This year marks the 50th anniversary of Shirley Chisholm’s election as the first black woman in Congress. Since that time, black women have continued to play a vital role in American political life—despite a lack of representation in elected office at the local, state and federal levels. But times are slowly and surely changing. In 2017, after critical elections across the country demonstrated that the black female voice and vote is crucial to Democratic wins, the public has finally caught on. But it’s not enough to just expect black women to cast votes. Black women have a long and distinguished track record of leadership across the board and should be considered viable candidates for office as well. This important anniversary offers an opportunity to reflect on the current state of black women in politics and opportunities for diverse political representation in 2018.
Higher Heights, in partnership with the Center for American Women and Politics, recently released the report “The Chisholm Effect: Black Women in American Politics 2018.” Its purpose is to look at the current numbers of black women in Congress, statewide elected executive office and state legislatures. The report begins with noting that while black women are 7.3 percent of the American population, we are less than 5 percent of officeholders in Congress, elected statewide executive office and state legislatures.
- 3 black women currently serve in statewide elected executive office; Jenean Hampton (R) is the Lieutenant Governor of Kentucky, Sheila Oliver (D) is the Lieutenant Governor of New Jersey,and Denise Nappier (D) is the State Treasurer of Connecticut. Together, these women represent 4.2% (3 of 71) of all women statewide elected executive officials and 0.96% (3 of 312) of all statewide elected executive officials in the United States.
- Just 12 Black women have ever held statewide elected executive offices in 11 states.
- No Black woman has ever been elected governor.
Our numbers in Congress are much higher, though they could definitely be better. Since Chisholm’s election, a total of 38 black women have served in Congress. Of those, 36 have served in the House with only 2 serving in the Senate. While small, these numbers have (for the most part) grown steadily and in small increments since 1970.
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- 19 black women currently serve in Congress, including 18 Black women representatives and 1 black woman senator. In addition, 2 Black women serve as non-voting delegates. All but one representative – Mia Love (R-UT) – are Democrats.
- Black women are 3.6% of all members of Congress, 7.5% of all Democrats in Congress,17.9% of all women in Congress, and 38.8% of Black members of Congress [...] They are 4.1% of all members of the House, 21.4% of all women in the House and 39.1% of Black members of the House; 1% of all members of the Senate, 4.5% of all women in the Senate, and 33.3% of Black members of the Senate; and 8.8% of Democrats in the House and 2.2% of Democrats in the Senate.
Out of the top 100 most populous cities in the US, 5 of those cities are run by black women mayors. A noteworthy addendum to this data, not listed in the report, is that every single one of these black women mayors is in her first term.
- Five Black women currently serve as mayors of the top 100 largest cities in the U.S.: Muriel Bowser (Washington, DC), Catherine Pugh (Baltimore, MD), Sharon Weston Broome (Baton Rouge, LA), Vi Alexander Lyles (Charlotte, NC), and Keisha Lance Bottoms (Atlanta, GA).
And while she hasn’t yet been sworn in, LaToya Cantrell was elected mayor of New Orleans in November 2017 and will take office in May.
Meanwhile, 2018 is poised to be a banner year with the numerous black women who are running for office at all levels. In addition, Georgia has the chance to do something extraordinary—elect the state’s, and the country’s, first black woman governor.
- Amidst the “surge” of women running for office in 2018 are Black women candidate sat all levels of elective office. Black women have the potential to make history in the 2018 elections. For example, if successful, gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams (D-GA) would become the first Black woman governor in the United States.
Daily Kos endorsed Stacey Abrams in late 2017. This is an exciting race and is an opportunity to mobilize a diverse, progressive coalition of voters who can turn Georgia blue. You can read more about Stacey’s platform here, which includes a full criminal justice reform and community safety plan. If 2017 was the year of women leading the resistance in American life and politics, we have the chance to make 2018 the year that black women lead and help us create a more just, humane and prosperous future.