On this day in 1832, Joseph Rainey, the first African American to serve in the House of Representatives, was born

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Images of Rep. Joseph H. Rainey, R-S.C., are displayed during a news conference to unveil the Joseph H. Rainey Room at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 3, 2022. Rainey born into slavery in 1832. He was elected to Congress representing South Carolina and sworn into office in 1870, becoming the first Black member of the House of Representatives. (Michael Reynolds/Pool via AP)
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Joseph Rainey was born on June 21, 1832. He was the first African American to serve in the United States House of Representatives.

Born in Georgetown, South Carolina, Rainey was born into slavery, secured his freedom through self-purchase, and emerged as a successful businessman and community leader.

House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) addresses reporters during a press conference to unveil the Joseph H. Rainey Room in the in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, February 3, 2022. Former Rep. Joseph H. Rainey (R-S.C.) was the first elected Black member of the House of Representatives who served from 1870 to 1879.

In 1870, he made history by winning a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, representing South Carolina’s 1st district.

Rainey was a tireless advocate for racial equality, but with former Confederates violently regaining control over the South, Rainey lost reelection in 1879.

People enter the Joseph H. Rainey Room in the in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., after its’ unveiling on Thursday, February 3, 2022. Former Rep. Joseph H. Rainey (R-S.C.) was the first elected Black member of the House of Representatives who served from 1870 to 1879.

After leaving Congress, Rainey remained active in public life, serving in various governmental positions and continuing his advocacy for civil rights.

In 1887, Rainey died at 55 years old due to complications from malaria.


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