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Thu, 06.21.1832

Joseph Rainey was America’s first Black congressman

Joseph Rainey

On this date in 1832, Joseph Hayne Rainey was born. A former slave, he was the first Black man to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives (1870-79).

The son of a barber who bought the family’s freedom, Rainey was born in Georgetown, S.C. He received some private schooling and took up his father's trade in Charleston.  During the American Civil War he was forced to work on the fortifications in Charleston harbor but managed to escape to the West Indies, where he remained until the end of the war in 1865.  Upon his return to South Carolina, during the Reconstruction era, he was a delegate to the state constitutional convention (1868) and served briefly in the state Senate.

Elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1870, he was re-elected four times, the longest tenure in the House of any Black during the 19th century.  While in office he dedicated himself to the passage of civil-rights legislation, pressing the interests not only of Blacks but also of other nonwhites, including the Native Americans and the Chinese in California.

Upon leaving the House in 1879, he was appointed U.S. Internal Revenue Agent of South Carolina. He resigned that post in 1881 to engage in banking and brokerage enterprises in Washington, D.C.  Joseph Rainey died August 2, 1887 in Georgetown, D.C.

Reference:
Black Americans In Congress, 1870-1989.
Bruce A. Ragsdale & Joel D. Treese
U.S. Government Printing Office
Raymond W. Smock, historian and director 1990
E185.96.R25

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