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Joseph Rainey was born into a turbulent period of history. Great change was erupting beneath the countenance of the United States. The blemish of slavery could no longer be hidden beneath gracious Southern charm, and a bloody Civil War shifted the course of American history. After the grisly conflict ended, tentative peace and scattered principals lay across the ravaged land. Joseph Rainey embodied those principals as the first African American to serve in Congress, and with his presence in the House of Representatives helped further the cause of freedom and civil liberties.
Joseph Hayne Rainey was born into slavery in Georgetown, South Carolina on June 21, 1832. His father worked as a barber and managed to purchase his family and their freedom. After a rudimentary education, young Rainey took up his fatherís career. In 1862, he fled to the West Indies after he was forced by the Confederates to help build their war defenses in Charleston, South Carolina. He did not return to South Carolina until the end of the Civil War in 1865.
As a broken nation struggled to put itself back together, Rainey aided in its reconstruction and acted as a delegate at South Carolinaís State Constitutional Convention in 1868.
In 1870, Rainey became the first African American elected to the United States House of Representatives. He served in Congress four consecutive terms from December 12, 1870 until March 3, 1879. During his tenure, Rainey fought vigorously to improve race relations in the United States. He lobbied for equality and civil liberties for African, Native, and Asian Americans.
Even after leaving Congress in 1870, Rainey continued to serve his native South Carolina as its Internal Revenue agent. He ended his career as a public servant on July 15, 1881, and busied himself with brokerage and banking ventures in Washington, D.C. until 1886.
Officially retired after a full life of private and public service, Joseph Rainey died on August 2, 1887 in Georgetown, South Carolina.
Forced to labor in a war effort directed against the Union, Joseph Rainey escaped from a battling nation, only to return and help rebuild a stronger United States. He persistently campaigned for civil rights and equality between races. Born into slavery Joseph Rainey celebrated his freedom as a public servant and a Congressman, continuing to improve the emancipation and strengthen the liberty of his fellow African Americans and other minorities.
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