Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Joseph Rainey, born June 21, 1832




Joseph Hayne Rainey was born into slavery in Georgetown, South Carolina, a seaside town consisting mainly of rice plantations.  He and his brother, Edward Jr., were of mixed race; their mother, Grace, was of African and French descent.  Their father, Edward Rainey, had been allowed to earn money by creating a successful business as a barber, though he paid a portion of his income to his master as required by law. He saved enough by the 1840s to purchase his freedom and that of his wife and sons.

Joseph Rainey Birthplace and Childhood Home
Georgetown, South Carolina
In 1846 Edward Rainey then moved his family to Charleston, South Carolina, where he continued his career as a barber at the fashionable Mills House Hotel.  


Mills House Hotel
As education was illegal for blacks in South Carolina, Joseph became an apprentice to his father by becoming a barber, an independent trade that enabled him to build a wide network in his community.

He was 29 years old when the Civil War began.

Charleston, South Carolina
In 1859, Rainey went to Philadelphia, where he met and married Susan, from the West Indies and also of mixed race, French and African descent. They returned to South Carolina and eventually had three children: Joseph II, Herbert and Olivia.

In 1861, with the outbreak of the Civil War, Rainey was drafted by the Confederate  government to work on fortifications in Charleston, South Carolina, digging trenches on the outskirts of the city.  He also worked as a cook and steward on blockade runner ships.

In 1862, Rainey and his family escaped to Bermuda, a British colony which had abolished slavery in 1834. They settled in the town of St. George, 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, while becoming a respected member of the community. They made a prosperous life in Bermuda.

In 1866, following the war's end, Rainey and his family returned to South Carolina, where they settled in Charleston. His 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. Later that year, he was elected to fill a vacancy in the Congress of the United States as a Republican; the vacancy had been created when the previous incumbent, Benjamin Whittemore, was censured by the House for corruption after being charged with selling appointments to the U.S. military academies.  He was subsequently re-elected, but the House refused to seat him.



Benjamin Whittemore






Rainey was seated December 12, 1870, and became the first black individual to serve in the United States House of Representatives.  



One month later, he was joined by the second black member, Jefferson Long of Georgia.  Rainey was re-elected to Congress four times. Serving until March 3, 1879, he established a record of length of service for a black Congressman not surpassed until that of William Dawson in the 1950s.


He made use of his political clout with South Carolina’s state legislature to retain customs duty on rice, the chief export of his district and of the state. His committee appointments reflected his work in the area of black civil rights, in addition to his party loyalty. Rainey served on three standing committees: Freedmen’s Affairs, Indian Affairs, where he became a defender of the rights of Native Americans, and Invalid Pensions. He also sat on a number of select committees, such as the Centennial Celebration. His work on the Freemen's Affairs Committee garnered him the greatest recognition. He also expressed opposition to legislation which restricted the number of Asian immigrants seeking to enter the United States.

Thomas Nast Cartoon
As a Congressman he spoke vigorously in support of enforcement of the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871.  On April 1, 1871, Rainey delivered his first major speech in the House. In his message, he argued the need of federal troops to protect Southern blacks from the recently established Ku Klux Klan.
“When myself and my colleagues shall leave these Halls and turn our footsteps toward our southern homes, we know not that the assassin may await our coming, as marked for his vengeance.”
Shortly after giving this speech, Rainey received a letter which had been written in red ink. The text of the letter instructed Rainey and anyone else who advocated black civil rights to “prepare to meet your God.” Though the Ku Klux Klan Act became law on April 20, 1871, it did little to thwart the terrorism spread by the Klan throughout the South.  The Klan act was ignored by white supremacists, and the Democrats in congress who opposed the act voted to eliminate funding. Rainey took to the floor of the House again to call for funding to enforce the act.
Our convention which met in 1868, and in which the Negroes were in a large majority, did not pass any proscriptive or disfranchising acts, but adopted a liberal constitution, securing alike equal rights to all citizens, white and black, male and female, as far as possible.
Mark you, we did not discriminate, although we had a majority. Our constitution towers up in its majesty with provisions for equal protection of all classes and citizens. Notwithstanding our majority there, we have never attempted to deprive any man in that State of the rights and immunities to which he is entitled under the Constitution of this Government. You cannot point me to a single act passed by our Legislature, at any time, which had a tendency to reflect upon or oppress any white citizen of South Carolina. You cannot show me one enactment by which the majority in our State have undertaken to crush the white men because the latter are in a minority.
I say to you, gentlemen of the Democratic party, that I want you to deal justly with the people composing my race. I am here representing a Republican constituency made up of white and colored men. I say to you deal with us justly; be charitable toward us.
Joseph Rainey House
Windsor, Connecticut
With violence against blacks increasing in the South, in 1874 Rainey purchased a "summer home" in Windsor, Connecticut; as a representative of South Carolina, Rainey could not have Windsor as a primary residence.  He moved his family there and became an active member of the First Church of Windsor.  The "Joseph Rainey House" is located at 299 Palisado Avenue (currently a private residence). It is one of 130 stops on them Connecticut Freedom Trail, established in 1996 to highlight the achievements of African Americans in gaining freedom and civil rights.


First Church of Windsor
During his term in Congress, Rainey supported legislation to protect the civil rights of Southern blacks, as well as 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.  

