the war working again as a barber.

When the Civil War ended Rainey returned to Charleston, South Carolina, where he joined the Republican Party and became active in local politics.  He was elected in 1870 to the South Carolina State Senate, and then was appointed to fill the a seat in the United States Congress, left vacant by Benjamin F Whittenmore, who was censured for corruption.  Rainey was seated in Congress on December 12th 1870, and would be re-elected to Congress four times, serving until March 3rd 1879.  In May 1874 he became the first African American to serve as Speaker Pro Tempore.

As violence increased in the south Rainey bought a summer home in Windsor, Connecticut and moved his family there in 1874.  Following his term in Congress he worked as an agent for the United States Treasury Department in South Carolina, banking in Washington, DC and was an investor in the Columbia and Greenville Railroad.  Rainey died in Georgetown, South Carolina August 2nd 1887, and is buried in the Baptist Cemetery there.

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