Saturday, August 28, 2010

Joseph H. Rainey

Joseph Hayne Rainey, a slave born in Georgetown, South Carolina 1832, became on December 12, 1870, the first African American to serve in the United States House of Representatives. He was elected to Congress four times as a Republican, serving until March 3, 1879 which made him the longest serving black Congressman during the Reconstruction era. He won his second term by 60%, his third term by 84%, and the fourth term ran unopposed.

In a speech given on the floor of Congress in 1871, Rainey challenges a New York Democratic representative who made disparaging remarks about the black members of the South Carolina state legislature. That speech appears below.

"The remarks made by the gentleman from New York in relation to the colored people of South Carolina escaped my hearing, as I was in the rear of the Hall when they were made, and I did not know that any utterance of that kind had emanated from him. I have always entertained a high regard for the gentleman from New York, because I believed him to be a useful member of the House. He is a gentleman of talent and of fine education, and I have thought heretofore that he would certainly be charitable toward a race of people who have never enjoyed the same advantages that he has. If the colored people of South Carolina had been accorded the same advantages—if they had had the same wealth and surroundings which the gentleman from New York has had, they would have shown to this nation that their color was no obstacle to their holding positions of trust, political or otherwise. Not having had these advantages, we cannot at the present time compete with the favored race of this country; but perhaps if our lives are spared, and if the gentleman from New York and other gentlemen on that side of the House will only accord to us right and justice, we shall show to them that we can be useful, intelligent citizens of this country. But if they 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. We ask you, sir, to do by the Negro as you ought to do by him in justice.

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, and vote against every such measure? You, gentlemen of that 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.

Now, sir, I have not time to vindicate fully the course of action of the colored people of South Carolina. We are certainly in the majority there; I admit that we are as two to one. Sir, I ask this House, I ask the country, I ask white men, I ask Democrats, I ask Republicans whether the Negroes have presumed to take improper advantage of the majority they hold in that State by disregarding the interest of the minority? They have not. Our convention which met in 1868, and in which the Negroes were in a large majority, did not pass any proscriptive or disfranchising acts, but adopted a liberal constitution, securing alike equal rights to all citizens, white and black, male and female, as far as possible. Mark you, we did not discriminate, although we had a majority. Our constitution towers up in its majesty with provisions for equal protection of all classes and citizens. Notwithstanding our majority there, we have never attempted to deprive any man in that State of the rights and immunities to which he is entitled under the Constitution of this Government. You cannot point me to a single act passed by our Legislature, at any time, which had a tendency to reflect upon or oppress any white citizen of South Carolina. You cannot show me one enactment by which the majority in our State have undertaken to crush the white men because the latter are in a minority.

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. 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.

I will say to the gentleman from New York that I am sorry I am constrained to make these remarks. I wish to say to him that I do not mind what he may have said against the Negroes of South Carolina. Neither his friendship nor his enmity will change the sentiment of the loyal men of that State. 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. " (My emphasis.)

---- Genealogy: Joseph H. Rainey b.1832 in South Carolina, son of Edward J. (1805) and Teresa Rainey (1810). Brother Edward Jr. b.1831. Edward Sr. was a slave on a rice plantation in Georgetown County, SC, and also worked as a barber; allowed to keep part of his wages he bought his family's freedom in approximately the mid 1840s.

Joseph appears a registered voter on the 1868 Edisto Island, SC voter list. I found Joseph H., age 37 listed in 1870 census in Charleston, SC, head of household, occupation State Senator, wife Susan age 31, born Philadelphia, PA, sister-in-law, Anna Lewis age 33 b. PA, Anna's son Randolph age 8, born SC, and 2 female servants. Later census show Joseph and Susan with 2 sons and a daughter.

The 1880 census shows Susan, age 42, and children Joseph Jr. age 8, Herbert age 6, and Olive age 4, in Windsor, CT, where Rainey had purchased a summer home. Rainey Sr. not listed as presumably he was working in D.C.

Rainey served in congress from December 12, 1870, to March 3, 1879; appointed internal-revenue agent of South Carolina on May 22, 1879, and served until July 15, 1881, when he resigned; engaged in banking and the brokerage business in Washington, D.C.; retired from all business activities in 1886, and in ill health returned to Georgetown, S.C., where he died August 2, 1887; buried in the Baptist Cemetery.

Wife Susan Rainey is in the 1900 US census in Massachusetts living with son Joseph Jr. and his wife Catherine.


kf said...

Sad to report that I had never heard of the intelligent and clever Congressman Rainey until today. (Handsome fellow too . . . but those sideburns they all wore - yikes!) I bookmarked in hopes of alleviating my ignorance (in part lol) regarding African-American history beyond the frame of Black History Month for white people.

Kate-A said...

Thanks. I believe those sideburns were called "muttonchops." They were awful.

Lorna Rainey said...

