This Day In History: June 21st
Joseph Rainey used his tenure in office to enhance and provide opportunities to the African-American community. Rainey served for an impressive five terms in Congress and even became the first African-American to serve in and preside over the House of Representatives.
Joseph Hayne Rainey was born on June 21, 1832, in Georgetown, South Carolina, to enslaved parents. His father was allowed to work as a barber and purchased his family’s freedom in the early 1840s. Rainey never received a formal education, but he followed in his father’s footsteps and began his career as a barber.
Rainey was drafted to work for the Confederacy during the Civil War, but he managed to escape to Bermuda and did not return to the United States until 1866. After settling in South Carolina, he joined the Republican party and was made a delegate to the state Constitutional Convention.
In 1870, an incumbent representative resigned, which allowed Rainey to replace him and serve in the remainder of the 41st Congress. Rainey was sworn into a full term on December 12, 1870. The following year he delivered his first major speech in Congress and urged for the passage of the Ku Klux Klan Act, which was signed into law by President Ulysses S. Grant. Despite receiving death threats, Rainey continued his advocacy and helped secure federal appropriations to strengthen the law in the South.
Rainey’s time in office included assignments on the Freedmen’s Affairs Committee, the Indian Affairs Committee, the Invalid Pensions Committee and special select committees. However, by the end of the 1870s, Democrats regained control in the former Confederacy and began dismantling the rights of African-Americans. After being in office for 10 years, Rainey was defeated by Democrat John S. Richardson in the 1878 election. Although Rainey suspected South Carolina Democrats of corruption, he did not challenge the results. He spent the rest of his time working on committee matters and introducing legislation that called for federal oversight of state voting practices.
After leaving Congress, Rainey became a special agent of the U.S. Treasury Department in South Carolina. He also started a brokerage and banking business and managed a wood and coal business. Representative Joseph Hayne Rainey died in Georgetown, South Carolina, where he died on August 1, 1887.