Joseph Rainey

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Joseph Rainey
Joseph Rainey - Brady-Handy.jpg
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from South Carolina's 1st district
In office
December 12, 1870 - March 3, 1879
Preceded byBenjamin F. Whittemore
Succeeded byJohn S. Richardson
Member of the South Carolina Senate from Georgetown County
In office
November 24, 1868 – November 28, 1870
Preceded byRichard Dozier
Succeeded byJohn Francis Beckman
Personal details
Born(1832-06-21)June 21, 1832
Georgetown, South Carolina
DiedAugust 1, 1887(1887-08-01) (aged 55)
Georgetown, South Carolina
Political partyRepublican
Professionbarber, politician, banker
 
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Joseph Rainey
Joseph Rainey - Brady-Handy.jpg
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from South Carolina's 1st district
In office
December 12, 1870 - March 3, 1879
Preceded byBenjamin F. Whittemore
Succeeded byJohn S. Richardson
Member of the South Carolina Senate from Georgetown County
In office
November 24, 1868 – November 28, 1870
Preceded byRichard Dozier
Succeeded byJohn Francis Beckman
Personal details
Born(1832-06-21)June 21, 1832
Georgetown, South Carolina
DiedAugust 1, 1887(1887-08-01) (aged 55)
Georgetown, South Carolina
Political partyRepublican
Professionbarber, politician, banker

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 in South Carolina, he was freed in the 1840s by his father purchasing the freedom of his entire family and himself. Revels and Rainey were both members of the Republican Party.

Early life and education[edit]

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] likely from slaves brought by refugees from Saint-Domingue during and after the revolution that created Haiti. Their father Edward Rainey, also enslaved, had been allowed by his master to work independently to earn money and developed a successful business as a barber; he paid a portion of his income to his master as required by law. Edward saved a substantial sum; by the 1840s he purchased his freedom and that of his wife and two sons.[1] With education severely limited for blacks, as an adult Rainey followed his father by becoming a barber, an independent and well-respected trade that enabled him to build a wide network in his community.

Marriage and family[edit]

In 1859, Rainey went to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he met and married Susan, a free woman of color from the West Indies, who was also of African-French descent. They returned to South Carolina, where their three children were born: Joseph II, Herbert and Olivia.[1]

Civil War[edit]

In 1861, with the outbreak of the American Civil War, Rainey was among free blacks 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, where his customers were mostly white. He became 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[edit]

In 1866, following the war's end, Rainey and his family returned to South Carolina, where they settled in Charleston. In 1870, 43 percent of the city's population was African American, including many people of color who, like Rainey, had been free and held skilled jobs before the war. His experience and 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 and became chair of the Finance Committee. He served only a short time as that year he won a special election as a Republican to fill a vacancy in the Forty-first Congress of the United States. This vacancy had been created when the House refused to seat Benjamin F. Whittemore, the incumbent. He had been censured by the House for corruption but re-elected.

Rainey was seated December 12, 1870 and was re-elected to Congress, serving a total of four terms. Serving until March 3, 1879, he established a record of length of service for a black Congressman that was not surpassed until that of William L. Dawson of Chicago in the 1950s. He supported legislation that became known as the Force Acts, to suppress the violent activities of the Ku Klux Klan. This helped for a time, before white insurgents developed other paramilitary groups in the South, such as the White League and the Red Shirts.

Rainey made three speeches on the floor of Congress in support of what was finally passed as the Civil Rights Act of 1875. In 1873, he said he was not seeking 'social equality' and was content to choose his own circle.

He went on to say,

'But we do want a law enacted that we may be recognized like other men in the country. Why is it that colored members of Congress cannot enjoy the same immunities that are accorded to white members? Why cannot we stop hotels here without meeting objection? Why cannot we go into restaurants without being insulted? We are here enacting laws for the country and casting votes upon important questions; we have been sent here by the suffrages of the people, and why cannot we enjoy the same benefits that are accorded to our white colleagues on this floor?[2]

With violence against blacks increasing in the South, in 1874 Rainey purchased a "summer home" in Windsor, Connecticut. As a US representative from South Carolina, Rainey could not use Windsor as his primary residence, but he moved his family there for their safety. While visiting, he became an active member of the First Church of Windsor. The "Joseph H. Rainey House", a c.1830 Greek Revival, is located at 299 Palisado Avenue (it is currently used as a private residence). It was designated as 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, working for two years to gain passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1875. He also worked 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.[3]

Since 1874, paramilitary groups such as the Red Shirts in North and South Carolina and Louisiana had acted openly as the military arm of the Democratic Party to suppress black voting. In July 1876, six blacks were murdered in the Hamburg Massacre and in October, at least 100 were killed by white paramilitary groups in several days of violence in Ellenton, both in contested Aiken County, South Carolina.[4]

But in 1876, Rainey won re-election from the Charleston district against Democratic candidate John Smythe Richardson. Richardson challenged the result as invalid on the grounds of intimidation of Democrats by federal soldiers and black militias guarding the polls, but Rainey retained his seat. The 1876 election was marked by widespread fraud in the state. For instance, votes counted in the upland Edgefield County for the Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wade Hampton III exceeded by 2,000 the total number of registered voters in the county; similar results were counted in Laurens County.[5] That year Democrats ultimately took control of the state government, and the next year the federal government withdrew its troops from the South as part of a national compromise; Reconstruction was ended.

In 1878, Rainey was defeated in a second contest with Richardson, although blacks continued to be elected for local offices through much of the 19th century. White Democrats used their dominance of the state legislature to pass laws for segregation, Jim Crow and making voter registration more difficult, effectively disfranchising blacks. In 1895 they passed a new state constitution, that completed the disfranchisement of most blacks, stripping them of political power and excluding them from the political process for the next several decades.

After leaving Congress, Joseph Rainey was appointed as a federal 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.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c "Joseph Hayne Rainey", Black Americans in Congress, Office of the Clerk, US Congress, accessed 30 March 2011
  2. ^ Joseph Rainey, Dec. 19, 1873 speech about the Civil Rights Act under consideration, passed 1875, Neglected Voices, New York University School of Law
  3. ^ "Joseph Rainey", Black History Month, National Treasury Employees Union
  4. ^ Mark M. Smith, “'All Is Not Quiet in Our Hellish County’: Facts, Fiction, Politics, and Race - The Ellenton Riot of 1876,” South Carolina Historical Magazine, Vol. 95, No. 2 (April 1994), 142-155, at JSTOR (subscription required)
  5. ^ Melinda Meeks Hennessy, “Racial Violence During Reconstruction: The 1876 Riots in Charleston and Cainhoy”, South Carolina Historical Magazine, Vol. 86, No. 2, (April 1985), 104-106 at JSTOR (subscription required)

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Benjamin F. Whittemore
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from South Carolina's 1st congressional district

1870 - 1879
Succeeded by
John S. Richardson