Congressman Clyburn Helps Unveil Portrait of South Carolina's First Black Congressman

Sep 21, 2005

(Washington, DC) - A new portrait will soon take its place of honor on the wall of the U.S. Capitol building with the likeness of Georgetown native Joseph Haynes Rainey, the first African American member of the U.S. House of Representatives.  Congressman Rainey's portrait was unveiled on Wednesday, September 21st by Congressman James E. Clyburn and a number of his congressional colleagues. 

At the ceremony, Congressman Clyburn reminded the audience of a Langston Hughes poem Dreams:  "Hold fast to dreams/ For if dreams die/ Life is a broken-winged bird/ That cannot fly."

 "All of these Members are people who held fast to dreams," Congressman Clyburn continued. "We are the custodians of dreams and this event is the fulfillment of dreams." 

Joseph Rainey was the son of slaves, who later bought the family's freedom.  He was drafted to fight for the Confederacy in the Civil War, but escaped to Bermuda instead.  Once the war ended, he returned to Georgetown.  In 1870, Mr. Rainey was elected to the South Carolina State Senate, but resigned that office when he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives later that same year.  Congressman Rainey served four terms, and later returned to Georgetown where he died on August 2, 1887. 

"I have a great passion for history and historical things. It is incumbent upon each of us not just to right the wrongs of history, but to help get history right," Congressman Clyburn concluded.  "This is just a beginning." 

Rainey's portrait will hang on the third floor House side of the Capitol adjacent to the visitor's gallery.  His is only the second portrait of an African American to be hung in the Capitol.  The first was a painting of Senator Blanche Bruce of Mississippi, the first African American to serve a full term in the U.S. Senate. 

South Carolina Congressmen Henry Brown and John Spratt also attended the unveiling, as well as several current Georgetown residents led by Clerk of Court Alma White. 


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