Joseph H. Rainey, “Speech Made in Reply to An Attack Upon the Colored State Legislators of South Carolina by Representative Cox on New York,” 1871
Joseph Hayne Rainey, born in Georgetown, South Carolina to enslaved parents in 1832, became on December 12, 1870, the first African American to serve in the United States House of Representatives and only the second person to serve Congress, after U.S. Senator Hiram Revels of Mississippi. He was elected to Congress four times as a Republican, serving until March 3, 1879 which made him the longest serving black Congressman during the Reconstruction era. In a speech given on the floor of Congress in 1871, Rainey challenges a New York Democratic representative who made disparaging remarks about the black members of the South Carolina state legislature. That speech appears below.
The remarks made by the gentleman from New York in relation to the colored people of South Carolina escaped my hearing, as I was in the rear of the Hall when they were made, and I did not know that any utterance of that kind had emanated from him. I have always entertained a high regard for the gentleman from New York, because I believed him to be a useful member of the House. He is a gentleman of talent and of fine education, and I have thought heretofore that he would certainly be charitable toward a race of people who have never enjoyed the same advantages that he has. If the colored people of South Carolina had been accorded the same advantages—if they had had the same wealth and surroundings which the gentleman from New York has had, they would have shown to this nation that their color was no obstacle to their holding positions of trust, political or otherwise. Not having had these advantages, we cannot at the present time compete with the favored race of this country; but perhaps if our lives are spared, and if the gentleman from New York and other gentlemen on that side of the House will only accord to us right and justice, we shall show to them that we can be useful, intelligent