The legacy of Joseph Rainey: First African American to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives

An exhibit is in the hallway at the U.S. Capitol, not far from a room now known as the Josephn Rainey room, honors his life and legacy.

News 12 Staff

Feb 14, 2021, 5:03 PM

Updated 1,247 days ago

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Joseph Rainey was the first African American to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives, he was also the first member of Congress born into slavery.
From the time she was 3 years old, Lorna Rainey’s great aunt from Massachusetts would tell Lorna about her great-grandfather Joseph Rainey.
“Every time I would visit her, she would pull me onto her lap and tell me the stories about her dad.  She would tell me about his accomplishments and she would end it by saying Lorna you're going to be the one to tell the world about his accomplishments, it’s up to you to tell about his legacy,” says Rainey. Lorna has done her part, her house in Baldwin is full of pictures of her great-grandfather, and she also has his silverware passed down through the family for generations.
As Lorna continued her mission, she quickly learned the story of Joseph Rainey, who was born a slave in South Carolina in 1832 and was elected to the House of Representatives in 1870, was nowhere to be found.
“There was a concerted effort to keep his legacy hidden for as long as possible, people just didn't want to give him the recognition because number one he was the first, and number two he was a firebrand,” says Lorna. Rainey’s accomplishments are slowly getting more recognition thanks to Lorna and others. 
An exhibit is in the hallway at the U.S. Capitol, not far from a room now known as the Joseph Rainey room, honors his life and legacy.


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