Joseph Hayne Rainey (1870 – 1879)
He born into slavery, and was the first African American to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives, the first African American to preside over the House, and the longest-serving African American during the tumultuous Reconstruction period. While his representation—like that of the other 21 black Representatives of the era—was symbolic, he also demonstrated the political nuance of a seasoned, substantive Representative, balancing his defense of southern blacks’ civil rights by extending amnesty to the defeated Confederates. “I tell you that the Negro will never rest until he gets his rights,” he said on the House Floor. “We ask [for civil rights]because we know it is proper,” he continued, “not because we want to deprive any other class of the rights and amenities they enjoy, but because they are granted to us by the law of the land.”
Joseph Hayne Rainey’s parents, Grace and Edward L. Rainey lived in Georgetown, South Carolina, a seaside town consisting mainly of rice plantations. The Raineys raised at least one other child, Edward, Jr. Grace Rainey was of French descent. Edward Rainey was a barber, and his master permitted him to work independently if he shared some of his profits, as required by law. Rainey used his earnings to buy his family’s freedom in the early 1840s, and in 1846 the family moved to Charleston, South Carolina, where Edward became a barber at the exclusive Mills House Hotel. As giving official instruction to black children was illegal, Joseph Rainey received a limited education and his father taught him the barber’s trade. By the 1850s, Edward Rainey could afford to buy two male slaves for his family. In 1859, Joseph Rainey traveled to Philadelphia, where he met and married his wife, Susan, also a half-French mulatto, originally from the West Indies. Rainey continued to work as a barber, and the couple had three children: Joseph II, Herbert, and Olivia.