These women in politics broke barriers and paved the way for Stacy Abrams, Kamala Harris and others

In the 2020s, there is no stopping Black women in politics. From the victory of Vice President Kamala Harris to the nomination of Georgia’s Stacy Abrams for the Nobel Peace Prize, we are in a moment of Black women’s excellence in government. Harris and Abrams are the political descendants of a long line of women who, despite their race and gender, pushed past barriers to achieve proper representation and advocate for human rights. Several women trailblazers are highlighted here:

Minnie Buckingham Harper

In 1928, Minnie Buckingham Harper became the first Black woman lawmaker in the U.S., taking over her late husband’s post in West Virginia’s legislature. She served on committees focusing on railroads, labor, and federal relations during her term and chose not to run for election at the end of her tenure.

Crystal Bird Fauset

Crystal Bird Fauset was a tech pioneer as one of the first politicians to campaign using the telephone. She became the first Black woman to be elected to a state legislature in the U.S., representing a mostly White district in Philadelphia. Fauset worked closely with the FDR administration and the Works Progress Administration, creating seamstress jobs for Black women. She was a champion of affordable housing, public health, and racial equality. Fauset eventually broke from FDR and the Democratic Party over their appeasement on civil rights.

Crystal Bird Fauset

 

Velvalea “Vel” Phillips

Howard University alumna Vel Phillips was a trailblazer and pioneer in Wisconsin politics and government. She holds a series of firsts—first Black woman to earn a law degree in her state, first woman to sit on Milwaukee’s council, first woman and first Black person to sit as a county judge and as Secretary of State.

 


Grace Towns Hamilton

Grace Towns Hamilton was the first Black woman elected to the Georgia Assembly, part of the 1966 class of legislators that included Julian Bond. As executive director of the Atlanta Urban League for 17 years, she scored many achievements, including getting the Federal Housing Authority to approve several affordable and public housing programs. Much like Stacy Abrams 70 years later, Hamilton led a voter registration drive in Georgia that put tens of thousands of Black voters on the rolls. Her 1992 passing was memorialized with several posthumous honors and awards.

 

Shirley Chisolm

President Barack Obama awarded Shirley Chisolm the Presidential Medal of Freedom posthumously in 2015, recognizing her groundbreaking rise in American politics. Having already served in the New York State Assembly, she became the first Black woman elected to Congress in 1968. Chisolm’s run for president of the United States as the first Black woman candidate inspired Kamala Harris to launch her candidacy and eventually be elected vice president in 2020.

Shirley Chisolm

 

Lelia Foley-Davis

Lelia Foley-Davis was born to a sharecropper and midwife and went on to work with Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter. Foley-Davis was the first Black woman to be elected as mayor in the U.S., leading the small Oklahoma town of Taft in 1973. She secured federal support for housing in Taft for low-income women with children. Foley-Davis also fought hard against the prisons that would eventually be built in her town. Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy invited her to work with him, but she told him, “I’ve got to go back to Taft.” She is still in Taft, serving on the town council at age 78.

 


Alyce Clarke

Alyce Clarke was the first Black woman elected to the Mississippi state legislature and still serves today as the body’s longest serving lawmaker. Clarke is known for commanding respect across political lines in Mississippi and has taken up causes from LGBTQ+ rights and equal pay for women to reducing incarceration. She is a graduate of Alcorn State and Tuskegee University.

 


Carol Moseley Braun

A Chicago native, Carol Moseley Braun was the first Black woman to be elected to the U.S. Senate. She ran for president as a Democrat in 2004 to unseat President George W. Bush. After further service as an ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa, Moseley Braun founded an organic foods company. She teaches political science at Northwestern University.

 


Pamela Carter

Named by Ebony in 1995 as one of the most influential Black Americans, Pamela Carter was the first Black woman to serve as a state Attorney General in the U.S. She pushed through a difficult campaign and prevailed in 1993 to become Indiana’s chief law enforcement officer. She took an all-White justice department and diversified its staff of 250. Carter now sits on the national board of Teach for America.