In 1875, Republican Senator Charles Sumner submitted his Civil Rights Bill. This legislation outlawed racial discrimination in schools and public accommodations, in addition to public transportation and juries. Though Rainey’s main attention was directed towards the Amnesty Act, he sided with Sumner on this legislation. His support of the Civil Rights Bill was due to the segregation he personally experienced, both in Washington, D.C. and South Carolina, in the violation of his personal civil rights.

John Smythe Richardson
In 1876, Rainey won re-election against Democratic candidate John Smythe Richardson.   Richardson challenged the result as invalid on the grounds of intimidation by federal soldiers and black militias.  Two years later, as white Democrats solidified their control over South Carolina politics, paramilitary groups such as the Red Shirts acted as their military arm to suppress black voting.  The Red Shirts were white paramilitary groups which became active at the end of Reconstruction, making their debut in Mississippi. The groups were named for the red shirts they wore in an effort to make themselves highly visible in the community and act as a threat to Southern Republicans, both white and black.  

On July 4, 1876, black militia groups celebrated America’s centennial with a parade through Hamburg, South Carolina, a small, all-black community located across the Savannah River from Augusta, Georgia and solidly Republican.  Two white farmers from neighboring Edgefield County, Thomas Butler and Henry Getzen, attempted to drive their carriage down Market Street, the town’s main road, during the celebration. The black soldiers, under the command of Captain D. L. “Dock” Adams, continued with their parade. A war of words ensued and the farmers were eventually able to pass through the parade ranks with their wagon. The following day, Butler and Getzen filed a complaint about obstruction of public roads in Hamburg’s local court. The case was scheduled by Judge Prince Rivers to be heard on July 8th. Edgefield attorney Matthew C. Butler was chosen to serve as counsel for the two men.

On the day of the hearing, hundred of armed white men descended upon the black community. Hamburg’s militia members then retreated to their armory. A battle erupted during the afternoon, resulting in the deaths of a white attacker, a militiaman and Hamburg’s Marshall, James Cook. The white mob soon laid siege on the armory, taking the bulk of the militiamen prisoner.

The prisoners were then marched to a patch of ground later known as "The Dead Ring" due to the circle the captors formed around the prisoners. In the end, four of the prisoners were executed. As others fled, guns were trained on them in an effort to shoot as many as possible, resulting in at least two deaths. The white invaders ended the siege by looting the town. A number of the invaders also desired to set fire to the town; however, they were restrained from doing so by the group’s leaders. 

Harper'sWeekly Cartoon
Hamburg Massacre
The official report ends with this statement:
... the facts show the demand on the militia to give up their arms was made by persons without lawful authority to enforce such demand or to receive the arms had they been surrendered; that the attack on the militia to compel a compliance with this demand was without lawful excuse or justification; and that after there had been some twenty or twenty-five prisoners captured and completely in the power of their captors, five of them were deliberately shot to death and three more severely wounded. It further appears that not content with thus satisfying their vengeance, many of the crowd added to their guilt the crime of robbery of defenceless people, and were only prevented from arson by the efforts of their own leaders.
No one was ever convicted for involvement in the attacks and murders.

The event was later called the "Hamburg Massacre". It launched the furious 1876 Democratic campaign for South Carolina's “Redemption", inaugurating single-party white supremacist rule, and leading to nearly a century of "Jim Crow" denial of civil rights. Democrat Wade Hampton used the Hamburg Massacre as the chief campaign message in his bid to become South Carolina’s governor. His goal was to illustrate the racial danger of having a Republican-controlled government. His election, and that of the Democrats, ended Reconstruction in South Carolina.

A bitter debate later broke out on the House Floor during the 45th Congress as Rainey condemned the murders while engaging in a war of words with Democratic Representative  Samuel Cox of New York. Cox was of the opinion the “Hamburg Massacre” was a direct result of poor government created by South Carolina’s black leaders.

Samuel Cox
In 1878, John Smythe Richardson was again Rainey’s opponent in his re-election bid. This time, Rainey was defeated, due to the efforts of the Democrats the prior two years. On the House floor, Rainey stated:
“I tell you that the Negro will never rest until he gets his rights. We ask [for civil rights] because we know it is proper; not because we want to deprive any other class of the rights and immunities they enjoy, but because they are granted to us by the law of the land.”
Despite the fact that blacks were in the majority population in South Carolina, white Democrats were able to regain state power through the use of intimidation, violence and assassinations through the efforts of the Red Shirts and other paramilitary organization.   After the end of Reconstruction and the white Democrats' regaining state power, they passed voter registration, electoral and primary laws, and constitutional amendments that effectively disenfranchised most blacks, stripping them of political power.

After leaving Congress, Joseph Rainey was appointed as an agent of the United States 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, D.C. for five years.

Rainey retired in 1886 and returned to Georgetown, South Carolina. There, he and Susan opened a millinery shop. They lived in the house where he had been born and grew up.




Joseph Hayne Rainey died of a fever on August 1, 1887 in Georgetown, the city of his birth. He was 55 years old.

He was buried in Baptist Cemetery in Georgetown.


Baptist Cemetery, Georgetown, South Carolina
Joseph Rainey 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.  


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