Behold, the 21 Inspiring Black Women of Congress
In 1968, Shirley Chisholm became the first black woman elected to the United States Congress when she was chosen to represent New York's 12th district. Today, Congress has 21 inspiring black women who span varying generations, states, and policy perspectives.
The election of Kamala Harris, a Jamaican-Indian-American Democrat from California, to the Senate in the 2016 election was an especially significant win given the shocking outcome of the presidential race. Her win and status as the nation's second black female senator in history, however, also brought to light how much progress still needs to be made.
Ahead, learn more about her and the other trailblazers (20 Democrats and one Republican) currently serving in our country's leadership.
Congresswoman Maxine Waters represents California's 43rd congressional district. Waters was first elected to office in 1977 and has since served as the representative for several districts in California.
The 78-year-old Democrat is widely revered in Congress. Known for her outspoken nature, she was particularly vocal about the Los Angeles riots of the early '90s. Now, Waters frequently slams the Trump administration in her own glorious ways. Recently, Waters referred to the existing cabinet as "a bunch of scumbags who are all organized around making money." You don't want to mess with her.
Joyce Beatty has served as the Democratic representative for Ohio's third congressional district since 2013. The 65-year-old previously served as the representative for Ohio's 27th district from 1999 until 2008 and also worked as the senior vice president for outreach and engagement at Ohio State University before rejoining the House of Representatives.
Beatty made history when she became Ohio's first-ever female Democratic house leader. She also made headlines at the most recent Democratic National Convention when she sported the same dress Melania Trump had previously worn to the Republican National Convention. Was it a lesson in shading the Trumps or merely just a coincidence? We may never know.
Barbara Lee is a 70-year-old Democratic representative for California's 13th congressional district. Lee was elected to the position in 2013 and had previously served a separate district in the state since 1998. Before that, she was a member of different California state assemblies for many years.
In addition to having a successful political career, Lee received the Woman of Peace honor at the Global Exchange Human Rights Awards in 2003. She received the award for her extensive work with HIV/AIDS legislation. In 2005, Lee was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts.
Kamala Harris is a Democratic senator from California born to a Jamaican-American father and an Indian mother. The 52-year-old Oakland native assumed office in 2017 and previously served as California's attorney general from 2011 up until the 2016 election. She was the first black person and the first woman to become attorney general in the state's history. Before that, she served as district attorney of San Francisco for six years.
Harris made history on election night in various ways. She is the first black woman to represent California in the Senate and the second black woman to ever serve in the Senate. It has been reported that she may run in the next presidential election in 2020. In the meantime, she has taken a strong stance against President Donald Trump and has pushed back on many issues, like repealing the Affordable Care Act, for example.
Eleanor Holmes Norton
Eleanor Holmes Norton is a delegate for the District of Columbia. The 79-year-old Democrat assumed office in 1991 and was the chairperson of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for over a decade before that.
Norton's background is rooted in activism. She participated in the Civil Rights Movement and was even reportedly arrested for attending several sit-ins as a recent college graduate. She also tirelessly fought for fellow women of color — in 1970, she helped launch the Women's Rights Law Reporter and later helped pen the historic "Black Women's Manifesto."
Alma Adams is the Democratic representative for North Carolina's 12th congressional district. At 70 years old, Adams has held the position for three years and previously served as a representative in a different district for an entire decade.
When she was elected to Congress in 1994, Adams became the second woman of color to represent North Carolina. Apart from her revered political career, Adams is also known for her love of hats. She's even claimed she owns nearly 900 hats!
Marcia Fudge is the Democratic representative for Ohio's 11th congressional district. She was elected in 2008 and previously served as the mayor of Warrensville Heights in Ohio for eight years.
When she was elected mayor, Fudge became the suburb's first female and first black mayor. These days, the 64-year-old is hard at work protecting her Muslim constituents from the president's controversial travel ban. In a statement, Fudge said, "The 11th Congressional District is home to many Muslims. Muslims are a part of the fabric of our community. I fully support them and their right to worship freely."
Eddie Bernice Johnson
Eddie Bernice Johnson currently represents Texas's 30th congressional district, which serves a majority of Dallas. The 81-year-old has a storied political career that includes her role as House representative from 1973 to 1977 and later a Texas state senator from 1987 to 1993.
When she was elected to the House of Representatives, Johnson was the first black woman elected to public office from Dallas. Not only that, but she was also appointed by President Jimmy Carter to be the regional director of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. She was the first black woman to hold that position as well.
In a poignant interview with the Chicago Tribune in 1990, Johnson said, "Being a woman and being black is perhaps a double handicap." She added, "When you see who's in the important huddles, who's making the important decisions, it's men."
Congresswoman Ludmya Love, who goes by Mia, currently represents Utah's fourth congressional district. She assumed office in 2015 and was previously the mayor of Saratoga Springs for four years starting in 2010. She is 41 years old and the only black Republican woman currently in Congress.
Love was born in Brooklyn to Haitian parents. When she was elected to Congress, she achieved many firsts. She is Utah's first black congressperson and the nation's first-ever black female Republican and Haitian American elected to Congress. Despite her chosen political party, Love said she did not vote for Donald Trump in the 2016 election.
Yvette Clarke currently represents New York's ninth district. A Democrat, 52-year-old Clarke assumed office in 2013 and previously represented New York's 11th district for several years.
