As we move forward as a collective, the Black community still continues to stand on the strength of Black women. A strength that has been proven beyond resilient, full of love and compassion and just as equally full of passion and fire. That fire can be seen on the faces of women such as Vice-President Elect Madam Kamala Harris, but her story had been told time and time before.
For the longest, Black women have stood as the backbone for nearly all major civil rights movements. With each push, they gain a new seat in politics pushing the community further into a place of equality. Regardless of the category, Black women continue to push beyond the glass ceiling in journalism, entertainment, sports and business. As we honor our first Black Vice-President, we also want to take the time out to educate and honor the women before her who forged the path for Madam Harris.
In Los Angeles, several political trailblazers kicked the door open for Black women. Former L.A. County Supervisor, Yvonne Brathwaite Burke, was the first African-American woman voted to the California State Assembly (1966). Former Congresswoman Diane Watson was the first African-American woman elected to the California Senate (1978). Rita Walters was the first Black woman to be elected into Los Angeles City Council (1991). Jackie Lacey was the first African-American to serve as LA District Attorney (2012). Karen Bass, Congresswoman and chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, was the first Black woman elected Speaker of the California Assembly.
Madam Harris also served as the first attorney general in California. This enormous feat would have not been possible without trailblazers such as Pamela Lynn Carter, she was the first Black woman to serve as a state’s attorney general. Carter served as Indiana Attorney General from 1993 to 1997.
Outside of California, Black women state to state continue to demand more. From the earliest days in this country, Black women have been ‘the firsts’ of many.
Among the pioneers are Carol Moseley Braun who is the first African-American woman to serve in the U.S. Senate (1993). Madam Harris is the second Black women to serve in that position. There have only been ten Black U.S. Senators in history.
Another trailblazer is Amelia Boynton Robinson who helped organize 1965 Selma March, was the first Black woman to run for Congress in Alabama. Though she didn’t fully succeed in her campaign, she brought to light to a much-needed topic, voter discrimination. A leader of her kind, her fight continues to this day as we work to end voter suppression across America with help of powerful women such as Stacey Abrams and Latosha Brown. Fannie Lou Hamer is another figure who fought long and hard for the rights of Black people. Her fight for voting rights helped get Madam Harris into office as her efforts are still seen to this day. Despite the violence she faced, she was resilient and powerful in her own way, a true pioneer, a warrior.
Though Madam Harris was the first to run and succeed in becoming the Vice-President, Charlotta Bass was the first to run in 1952. Running under the Progressive Party, Bass held various positions of power within the Black community, so much so, she ended up on the FBI radar as a possible communist, a claim she continuously denied. Nevertheless, she continued to persevere making way through the political realm.
Another powerful Black woman figure who happened to be the first of her kind, Jane Bolin. With much ambition and tenacity, Bolin became the first Black woman to graduate from Yale Law School, the first to join the New York Bar Association, the New York City Law Department, and became the country’s first Black woman judge in 1939. According to reports she worked heavily with Eleanor Roosevelt and most importantly ruled against the assignment of probation officers based on race.
What should be one of the more known history facts and firsts for Black women, Shirley Chisholm who was the first Black woman to be elected into the U.S. House of Representatives in 1969. Chisholm helped establish the Congressional Black Caucus and worked to become the first Black woman to run for major party presidential election. Chisholm is almost widely known for those efforts, however, she fought hard for women’s rights and community activism.
To fast forward to see how far we’ve come, some recent firsts also include Condoleezza Rice who stood as the first Black woman to be appointed national security advisor and first Black woman secretary of state for the United States. Both titles she held after Y2K, proving that women still had a long way to go, however, Black women found a way to have a seat at the table each time. In 2015, Loretta Lynch became the first Black woman to be appointed U.S. Attorney General by former President Barack Obama. She was praised for her principles of fairness, equality, and justice.
There are countless other Black women firsts to name in nearly every industry from each decade. There are no heights a Black woman can’t reach, and that’s been proven with the selection of Kamala Harris as Vice President-Elect of the United States of America.