|Joseph Rainey Birthplace and Childhood Home|
Georgetown, South Carolina
|Mills House Hotel|
|Charleston, South Carolina|
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 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.
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.
|Thomas Nast Cartoon|
“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.”
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|
|First Church of Windsor|
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|
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.
... 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.
“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|