Albert McKinley Rains (1902-1991) was a noted congressman who served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1945 to 1965. Rains represented Alabama’s Fifth District until the state legislature failed to pass a redistricting bill, leading to congressional races being conducted at large during his final term. Rains was considered progressive, as compared with other southern Democrats, on a variety of issues and an ally of Alabama‘s progressive senators Lister Hill and John Sparkman. Like many in his cohort of southern liberals, though, he was a supporter of segregation and opposed all civil rights legislation while in Congress. He was noted for authoring numerous bills that expanded housing opportunities for the elderly, service members, and rural residents.
Albert Rains Rains was born in Grove Oak, DeKalb County, on March 11, 1902, to Elbert and Luella Rains; he had three siblings. He attended local schools and after graduating high school attended John H. Snead Seminary in Boaz, Marshall County. Rains went on to attend present-day Jacksonville State University and the University of Alabama. He studied law, passed the bar exam in 1928, and practiced alongside his brother Will Rains at the firm of Rains and Rains in Gadsden the following year. Rains served as deputy solicitor for Etowah County, holding the post until 1935. Rains next served as the Gadsden city attorney from 1935 to 1944. During his tenure, he became interested in politics and ran successfully as a Democrat for a seat in the Alabama House of Representatives, serving from 1941 to 1944. He married Allison Blair of Centre, Cherokee County, in 1939; the couple had one child who died at a young age.
In 1944, Rains set his sights on Alabama’s Fifth Congressional District, which was represented by Joe Starnes, a very conservative Democrat and vocal anti-communist and avid segregationist. Though they held similar views on racial issues, Rains, in contrast, was considered a stronger supporter of Pres. Franklin Roosevelt and a champion of Gadsden’s industrial workers. Rains defeated Starnes in the Democratic primary, winning the seat, as he had no Republican challenger. He never again ran a primary race or faced a Republican opponent, representing the Fifth until 1963. That year, the Fifth was redistricted as an at-large district as a result of population changes recorded in the 1960 Census, and Rains represented that district until 1965.
Albert Rains in Rainsville While in Congress, Rains held several powerful posts, including chairman of the Special Housing Subcommittee, was an influential member of the House Committee on Banking and Currency, and was a member of the Joint Committee on Defense Production. Rains introduced important legislation aimed at developing the Coosa-Alabama River System through the construction of dams such as Weiss Dam and helped write, along with Lister Hill and John Sparkman, the legislation that established Horseshoe Bend National Military Park. Rains also played important roles in legislation related to housing, writing the majority of all housing legislation that was passed during his time in Congress and earning the nickname “Mr. Housing U.S.A.” His college housing bills increased dormitory facilities on nearly every college campus in the nation, and other legislation backed by Rains expanded housing for the elderly and nursing-home residents, for members of the armed forces, and for rural populations. Rains also worked to pass and amend the Urban Mass Transit Act of 1964 as well as numerous laws benefiting banks and the nation’s savings and loans associations. Rains was also noted for chairing an international study group on historic preservation sponsored by the United States Conference of Mayors and the National League of Cities. His report was adapted into the book With Heritage So Rich and prompted passage of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, which sought to preserve historical and archeological sites throughout the nation and established the National Register of Historic Places program.
Rains strongly supported the separation of church and state, despite being a devout Baptist. He was one of many congressmen who successfully opposed the 1964 “Becker Amendment,” which would have allowed prayer and Bible readings in public schools. His stand against the amendment was potentially controversial, as he and his faction of liberal Democrats were opposed by Alabama governor George Wallace, who supported the measure.
During his time in office, Rains worked closely with Lister Hill and his supporters. In Hill’s close 1962 race against Gadsden republican James D. Martin, Rains worked hard in the closing days of the contest to ensure that Etowah County remained behind Hill. He was so well regarded by his House colleagues that he was considered as a challenger to Massachusetts Democrat John McCormack for the position of Speaker of the House following the death of Sam Rayburn in 1961. McCormack supporters dismissed the possible challenge as publicity seeking, but Rains’s name was circulated among members of the press. Some historians have since argued that if not for his signing of the “Southern Manifesto” opposing public school integration and indifference to housing segregation, Rains might have been a serious challenge to McCormack. Rains also voted against all major civil rights legislation, including the Acts of 1957, 1960, and 1964.
Facing increasing support for Republicans and more conservative Democrats, Rains retired from Congress in 1965. His at-large seat was won by Martin, and several other congressional districts voted Republican when the state overwhelmingly supported Arizona’s Republican senator Barry Goldwater in the 1964 presidential election. Following his retirement, Rains served as vice president and on the board of directors of the Coosa Broadcasting Company of Gadsden, the Guntersville Broadcasting Company, and the Tallabama Broadcasting Company of Talladega. Rains also was on the board of directors of Investors Mortgage Insurance Company of Boston, Massachusetts, and the board of Republic Mortgage Investors of Miami, Florida. In addition, he chaired the board for the First City National Bank (later renamed the First Alabama Bank of Gadsden) and was named chairman emeritus after his retirement in 1979.
Over the course of his career, Rains earned many awards and honors, including induction into the Alabama Academy of Honor in 1972. The Gadsden Public Library named its genealogy department in his honor in 1984 for his support of the library. Rains spent his long retirement from politics as a resident of Gadsden. He died from pneumonia at the age of 89 on March 22, 1991, and was buried in Forrest Cemetery located in Gadsden. He was inducted into the Alabama Men’s Hall of Fame in 2015.
Rains, Albert, and Laurence G. Henderson. With Heritage So Rich. New York; Random House, 1966.