Clarke attended Oberlin College, but she did not complete her undergraduate degree and instead ran for New York City Council in 2001. Interestingly, she was elected to her mother's council seat, which she had held for over a decade. Clarke's victory made her the first daughter to succeed her mother in city council history.
Karen Bass is the representative for California's 37th congressional district, which encompasses much of Los Angeles. She previously served in the state's 33rd district; however, due to restructuring, the district was simply renumbered. In addition, Bass was the speaker of the California Assembly for two years prior to her work in the House of Representatives.
The 63-year-old Democrat is known for being a fierce advocate for gun control. In fact, she was one of the congressional members who participated in the sit-in on June 22 to protest the nation's current gun laws.
Lisa Blunt Rochester
Lisa Blunt Rochester is the representative for Delaware at large and was recently elected to the position in 2016. At 55, this is her first time holding political office. After achieving a master's degree in urban affairs and public policy from the University of Delaware, she went on to work with Tom Carper, the state's former governor.
Rochester then worked as the state personnel director, state labor secretary, and CEO of the Metropolitan Wilmington Urban League before running for office. She is Delaware's first female and first black representative.
Sheila Jackson Lee
Sheila Jackson Lee has served as the representative for Texas's 18th congressional district since 1995. The 67-year-old Democrat previously worked as a member of Houston's City Council for five years.
Lee is passionate on immigration issues and has advocated for reform that will better help undocumented immigrants seek legal status or citizenship. Despite her lengthy career and notable accomplishments, Lee has received criticism for being an excessively difficult boss, as she once had one of the highest staff turnover rates in Congress.
Robin Kelly is the representative Illinois's second congressional district, which covers a suburb of Chicago. She assumed office in 2013 and previously served as the representative for the state's 38th district. The Democrat is 60 years old.
As a response to gun violence in Chicago, Kelly and other members of Congress launched the Urban Progress Initiative in 2016. At a press conference in honor of the new initiative, Kelly said, "Meaningful change can only occur through cooperative effort. It's going to take all of us — our churches, public officials, community activists, police and academic institutions — to lift our communities up from poverty and violence."
Stacey Plaskett is a delegate for the United States Virgin Islands. The 52-year-old Democrat has served since 2015. She also has a law degree from the American University Washington College of Law and worked as a prosecutor for several years.
Amazingly, Plaskett held two jobs in the field while also working toward achieving her law degree. At the time, she worked full time with the lobbying sector of the American Medical Association, as well as with the Jones Day firm. All the while, she was raising three young sons.
Democratic Congresswoman Gwen Moore has represented Wisconsin's fourth district since 2005. Prior to that, the 65-year-old was a state senator for more than a decade.
When she took office as a representative in 2005, she became the first black person to serve Congress from Wisconsin. In light of Trump's administration, Moore released an impassioned statement about Black History Month. "Since taking office, President Donald Trump and senior administration officials have made a series of peculiar, empty, and often tone-deaf comments about influential African Americans that left my constituents and I perplexed and frustrated," she said. "Such a unique brand of thoughtlessness is a call to action to continue our collective education about the African Americans who helped write our country's story."
Bonnie Watson Coleman
Bonnie Watson Coleman is the representative for New Jersey's 12th congressional district, a position she has held since 2015. Prior to that, the 72-year-old Democrat was a member of the New Jersey General Assembly for several years and even served as the majority leader.
Coleman is New Jersey's first black woman in Congress. She has used her position to help former inmates reenter society and seek employment. The issue hits close to home, as her two sons spent five years in jail after they held up a local Kids "R" Us in 2011.
Brenda Lawrence is the Democratic representative for Michigan's 14th district. Though she assumed office just two years ago, the 62-year-old Detroit native previously served as the mayor of Southfield, MI, for a whopping 14 years.
When she was elected to the position in 2001, Lawrence became the city's first female and first black mayor. Just recently, Lawrence moderated a town hall meeting titled "Know Your Rights" to help her constituents with any questions they may have about immigration in light of the Trump administration's policies.
Valdez "Val" Demings is the Democratic representative for Florida's 10th congressional district. The 59-year-old Jacksonville native just assumed office this year; however, she was also the Democratic nominee in the 2012 election.
Demings made history when she was appointed as the chief of the Orlando Police Department in 2007, becoming the first woman to hold the position. According to the Orlando Sentinel, she was responsible for reducing violent crime and gun violence in the city.
Democratic Congresswoman Terri Sewell currently represents Alabama's seventh district. Before assuming office in 2011, the 52-year-old worked as a lawyer after receiving prestigious degrees from Princeton, Oxford, and Harvard Law.
Aside from her impressive academic background, Sewell is Alabama's first black woman elected to Congress. Additionally, she is currently the state's only Democrat in Congress.
Congresswoman Frederica Wilson has represented Florida's 24th district since 2011. She has represented several districts throughout Florida since her first election win in 1998. She is 74 years old, a Democrat, and known for her love of elaborate hats.
Following the shooting of Trayvon Martin in Miami Gardens, FL, in 2012, Wilson became an outspoken critic of her state's existing gun laws. A month after his death, Wilson delivered a powerful speech on the floor of the House of Representatives and said, "I am tired of burying young black boys. I am tired of watching them suffer at the hands of those who fear them and despite them."