Black Women As the First in Politics
February is Black History Month. Originating in the U.S., it is celebrated in countries around the world to honor the history, culture, and contributions of Colored, Negroes, and African Americans. Although the official observance in February is important recognition, it is not the only month to celebrate our legacy as a people. Recently, I came across some words in a weekly update to staff penned by Superintendent Dr. Vincent Matthews of San Francisco Unified School District that read, “As a school district that values diversity, we believe Black History should be celebrated 365 days a year — 366 in a leap year. The diverse histories, experiences, stories and voices of Black people should be recognized, honored, and uplifted every day.” As we are celebrating the contributions and triumphs, we must continuously uplift the tireless work and fierce accomplishments of Black women in politics. They do the work to achieve the society that Dr. King dreamed of every day. Our respect and recognition should be as frequent.
On January 21, 2021, world history was transformed forever as the U.S. swore in the first Black woman as Vice President of the United States. Wikipedia describes her as “Kamala Devi Harris...an American politician and attorney serving as the 49th...first female vice president, the highest-ranking female official in U.S. history, and the first African American and first Asian American vice president.” What I have enjoyed about watching Vice President Harris’ journey to the White House over the past two years are the joy, passion and appreciation that come with her recognition of other women in history, with specific emphasis on Black women, who have enabled her to be where she is today. In a victory speech leading up to her introduction of President-elect Joe Biden on November 7, 2020, Harris acknowledged “women who fought and sacrificed so much for equality, liberty and justice for all, including the Black women, who are often, too often overlooked, but so often prove that they are the backbone of our democracy.”
As we continue to celebrate #Blackgirlmagic throughout this month as we do every month, allow me to lift up the legacy of ‘Black Women As the First in Politics.’ My list is incomplete and only begins to capture the breadth of the extraordinary contributions of Black women in politics. There are many leaders past and present that we must uplift throughout the year as examples of Black excellence.
1. Kamala Harris is the first Black woman to be elected as Vice President of the U.S.. In 2004, she was the first Black woman to be elected district attorney of San Francisco. “In 2011, she became the first woman, first African American and first Asian American to serve as California's attorney general.”
2. Michelle Obama is the first Black woman to be First Lady of the U.S.. “Through four main initiatives, she became a role model for women and an advocate for healthy families, service members and their families, higher education, and international adolescent girls education.”
3. Rep. Barbara Jordan was the first Black woman elected to Congress by Texas, a former Confederate state. She is infamously known for her eloquent speech and work as a freshman Member of the Judiciary Committee in “explaining her reasoning behind her support of each of the five articles of impeachment against President Nixon” in the Watergate Scandal. In 1976. she became the first woman and the first African-American keynote speaker at a Democratic National Convention.
4. Shirley Chisholm became the first Black woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1969 in addition to the first Black person to run for president from a major political party in 1971. “In 1977, she co-founded the Congressional Women's Caucus. After leaving Congress in 1983, Chisholm co-founded the National Political Congress of Black Women and campaigned for Jesse Jackson's presidential bids.”
5. Yvonne Brathwaite Burke holds many firsts in history. In 1972, she became the first African American woman from California to win a House seat and later became the first female chair of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) while “earning a coveted spot in the Appropriations Committee.” On a more personal level, she was the first congresswoman ever to give birth and be granted maternity leave while holding office.
Please share in the comments below any Black women as firsts in politics that you would like to acknowledge in addition to my short but powerful list of individuals who enriched and improved the lives of people across this country and the world.
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Dr. Mike Jones has served as a K-16 teacher, executive director, principal, leadership coach, teacher supervisor, and humanitarian for 25 years in the public and private education sectors in the USA, Jamaica, UAE, Slovakia, Nigeria, and Ghana. He is the host of Let’s Talk with Dr. Mike Jones, an online show that informs and connects the global education community through conversations about the impact of COVID-19 and how to respond to the opportunities to transform learning systems. Visit drmikeshow.com.
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