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Bermuda sojourner Joseph Rainey honoured in US Congress

Jim Clyborne, the US House Majority Whip, and Nancy Pelosi, the US Speaker of the House, view a display highlighting the history of Joseph Rainey (Photograph supplied)

The US Congress last week hailed the 150th anniversary of a former Bermuda barber who became the first black person to win a seat in the US House of Representatives.

Joseph Rainey – who ran a barber shop in St George’s – became a member of the US House of Representatives 150 years ago last Saturday.

The US Congress agreed to rename one of the rooms in the Capitol – the building in which Congress meets – the Joseph H Rainey Room to mark the occasion.

An exhibition about Mr Rainey’s life was also unveiled in the Capitol in his honour.

Jim Clyburn, the House Majority Whip, introduced the resolution on Wednesday to honour Mr Rainey and said he laid the foundation for black lawmakers in the Congress.

Nancy Pelosi, the House Speaker, said she wanted to put up the display to highlight the “full, vibrant diversity” of American history.

She added: “It is my hope that in sharing the story of Joseph Rainey, we will help ensure a fuller story of America will be told and inspire a new generation of civil rights and advocates for justice.”

Mr Rainey was born in Georgetown, South Carolina in 1832.

His parents were slaves, but his father was able to buy his family’s freedom and taught his son to be a barber.

Mr Rainey was drafted to work on a Civil War Confederate blockade runner in 1861, but escaped the next year and travelled to Bermuda with his wife.

He set up a barber shop in or near the kitchen of the historic Tucker’s House at the junction of Water Street and Barber’s Alley – named in his honour – in St George.

He returned to the US in 1866 and joined the executive committee of the newly formed South Carolina Republican party and in 1868, he was elected a delegate to the state Constitutional Convention.

Mr Rainey was elected to a four-year term in the state senate two years later, but he was quickly put forward for a special election for a seat in Congress.

He won the election in 1870 and joined Congress in December that year.

He broke another barrier when he became the first African-American representative to preside over a House of Representatives session in 1874.

Mr Rainey was re-elected in 1876 in a close election against John Richardson.

Mr Richardson challenged again two years later and defeated Mr Rainey.

Mr Rainey died in Georgetown on August 2, 1887 leaving a wife and five children.

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Published December 16, 2020 at 8:01 am (Updated December 16, 2020 at 8:00 am)

Bermuda sojourner Joseph Rainey honoured in US Congress

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