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On Thursday, great-granddaughter Lorna Rainey addressed reporters at a news conference to unveil the Joseph H. Rainey Room at the U.S. Capitol.
In 1832, Rainey was born into slavery in Georgetown, South Carolina. By 1870, Rep. Joseph H. Rainey was elected to Congress.
Lorna Rainey stated, “As we honor this man, please let us remember what he stood for, what he put his life in danger for and why his legacy endures today.”
In 1870, he became the first African American elected to the House of Representatives. On Thursday, Joseph H. Rainey became the first Black member of the House to formally have a room in the Capitol named after him.
MAKING HISTORY IN HIS SLEEP
Also in attendance were No. 3 House Democratic leader James Clyburn and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, the minimum wage, filibuster, food insecurity, or prison reform are among many of the issues directly impacting Black progress. Yet legislatively, Democratic leadership has failed to produce action. Instead, they offer the next best thing–words, symbols, rooms.
Joseph H. Rainey, however, was a man of action and purpose. He was an advocate for rights for working people, immigrants, former slaves, and he supported self-government for Native American tribes. He also helped found the state Republican Party and represented Georgetown on the party’s central committee.
In an attempt at more than feel-good symbolism, Clyburn utilized the opportunity to remind the attending press of the persistent challenges facing Black America, including hiring disparities.
Clyburn noted that eight African Americans were elected to the House from his home state during the 19th Century.” He continued, “The problem is there’s 95 years between No. 8 and No. 9,” Rep. Clyburn said, referring to his own election in 1992.
While Clyburn advocates for a less Ivy League type to assume the Supreme Court, Joseph H. Rainey was never formally educated. Still, he rose to unimaginable ranks fighting for those who couldn’t fight for themselves.
As Democratic leadership fails to deliver substantive change and campaign promises, photo opportunities honoring men and women more courageously than themselves remain bittersweet for many in the Black community.