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Pelosi omits that first black congressman was Republican when announcing exhibit honoring him

'This special exhibition will help finally share the story of Congressman Rainey, which has for too long and for too many gone untold,' Pelosi said when announcing the exhibit honoring former Rep. Rainey

Updated: December 8, 2020 - 11:31am

The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Majority Whip James Clyburn omitted that the first African American to serve in the House of Representatives was a Republican when the Democratic leaders announced the opening of a new exhibit displayed in his honor.

The exhibition in the United States Capitol named, "Joseph Rainey: 150 Years," celebrates the 150th anniversary of the swearing-in of former Rep. Joseph Rainey of South Carolina, who was the first African American to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives. 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. 

“It is a great honor to join Whip Clyburn — a proud son of South Carolina — to announce the opening of this exhibition, celebrating the historic service and enduring impact of Congressman Joseph Rainey,” Pelosi said, according to a press release sent out on Friday announcing the exhibit. 

“As Speaker, it has long been my priority to ensure that the halls of the United States Capitol reflect the full, vibrant and diverse portrait of American history, and this special exhibition will help finally share the story of Congressman Rainey, which has for too long and for too many gone untold. As it communicates an important part of our nation’s history, this exhibition will also help inform and inspire the future – engaging the next generation of voting rights and civil rights champions," Pelosi added.

The first African American to serve in the U.S. Senate was also a member of the Republican Party. Hiram Rhodes Revels, a Republican from Mississippi, became the first African American to serve in the Senate when he was seated in 1870 during the post-Civil War Reconstruction era, which was the same year that Rainey began his tenure in the House. Blanche Bruce, also a Mississippi Republican, was the second African-American to serve in the Senate, starting in 1875. 

“I want to thank Speaker Pelosi and the Clerk of the House, Cheryl Johnson, for having the vision to mark this 150th anniversary of Joseph Rainey’s swearing in as the first African American House member in this important way,” Clyburn said when announcing the exhibit in Rainey's honor. “History can only inform us, if we know that history. This exhibit reminds us to celebrate those whose shoulders we stand upon and to learn the lessons from the long arc of the Black experience in this august body.”   

The Clerk of the House, Cheryl Johnson, sent out a "Dear Colleague" letter to members of Congress about the Rainey exhibit, which also didn't mention that he was a Republican.

A congressional source who asked not to be identified told Just the News that the information displayed about Rainey in the exhibit also doesn't include his party affiliation. 

However, Rainey's biographical page on the House of Representative's history website does note that he was a Republican.