December 12

December 12, 1870 – Joseph H. Rainey

Joseph H. Rainey portrait

Joseph H. Rainey, the first African-American Congressman.

Joseph H. Rainey representing South Carolina became the first African American to be sworn into United States House of Representatives on December 12, 1870. He also became the first African American to preside over the United States House of Representatives. Rainey served as a Republican representing South Carolina’s 1st District from December 12, 1870 until March 3, 1879. He was born on June 21, 1832 in Georgetown, South Carolina as a slave. His father was allowed to work as a barber while still in slavery. He gave a percentage of his earnings to his owner and was able to save enough to eventually buy his freedom and that of his family.

First Colored Senator and Representatives

English: “First African American Senator and Representatives in the 41st and 42nd Congress of the United States.” (Left to right) Senator Hiram Revels of Mississippi, Representatives Benjamin Turner of Alabama, Robert DeLarge of South Carolina, Josiah Walls of Florida, Jefferson Long of Georgia, Joseph Rainey and Robert B. Elliot of South Carolina.

Rainey following in the footsteps of his father and also became a barber.  He was forced to work for the Confederate army during the beginning of the civil war until he and his family escaped to Bermuda.   Rainey established a very successful trade as a barber in Bermuda.  They returned to South Carolina after the civil war and settled in Charleston.  It was there that he became very active in politics and was eventually elected to the South Carolina State Senate in 1870.  Within a year of that election, he was elected to the United States House of Representatives in a special election for a seat vacancy.  Rainey died on August 1, 1887 in Georgetown, South Carolina at age 55.