10 groundbreaking Black politicians you've probably never heard of

Most people know about the 13th Amendment and the Civil Rights Movement, but what about the individuals who won smaller, but vital, victories for representation along the way?
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Joseph Hayne Rainey
Joseph Hayne Rainey Of South Carolina / Heritage Images/GettyImages

Joseph Rainey

Shortly after Hiram Revels took office, Joseph Rainey became the first Black man to serve in the House of Representatives. While John Willis Menard was actually the first Black man elected to the House, he was kept from being able to serve.

Rainey was born as a slave in South Carolina, though his father was able to buy his freedom long before the passage of the 13th Amendment. He was forced to work for the Confederate Army in the early years of the Civil War but ran away in 1862 to Bermuda. When the War was over, he and his family returned to South Carolina, where he helped establish the state's version of the Republican Party.

His political career flourished from there. Rainey was elected to the state senate in 1868, before taking over for Benjamin Franklin Whittemore in the US House of Representatives. He earned nearly 90% of the votes in the 1870 special election.

Joseph Rainey was a powerhouse in the House of Representatives, where he served on at least three committees and was the first Black man to preside over the House in 1874. In addition to fighting for the passage of the Ku Klux Klan Act, he helped create legal infrastructure for civil rights, which was necessary when pushing for desegregation and anti-discrimination laws.

Despite rising efforts to terrorize Black voters and politicians, Rainey was re-elected to the House four more times. While he was eventually voted out, he was the longest-running Black Representative during the Reconstruction era.