Fighter for Human Rights

Joseph Rainey was born into a slave family in South Carolina. His father was a barber who used the money he earned to buy his family out of slavery. Since African Americans were not allowed to go to school, Joseph had no formal education. He learned how to barber from his father.

When the Civil War started, Joseph was forced to help construct defenses for the city of Charleston. He and his wife escaped to Bermuda where he set up a barbershop.

When the Civil War ended, Joseph and his wife returned to South Carolina. He helped start up the state’s Republican Party. He became active in state politics and became a state Senator.

When a current member of the U.S. House of Representatives resigned due to a scandal, Joseph was appointed to replace him. He then went on to be elected to serve in Congress for an additional four terms by overwhelming margins.

Joseph was the first African American to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives. During the Reconstruction Era, African Americans won elections at the federal, state, and local levels. One of Joseph’s major accomplishments was the passage of the Ku Klux Klan Act. President Grant used the Act to limit the growth of violence of the Klan.

Joseph was a strong advocate for what he called human rights. In his view, human rights encompassed civil, political, and economic rights. He was a strong supporter of rights for Native Americans and immigrants as well as African Americans.

As the Reconstruction Era came to an end, voters of color were increasingly being intimidated. He eventually lost his seat in Congress due to a voter suppression effort of his opponent. His effort to provide oversight of elections was defeated.

He returned to South Carolina and created a business selling coal and wood. He died nine years later.

Hidden heroes make the most of the opportunities presented to them. While there were problems during the Reconstruction Era, opportunities were presented to Joseph and others that would not have otherwise existed. The fact that Joseph used this opportunity to improve the lives of those who had been neglected in our society is a testament to his character.

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“To deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity.” – Nelson Mandela

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