Joseph Rainey, “The First Colored Representative” [New National Era, December 22, 1870]

The election of the first generation of black Congressmen and Senators was distinctly chronicled by The New National Era. By the close of the paper’s freshmen year Republican Joseph Rainey became the first black member of the House of Representatives. He was sworn-in December 12, 1870 after being selected by the South Carolina Republican Party to fill the vacated seat of Benjamin Whitenmore who was forced to resign after being charged with selling appointments to U.S. military academies. Rainey would be elected for four successive terms before losing re-election to the 46th Congress in 1878. He retired March 3, 1879, becoming the longest serving black American Congressman during the Reconstruction period.

“Mr. Rainey’s early education was extremely limited, never having attended a school in his life,” introduced the New National Era, “but despite the disadvantages under which the colored people labored at that time, his thirst for education was so great that he took every opportunity that presented itself to acquire a knowledge of books, and, being naturally of an observing turn of mind, improved rapidly.” Rainey “took his seat on the Republican side in the extreme southwest corner of the hall.” He was described as having “straight hair and bushy side whiskers, and looks like a Cuban.”  For the record, The New National Era stated, the “colored race is now represented in the United States Senate by Hiram Revels, in the lower House of Congress by Mr. Rainey, and on the Judicial bench by Mr. J. J. Wright, Associate Judge of the Supreme Court of South Carolina.”

It was noted in the same issue that the “colored population of the United States now numbers about five million” which equaled “about nine hundred thousand votes, and probably a million in the next Presidential election.” The previous Census had accounted for forty-two million persons which “will give the country another apportionment for members of the House.” Crunching the numbers, The New National Era determined on “a basis of 150,000 inhabitants to a Representative the House to be chosen two years hence would consist of 250 members. Of these the colored population would furnish the basis for thirty-four members.” In all the Reconstruction Congresses and those leading up to 1901 a total of twenty-one African Americans served as Congressmen.

SOURCE:

“The First Colored Representative.” New National Era.  22 Dec. 1870, p. 3.

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