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GOP honors first black congressman after new exhibit excluded his Republican affiliation

Sen. Tim Scott, who represented the same district as former Rep. Joseph Rainey in the House before becoming a senator, discussed Rainey's life and political career with House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy in a video tribute

Updated: December 11, 2020 - 11:20pm

House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy and South Carolina Republican Sen. Tim Scott honored the first African American member of Congress with a tribute on Friday after a new exhibit in the U.S. Capitol left out his party affiliation.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Majority Whip James Clyburn also omitted that former South Carolina Rep. Joseph Rainey, the first African American to serve in the House of Representatives, was a Republican when the Democratic leaders announced the opening of the new exhibit in the Capitol titled, "Joseph Rainey: 150 Years," which celebrates the 150th anniversary of Rainey's swearing-in on December 12, 1870.

During his political career, Rainey "helped found the state Republican Party and represented Georgetown on the party’s central committee." He also served as a delegate to the state constitutional convention in 1868. 

In addition to Rainey, the exhibit features other African American House members elected in the late 1800s during the Reconstruction period but it doesn't mention that they were Republicans. The first African American Democrat elected to the House was Arthur W. Mitchell of Illinois in 1935. His biography isn't featured in the exhibit but a photo and quote from former Rep. Barbara Mitchell, a Democrat from Texas, is part of the exhibit and her party affiliation is not mentioned either.

Pelosi brought up the exhibit again during a press briefing on Thursday and described some of Rainey's contributions to the House but didn't note his party affiliation. 

Scott, who represented the same district as Rainey in the House before becoming a senator, discussed Rainey's life and political career with McCarthy on Friday.

"He's an American hero, certainly a South change maker. He was born into slavery," Scott said, adding that Rainey moved out of the U.S. to train as a barber. "After the war ended he moved back to America and ran for Congress. Knowing the path that he blazed for so many of us to come behind, whether you're black or white, if you enjoy history, if you love the story of the guy that starts at the bottom and comes to the top Joseph Rainey is your guy." 

McCarthy said Rainey learned the free market as a barber and joined the Republican Party when he came to the U.S. and became the leader of the South Carolina Republican Party.

"He was breaking a lot of barriers," he said.

Scott, the first African American elected to both the House and Senate, said Rainey's story is an example of how the Republican Party was founded on freedom and liberty.

"Over time he rose to the level of leadership in a party, in our nation but it all started with a story of struggle and perseverance, discipline, overcome the odds and he made that story in my home state, in my hometown which is amazing," Scott said. 

The House passed legislation on Thursday to name a room in the U.S. Capitol after Rainey.

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