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“The House of Representatives, in some respects, I think, is the most peculiar assemblage in the world,” Speaker Joe Cannon of Illinois once observed. Behind the legislation and procedure, House Members and staff have produced their own institutional history and heritage. Our blog, Whereas: Stories from the People’s House, tells their stories.

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Displaying 1–12 of 15 results

“Catalyst for Change”: The 1972 Presidential Campaign of Representative Shirley Chisholm

Since its first publication in 1951, Jet magazine had been on the forefront covering news and issues important to its African-American readership. Widely popular for its commentary on politics, culture, and the lives of everyday people, Jet posed a question in June 1971 that would soon prove prophetic: “Should a Black Politician Run for President?”
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Crowned with Freedom

Capitol Architect Thomas U. Walter had not slept well in days. The painstaking process required to mount the Statue of Freedom atop the Capitol’s unfinished new Dome had kept him awake at night. But on December 2, 1863, clear skies and a gentle breeze greeted Walter as his team of workers adjoined the final piece to the 19-foot, six-inch statue.
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Rediscovering Rainey's Reign

It’s unclear what prompted Representative Luke Poland of Vermont to leave the rostrum that day and yield the gavel, as the 43rd Congress (1873–1875) debated an Indian appropriations bill. But what is clear is that he set in motion a series of events that seemed the very culmination of the Civil War. When Poland stepped down, Joseph Hayne Rainey of South Carolina—a former slave who had once been impressed into service by the Confederacy before escaping to Bermuda—mounted the Speaker’s rostrum, grasped the gavel, and set Capitol Hill abuzz.
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The Fight for Fair Housing in the House—Part I:
A “Long, Tortuous and Difficult Road”

Following the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Lyndon B. Johnson, in his 1966 State of the Union Address, called for additional legislation to “prohibit racial discrimination in the sale or rental of housing.” Over the next two years, Johnson’s new housing measure—known as the Fair Housing Act—traveled what he called a “long, tortuous and difficult road,” exposing the limits of his Great Society agenda and forcing Congress to consider more expansive civil rights protections.
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The Superhero Style of Robert Smalls

Drawings of Robert Smalls from Golden Legacy
A dramatic backstory helped to launch Robert Smalls’s congressional career in the 1870s. A century later, the daring ship captain and Civil War hero’s story reappeared in the public eye as the subject of a volume of Golden Legacy, a comic book format Black history series for children.
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Edition for Educators—Joseph H. Rainey of South Carolina

For Black History Month, this Edition for Educators celebrates the life and career of Representative Joseph Hayne Rainey.
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Joseph Rainey and Reconstruction’s Promise

On December 12, 1870, newspapers across the nation heralded the swearing in of Joseph H. Rainey of South Carolina as the first African-American Member of the U.S. House of Representatives. Rainey not only represented his South Carolina district. He also represented, he said, “the outraged and oppressed negro population of this country, those I may strictly call my constituency.”
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“The Bulwark of Freedom”: African-American Members of Congress and the Constitution During Reconstruction

On December 9, 1873, the National Civil Rights Convention drew several hundred African-American activists to Washington, DC. Attendees recognized that gains had been made in the Black struggle for equality during Reconstruction, but called on Congress to pass sweeping civil rights legislation, noting that recent “declarations recognizing our entitlement to all of our rights, with essential ones withheld, render the grievances even more intolerable.”
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“By Any Fair Means”: Joseph H. Rainey’s Contested Elections

Joseph Rainey Certificate of Election
When Joseph H. Rainey of South Carolina served in the House of Representatives from 1870 to 1879 as its first Black Representative, the political inroads made during Reconstruction by Blacks in the South started to disintegrate rapidly. The contested election was weaponized as a method of excluding African Americans from representation in Congress.
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What Does “Civilization” Look Like?

Detail of Harper's Weekly Cover
Reconstruction Era illustrations from Harper’s Weekly both showed and told their audience about new civil rights laws and gave them a graphic sense of changes in America.
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Engraving the Phoenix

1907 Print of African-American Members
On a sheet the size of a small poster, 22 politicians’ portraits crowd the image, titled “Colored Men Who Have Served in the Congress of the United States.” The worn print recalls the decades following the Civil War, when African Americans came to Congress to represent their fellow Southerners in the national legislature. And more than a memory, it testifies to the persistence of hope during Jim Crow–era political violence and disenfranchisement.
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“I Ask Nothing Because I am a Negro”: A Letter to the Committee on Military Affairs

By age 26, Henry Ossian Flipper’s place in history was already assured. In 1877, he was the first African American to graduate from the United States Military Academy at West Point, where his race was a fact his fellow students never let him forget. He was the first African-American commissioned officer in the U.S. Army.
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