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Joseph Hayne Rainey

First Black CongressmanJoseph Hayne Rainey fled to Bermuda so he would not have to work for the Confederate Army during the Civil War. When he returned to the United States, he became active in politics and was the first Black man to serve in the United States House of Representatives.

Joseph was born enslaved in Georgetown, South Carolina on July 21, 1832. His father, who was a barber was permitted to work off the plantation and earn money, but had to share his earning with his enslaver. Even with that he was able to save enough money to buy his family’s freedom.

When the Civil War broke out the Rainey family was living free in South Carolina. Although a free man, Joseph was forced to work as a laborer for the Confederate Army. When the opportunity arose, he and his wife escaped to Bermuda where they remained until the end of the war.

Joseph, like his father, was a barber. He established a successful barber business in Bermuda and his wife became a successful dressmaker. When the couple returned to the United States, after the war, they were very wealthy.

During Reconstruction, Joseph became active in politics. In 1870 Congressman Benjamin Whittemore was accused of wrongdoing while serving in office. He resigned as a result leaving his congressional seat vacant. The South Carolina Republican party selected Joseph to serve in his place.

Joseph served in the United States House of Representatives for almost ten years. While in office he fought for civil rights legislation, funding for public schools and equal rights under the law for all Americans.