The course of the African American in government and politics has a multifaceted history, with issues of equality, suffrage, civil rights, and full political participation at its heart. During the years that followed Reconstruction and in the first decade of the twentieth century (particularly in the late 1890s and early 1900s), African Americans were systematically stripped of their political and civil rights throughout the southern United States. While the Fifteenth Amendment was intended to secure the vote for African American men, it took Congress almost 90 years to pass the laws necessary to make the amendment applicable. The Civil Rights Act of 1960 strengthened voting rights by providing federal supervision of voter registration, but it was the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that truly made the amendment effective.
Because of the struggle involved in African American realizing their full political and civil rights, few have held office over the nation’s history. While the number of black representatives in local and state governments totaled more than 1,500 in 1870, it would be close to 100 years before African Americans were again represented in significant numbers in local, state, and national governments.
What “first” did African Americans Make in Government Positions in the Last Half of the Twentieth Century?
In the later half of the 1900s, African Americans in public office achieved three significant milestones. In 1990 Douglas Wilder of Virginia was sworn in as the first African-American elected governor in U.S. history. In 1966 Edwards Brooke of Massachusetts became the first African American senator of the century. And in 1969 Shirley Chisholm became the first black woman in U.S. history to sit in the House of Representative.
Although African Americans comprise approximately 12 percent of the U.S. population, they made up approximately 7 percent of Congress after the 2000 elections. In the 107th Congress, there were 38 African Americans serving the House of Representatives, and no African American senators.
African Americans in the Senate
|Hiram R. Revels (R-MS) 1870 to 1871||Roland W. Burris (D-IL) 2009-2011|
|Blanche K. Bruce (R-MS) 1875-1881||Tim Scott (R-SC) 2011-2017|
|Edward W. Brooke (R-MA) 1967-1979||Mo Cowan (D-MA) 2013-2015|
|Carol Moseley-Braun (D-IL) 1993-1999||Cory Booker (D-NJ) 2013-2017|
(D-IL ) 2007-2009
Information Courtesy of Gina Misiroglu, The Handy Politics Answer Book