In 1996, a young Barack Obama began his tenure in the Illinois State Senate. By 2004, he had been elected to represent his home state in the U.S. Senate, and in 2008 he made his way to the highest office in the land where he currently serves as our country’s first African American president and Commander in Chief. But many other African American citizens have also appeared in high offices, held positions of power, run promising campaigns, and made great political waves in recent history.
Douglas Wilder: The first African American to be appointed as a State governor was P.B.S. Pinchback, who took office in Louisiana in 1872 during the commencement of Reconstruction after the Civil War. But the first African American to be elected to the position of State governor was Lawrence Douglas Wilder, who ran successfully and took his seat in 1990.
Barbara Jordan: After serving as the first female African American in the Texas State Legislature, Barbara Jordan ran for and won a seat in the United State congress in 1972. She entered her new role as the first African American female politician ever to be elected to Congress from the Deep South. She was also the first to deliver the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention, which she did in 1976.
Carol Moseley Braun: Before being elected to the U.S. Senate, Carol Moseley Braun spent ten years working as an attorney in Chicago and serving on the Illinois State Legislature. She then campaigned successfully for her U.S. Senate seat, which she held from 1992 to 1999.
Julian Bond: Julian Bond is best known for serving on the Georgia Assembly and leading the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1965. As a strong voice for civil rights, Bond was a top contender for a position on the vice presidential ticket in 1968 and 1972 and was awarded the Medal of Freedom in 2002.
Jesse Jackson: While never actually running for president in a general election, Jesse Jackson began his career working closely with the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., during the height of the Civil Rights era in the 1960s. He later headed the Rainbow Coalition and founded the PUSH organization to promote issues of social welfare, equality and human rights. He has had a powerful and influential voice in the Democratic Party for many years and was listed on the primary ticket in 1984 and 1988.
Though Black Americans have been holding seats in public office since 1836, the path of an African American politician has never been easy. Our country owes a debt of gratitude to every African American citizen who has overcome discrimination, prohibitive voting laws, and other obstacles to rise to a position of power and play a role in shaping the direction of our nation’s history. Have you been inspired by a specific African American political figure? Feel free to leave his or her name in the comment section below and share your thoughts.