Southern state governments passed Civil Rights bills, including allowing blacks the right to vote, as they worked with the Federal government to regain entry into the union. Mississippi decided to send America’s first black U.S. Senator, Hiram Rhodes Revels, to Washington in January of 1870. (see ) However, it is widely accepted Mississippi’s State Senate chose Revels more for political reasons to rejoin the Union than for fairness, especially since Washington Democrats immediately fought it. Regardless, he made an impact and citizens soon began voting blacks into Federal office themselves, starting with Joseph Hayne Rainey.
Rainey was born into slavery on June 21, 1832, in Georgetown, South Carolina. As some slaves were permitted to do, Rainey’s father, Edward, was allowed to work independently as a barber. Despite having to give his owner a portion of his earnings by law, Edward saved enough money to buy freedom for himself, his wife, and their two sons in the 1840’s. A very successful barber, Edward even purchased two of his own slaves in the 1850’s. Laws prohibited education for black children, so Edward trained his son in his trade.
During a trip to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Rainey met and married Susan, a free woman of African-French descent from the West Indies. The couple returned to South Carolina and started a family consisting of three children: Joseph II, Herbert and Olivia.
Free from the chains of slavery, Rainey still could not escape the bonds of a government draft. When the Civil War broke out in 1861, the new Confederate government drafted free blacks, including Rainey. He first worked in Charleston building fortifications, but expanded his contributions to cooking and as a laborer on blockade-runner ships.
In 1862, Joseph and Susan gathered their boys and escaped to the free colony of Bermuda, where Joseph resumed his barber career and Susan opened a shop. The couple became successful and prominent citizens in their community, but returned to South Carolina in 1866 following the war.
As the Reconstruction Era commenced, Rainey entered the political scene by joining the executive committee of his state’s newly formed Republican Party. When South Carolina convened a Constitutional Convention in 1868, the party chose Rainey as a delegate. Among other governmental jobs, Rainey was Georgetown’s census taker in 1869. Citizens elected him in 1870 to the State Senate for a four-year term where he was chosen as the Chairman of the Finance Committee. When Republican incumbent U.S. Representative Benjamin F. Whittemore was forced to resign his seat, Rainey won his seat in a special election. Sworn in on December 12, 1870, Rainey became the first member of the United States House of Representatives of color. He won re-election to Congress three more times, serving a total of four terms. Upon his leaving the Congress on March 3, 1879, Joseph’s tenure was the longest for any black Congressman until Chicago’s William L. Dawson served his fifth term in the 1950’s.
As the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) gained membership and power, violence against Southern Republicans, both black and white, increased. (see ) To protect his family, Rainey purchased a “summer home” in Windsor, Connecticut, where they could safely stay. Yet as a Representative from South Carolina, he was required to keep his primary residence in his state. To combat the violence, Rainey strongly supported legislation to suppress the KKK's activities against Republicans regardless of color. Known as the Enforcement Acts, Rainey spoke about their need from the House floor. (see )
“It has been asserted that protection for the colored people only has been demanded...But, on the other hand, this protection is equally desired for those loyal whites…who are now undergoing persecution simply on account of their activity in carrying out Union principles and loyal sentiments in the South…It is indeed hard that their reward for their well-meant earnestness should be that of being violently treated, and even forced to flee from the homes of their choice. It will be a foul stain upon the escutcheon of our land if such atrocities be tamely suffered longer to continue…When we call to mind the fact that this persecution is waged against men for the simple reason that they dare vote with the [Republican] party which has saved the Union…The question is sometimes asked, Why do not the courts of law afford redress?…We answer that the courts are in many instances under the control of those [Democrats] who are wholly inimical to the impartial administration of law and equity. What benefit would result from appeal to tribunals whose officers are secretly in sympathy with the very evil against which we are striving?…If the negroes, numbering one-eighth of the population of these United States, would only cast their votes in the interest of the Democratic party, all open measures against them would be immediately suspended, and their rights, as American citizens, recognized. But as to the real results of such a state of affairs, and speaking in behalf of those with whom I am conversant, I can only say that we love freedom more, vastly more, than slavery; consequently we hope to keep clear of the Democrats!”
Democrats, both Northern and Southern, objected to the legislation deeming it unconstitutional. In addition, they blamed the South’s turmoil on the Republicans. Rainey rebuked those claims, declaring:
“If the Constitution which we uphold and support as the fundamental law of the United States is inadequate to afford security to life, liberty, and property…then it should no longer be recognized as the Magna Carta of a great and free people…It has been asserted on this floor that the Republican party is answerable for the existing state of affairs in the South…I will say that in the State of South Carolina there is no disturbance of an alarming character in any one of the counties in which the Republicans have a majority. The troubles are usually in those sections in which the Democrats have a predominance in power, and, not content with this, desire to be supreme. I say…to the entire membership of the Democratic party, that upon your hands rests the blood of the loyal men of the South. Disclaim it as you will the stain is there to prove your criminality before God and the world in the day of retribution which will surely come…I can say for my people…we are fully determined to stand by the Republican party and the Government…we have resolved to be loyal and firm, [as Queen Esther said] ‘and if we perish, we perish!’ I earnestly hope the bill will pass.”
The bill did pass despite complete objection from the Democratic Party. Following his speech, Rainey and other black civil rights activists received a letter written in red ink, suggesting they “prepare to meet your God.” President Ulysses S. Grant signed the bill into law on April 20, 1871, yet it did very little to stop the KKK’s violence. Southerners virtually ignored it and Democrats in Congress eliminated funding. Rainey took to the floor again in March of 1872 to push for federal appropriations to enforce the law.