Kate A, I can see why you were awarded the 'Thinking Blogger Award'.
I would personally like to Thank You for your detailed blog about my great-grandfather, the Hon. Joseph H. Rainey.
It has come to my attention lately that the Republican Party and their supporters have taken to spotlighting their past accomplishments where people of color are concerned. How sad it is that they must harken back to a person seated 140 years ago. How pathetic it is that his official Congressional potrait was not commissioned until April 2003 nor hung beside his colleagues until September 21, 2005. (Spearheaded by Democratic reps and the Congressional Black Caucus)
Allow me to enlighten you just a bit more. It is obvious to me and to your readers that you are a person of intellect who loves to learn and disseminate information.
Shamefully, his peers in the Republican Party began to change their platform permitting the exclusion of their Black Partymembers. One by one, with lack of support and overt practices, the Black representatives in both Houses began to disappear. For example, anticipating the end of my great-grandfather's tenure in the House, his Republican colleagues had promised him a political appointment on par with his previous Congressional service. That did not happen. What he got was a job as an Internal Revenue Agent. The Republicans continued to give in to the shrill rantings of the defeated Southerners and resentful Northerners sitting silently by as the freedoms bought with blood and sacrifice were abrogated.
However, over the years, the parties switched their platforms almost completely. The Democrats, formerly against the inclusion of people of color in the 20th Century became the progressive party, the party of inclusion, the one which most often champions the poor, the little guy, the middle class. And the Republicans, with their past proud and storied history, have become a shadow of themselves, a parody of all that America and our Constitution promises...content to wrap themselves in the flag as if that can conceal what they really are. Sort of reminiscent of those who shrouded themselves in WHITE sheets. Enough cloaking of the real intent, let them do the right thing for all the people. Then we can again give them credit for what they did so many years ago. Not as a blatant effort to manipulate history, but as a true accolade for their courage in those times.

Kate-A said...

Thank you Lorna, and thanks for sharing your family history.

I once believed that the 2 parties had "switched" platforms but I think now the corruption in both parties makes it impossible to tell tweedle-dum from tweedle-dee. Pols pander to a voter "base" only to get elected or reelected.

Beginning in 1880, all the anti-civil rights laws that passed over the following 2 decades were by a democrat-controlled congress. I had a gggrandfather (white) who was a slaveholder, judge, and senator from TN, supported the Confederacy, until after the war. I guess he was for slavery before he was against it as he became a republican in 1865. I wonder if they used the term RINO back then...

I do lean toward believing the earlier republicans who predicted that welfare programs would basically make blacks "wards of the state" (i.e. the Moynihan Report).

For all this progressive love and "social justice" we only exchanged the master's chitlins for foodstamps, the slave cabin for housing projects/section 8; and a slave master used more planning and forethought in breeding than today's black men/women. With democrats now as pseudo-benevolent overseers - patting our nappy heads and whipping us with the chains of our own thinking. Mission accomplished.

One thing I've realized is that regardless which party "wins" it has had little bearing on my life and pursuit of happyness. I have always been independent of the government and its machinations. Government may alter my choices but I still choose what to make of my life.

Again, thanks for responding.

Lorna Rainey said...

Hi Kate,
I read and re-read your reply and although I do agree with some, I think we need to dig deeper to understand the situation that Black citizens find themselves in.
For starters, I take issue with the Arican-American moniker. Many people without a platform from which to address it feel the same way. If we need to go back three or four hundred years to find an identity in another country, that is a huge problem. If you are insecure about something so basic as who you are, where do you go from there? And the government has little to do with that. That is something that we must deal with. But it does contribute to people being vulnerable to victimization and brainwashing.
Too many of my ancestors have sacrificed to make this Country our home for me to disrespect their memories by claiming someone else's homeland. The more we throw in with that, the more other people push us out of the mainstream. If you want to be different, they'll certainly help you.
Other instances you cited about our lack of self-respect also make it easier for us to be at the mercy of the rich, educated and powerful. Certainly it is distressing that after all we've been through our young generation cares so little about history, self-reliance and family stability.
I had mulled over the abolition of the two-party political system, but although it is flawed, it does offer us an opportunity to know who toes the party line. In order to secure the nomination, the party has to be certain that you endorse their platform. So, if there was no party system, then we'd never have a way of knowing who really stood for what. The party big-wigs do ensure that their candidates stick to the party-endorsed issues. Whether they follow through on them after election is another matter.

Kate-A said...

I agree with not liking the African American moniker and never ever used it, sounds lame. I remember once in Nicaragua decades ago I asked a black Nicaraguan what they were called and he looked at me as if that was an odd question and said we're called Nicaraguans ... gulp... and I knew then why I disliked that moniker and why it was being instituted in the US.

Where I point the finger most often is parenting, regardless of race, creed, nationality, or color. Who we are is who our parents taught us to be - or lack thereof. Whatever happened to 'say it loud ....

I don't think it matters much if we have a 2-party system or 3 or 4 - we do not hold our pols accountable to what they claim to stand for - but lack of accountability seems to be a social pattern that's all inclusive.

Anonymous said...

I agree with not liking the African American moniker and never ever used it, sounds lame. I remember once in Nicaragua decades ago I asked a black Nicaraguan what they were called and he looked at me as if that was an odd question and said we're called Nicaraguans ... gulp... and I knew then why I disliked that moniker and why it was being instituted in the US."

After reading your post Kate, I just realized I am an American. Well, what do you know.

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