At the unveiling, Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, (R-IL) offered these words:
As a former history teacher, I've taught about many aspects of our rich heritage. Even as Speaker, I still find it important to teach about the richness and diversity of our history. The Capitol grounds serve as a classroom to many that visit and live in our country. I hope that as people from around the world walk through the halls of Congress they will learn about many great African Americans such as Congressman Rainey.Rainey's Early Life
As a representative of the U.S. House, Congressman Rainey dedicated himself to assuring the liberties of many Americans. Despite his skin color, he fought for the freedom of African Americans, American Indians and Chinese. Just as he dedicated his life to creating a color blind society, so should we dedicate this portrait in the halls of Congress to celebrate his contributions.
Born into slavery on June 21, 1832, to Grace and Edward L. Rainey in Georgetown, South Carolina, Joseph Hayne Rainey became a barber as his father had been. Edward Rainey's owner allowed him to work independently, but as was required by law, Rainey had to share his earnings with his owner. However, by the early 1840s, Edward Rainey was able to buy his family's freedom. The family relocated to Charleston, South Carolina, and Edward plied his trade as a barber at the fashionable Mills House Hotel. Edward Rainey's career became so lucrative that he was able to purchase two male slaves for his household.
Joseph Rainey learned the barber trade from his father, and after moving the Philadelphia, he married Susan, a woman from the West Indies, who as half French. The couple had three children: Joseph II, Herbert, and Olivia. Rainey continued to work as barber to support his family.
Escape to Bermuda
After the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, Rainey was drafted and served in the Confederate Army, digging trenches to secure the town of Charleston, also serving as a cook on a blockade runner. Rainey and his family escaped the war to Bermuda, where slavery had already been abolished.
The Raineys thrived in the strong economy of Bermuda, Joseph continuing his trade as a barber and Susan opening a dress shop. They kept abreast of the news of the war in the United States through reports from sailors passing through the area.
Repatriated to Politics
In 1866, after the war ended, the Rainey family returned to Charleston, SC. Rainey had acquired considerable wealth in Bermuda and in his former state was recognized as a leader. He soon became active in the Republican Party, becoming the county chairman of the party in Georgetown in 1867.
In a series of political opportunities, Rainey demonstrated his leadership qualities: he represented Georgetown at the constitutional convention in 1868; he served as an agent in the state land commission and as brigadier general in the state militia. In 1870, Rainey was elected to his first public office to the state senate, where he quickly rose to chair the finance committee.
First African American Representative
After becoming a state senator in 1870, Rainey, later that year, was nominated by the Republican Party to serve the remainder of Representative Benjamin F. Whittemore's term. Whittemore had come under censure for selling appointments to U. S. military academies and was forced to resign.
In the special election for filling out the term of Whittemore held on October 19, 1870, Rainey beat his opponent, Democrat C. W. Dudley, by a 63% majority; then on November 8, Rainey repeated his victory over Dudley, this time winning 86% of the vote over the Democrat.
Rep. Joseph Rainey's Achievements