Topic: Joseph Hayne Rainey

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Joseph Hayne Rainey (June 21, 1832 – August 1, 1887) was the first African American person to serve in the United States House of Representatives and the second black person to serve in the United States Congress (U.S. Senator Hiram Revels was the first) and the first African American to be directly elected to Congress (Revels was appointed).

Rainey was born in Georgetown, South Carolina. His parents were both slaves, but his father, Edward, had a successful business as a barber, enabling him to purchase his family's freedom shortly after Joseph Rainey's birth. As an adult, Rainey followed his father by becoming a barber. In 1861, with the outbreak of the American Civil War, Rainey was drafted by the Confederate government to work on fortifications in Charleston, South Carolina, as well as to work as a laborer on blockade runner ships. In 1862, he and his wife were able to escape to Bermuda. They settled in the town of St. George, Bermuda, where Rainey worked as a barber, while his wife established herself as a successful dressmaker. In 1865, the couple moved to the town of Hamilton when an outbreak of yellow fever threatened St. George. Rainey worked at the Hamilton Hotel as a barber and a bartender, while becoming a respected member of the community.

In 1866, following the war's end, Rainey returned to South Carolina. He quickly involved himself in politics, joining the executive committee of the state Republican Party. In 1868, he was a delegate to the convention which wrote the state's new constitution. In 1870, Rainey was elected to the State Senate of South Carolina. Later that year, he was elected to fill a vacancy in the Forty-first Congress of the United States as a Republican. This vacancy had been created when the previous incumbent, Benjamin F. Whittemore, was censured by the House for corruption and subsequently re-elected, after which the House refused to seat him. Rainey was seated December 12, 1870 and was re-elected to Congress four times; he served until March 3, 1879, which made him the longest-serving black Congressmen prior to William L. Dawson in the 1950s.

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