Earlier this month a ceremony at the U.S. Capitol honored Joseph H. Rainey, a man born into slavery in 1832. In 1870 Rainey became the first Black U.S. Congressman. While Rainey was serving he frequently worked in Room H-150. That has now been formally designated the Joseph H. Rainey Room, with an appropriate plaque, as a result of the recent ceremony.
Rainey was born in Georgetown, South Carolina. His father was a barber, which was an occupation allowed to slaves by the South Carolinian law, with the proviso that the barber pay a portion of his earnings to his master. Rainey’s father paid that portion, and still maintained a successful business, allowing him to save enough money to buy freedom for himself and his family at some time in the 1840s.
The Thing to Know:
Rainey’s great-granddaughter Lorna Rainey works to keep alive the memory of her father and his role in the country’s history. She said in an interview that her great-aunt, Rainey’s daughter, used to tell her about her father, explaining that it was important to remember him because he was in very few history books.
That much, at least, has changed. He is in more of them now.