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This guide is designed to supplement the DiPietro Library book display celebrating Black History Month (February).
NBCSL is the nation's premier organization exclusively representing and serving the interests of African American State legislators and their constituents. Our members hail from 47 states, the District of Columbia and the Virgin Islands and represent more than 60 million Americans of various racial backgrounds.
The United States House of Representatives has had 153 elected African-American members, of whom 147 have been representatives from U.S. states and 6 have been delegates from U.S. territories and the District of Columbia. The House of Representatives is the lower house of the bicameral United States Congress, which is the legislative branch of the federal government of the United States.
This Web site, based on the publication Black Americans in Congress, contains biographical profiles of former African-American Members of Congress, links to information about current black Members, essays on institutional and national events that shaped successive generations of African Americans in Congress, and images of each individual Member, supplemented by other historical photos.
There have been 47 African-American women who have served in Congress. The first African-American woman elected to Congress, Shirley Chisholm of New York, won election to the House in 1968. The first woman in color elected to the Senate was Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois in 1992.
More than one-in-five voting members (22%) of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate are racial or ethnic minorities, making the 116th Congress the most racially and ethnically diverse in history. There has been a long-running trend toward more racial and ethnic diversity on Capitol Hill: Each of the previous four Congresses broke the record set by the Congress before it.
Information in this report includes the following: number of African Americans who have served in Congress by party and type of service; numbers of African Americans who have served in the House and Senate by state, district, or territory; lists of selected 'firsts' for African Americans in Congress; lists of the African Americans who have served in leadership; lists of the African American women in the 116th Congress.
After the ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment, formerly enslaved African Americans flocked to the ballot boxes and the more ambitious sought political office. By 1877 about 2,000 black men had won local, state, and federal offices in the former Confederate states.11 But although black voters formed the bulk of the Republican constituency in the former Confederacy, black officeholders never achieved significant power within the GOP: no southern state elected black officeholders in proportion to its African-American population, and black politicians never controlled a state government during the Reconstruction Era even though the populations in several states were majority black.
The Reconstruction Acts of 1867 divided the South into five military districts under national control. The Acts required that each state write a new constitution giving voting rights to all men, regardless of race or prior enslaved status, and ratify the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which declared that all people other than American Indians born in the United States were citizens, with rights to due process of law. African American men mobilized to vote and elected many of their number to the constitutional conventions and political positions across the South.
The Fifteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution gave the vote to all male citizens regardless of color or previous condition of servitude. African Americans became involved in the political process not only as voters but also as governmental representatives at the local, state and national level. Although their elections were often contested by whites, and members of the legislative bodies were usually reluctant to receive them, many African American men ably served their country during Reconstruction.
Many scholars have identified more than 1,500 African American officeholders during the Reconstruction Era (1863–1877). Historian Canter Brown, Jr. noted that in some states, such as Florida, the highest number of African Americans were elected or appointed to offices after 1876 and the end of Reconstruction. The following is a partial list some of the most notable of the officeholders pre-1900.