It was on this date in 1870 that Joseph Rainey was sworn in to the U.S. House of Representatives. Rainey was not the first African-American to serve in Congress, that honor belonging to Hiram Revels, but Rainey was the first African-American to be elected to Congress. Rainey represented South Carolina’s 1st District and was re-elected four times.
Representative Rainey’s election came during Reconstruction, (1865-1877), specifically during the period when Congress wrest control of Reconstruction following the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson. In all, sixteen African-Americans served in Congress, (either through appointment by their respective states or by election), until the sudden end of Reconstruction that coincided with the political compromise that elected Rutherford B. Hayes.
Still, six more African-Americans served in Congress after Reconstruction until 1901. However, for the next twenty-eight years, no African-American was elected to Congress due to the oftentimes violent application of Jim Crow restrictions on African-Americans participating in any way in the democratic process.