Also in 1871, Democrat Representative Samuel S. Cox from New York made a statement again placing South Carolina’s unrest upon the shoulders of the black Republican legislators. Rainey responded to his remarks, clearly defining the instigators as the Democratic Party.
“But if they [Democrats] will continue to proscribe us, if they will continue to cultivate prejudice against us; if they will continue to decry the Negro and crush him under foot, then you cannot expect the Negro to rise while the Democrats are trampling upon him and his rights…If the Democrats are such staunch friends of the Negro, why is it that when propositions are offered here and elsewhere looking to the elevation of the colored race, and the extension of right and justice to them, do the Democrats array themselves in unbroken phalanx [organized troops], and vote against every such measure? You, gentlemen of that [Democrat] side of the House, have voted against all the recent amendments of the Constitution, and the laws enforcing the same. Why did you do it? I answer, because those measures had a tendency to give to the poor Negro his just rights, and because they proposed to knock off his shackles and give him freedom of speech, freedom of action, and the opportunity of education, that he might elevate himself to the dignity of manhood. Now you come to us and say that you are our best friends. We would that we could look upon you as such. We would that your votes as recorded in the Globe from day to day could only demonstrate it. But your votes, your actions, and the constant cultivation of your cherished prejudices prove to the Negroes of the entire country that the Democrats are in opposition to them, and if they [the Democrats] could have sway our race would have no foothold here…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.”
Rainey then proposed how the country could truly test the Democratic Party’s commitment to Negroes.
“An opportunity will soon present itself when we can test whether you on that side of the House are the best friends of the oppressed and ill-treated Negro race. When the civil rights bill comes before you, when that bill comes up upon its merits asking you to give civil rights of the Negro, I will then see who are our best friends on that side of the House…We are determined to stand by this Government. We are determined to use judiciously and wisely the prerogative conferred upon us by the Republican party. The Democratic Party may woo us, they may court us and try to get us to worship at their shrine, but I will tell the gentleman that we are Republicans by instinct, and we will be Republicans so long as God will allow our proper senses to hold sway over us.”
Rainey championed several Civil Rights bills, supporting all minorities, including Native Americans and Chinese. Serving on several committees, he made history again in May 1874, presiding over the House as the first black Speaker pro tempore.
Despite blacks in state legislatures displaying fairness, equality, and charity to Confederates during Reconstruction, as Lincoln called for, once Southern Democrats were back in power they immediately started passing Black Codes, Jim Crow Laws, poll taxes, and other such legislation to enslave the blacks with government instead of chains. (see ) Democrats gerrymandered districts, ensuring all blacks lost their House seats, including Rainey and fellow South Carolinian, Robert Smalls. (see ) Some historians claim the black population fell out of politics because most were still uneducated at the time. However, so were many whites. The truth is, the self-educated, successful, and intelligent black elected officials were forced out of office as Democrats regained power. Once ex-Confederates were granted voting rights when Reconstruction ended, blacks lost their voice once more.
Rainey received an appointment as a U.S. Internal Revenue agent of South Carolina, where he served until 1881. After a short time in banking and brokerage positions in Washington D.C., Rainey retired to South Carolina in 1886. He died in Georgetown on August 1, 1887, of congestive fever and was buried in the town’s Baptist Cemetery.
Liberty, Rainey’s words are as true today as they were 147 years ago. The poorest, most desolate and violent cities in our country have been run by Democrats for decades. Legislation, such as Republican President Donald Trump’s prison reform bill, designed to help blacks, are still being rejected by Democrats, including African-American ones! Rainey was right, the KKK was all about forcing Republicans into the Democrat party. If they joined, the harassing would stop. This is equally true today when any minority dares to chose to join the Republican Party. (see )
There is a reason why Progressives, who have overtaken America's education system, refuse to teach about such heroes as Joseph H. Rainey. His words completely expose that the Democratic Party hasn't changed since its inception in 1828. It is the party of racism, slavery, and oppression, while the Republican Party is the true party of liberty and freedom. That is why it is imperative we keep Rainey, and the others, alive in America's hearts and minds.
That’s my 2 cents.
December 12, 2018
The guns were silent. The dead were buried. The battlefields were empty. But for the Negros in the South, the true fight for freedom was just beginning.
In his second inaugural address, Republican President Abraham Lincoln encouraged the citizens of the country to pull together, “With malice toward none, with charity for all.” (see ) In a speech celebrating General Lee’s surrender to General Grant just six weeks later, Lincoln again called for reconciliation. Embracing Louisiana’s actions towards equality for Negros, he encouraged Congress to re-admit them to the Union. Before that could happen, actor and Democrat activist John Wilkes Booth rewarded Lincoln’s courage, compassion, and leadership with a bullet in the head. (see )
Despite contending with Southern Democrat President Andrew Johnson’s every objection, Republicans pushed forth Civil Rights legislation and Amendments during the Reconstruction Era. (see and ) Their efforts were overwhelmingly supported by the Negros they were liberating. As Frederick Douglass stated, “I am a Republican, a black, dyed in the wool Republican, and I never intend to belong to any other party than the party of freedom and progress.” (see ) At the time, basically every African-American citizen felt the exact same way. Blacks, both former slaves and freemen, started entering politics on the state level, and they all did so as Republicans.
THE FORGOTTEN REPRESENTATIVE