African-American women in politics

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

African-American women have been involved in American political issues and advocating for the community since the American Civil War era through organizations, clubs, community-based social services, and advocacy. Issues that deal with identity, and misogynoir have been important to African-American women in the political dialogue.

Suffrage and voting rights[edit]

Sojourner Truth (c. 1870)

Efforts to attain universal suffrage began during the 1860s in response to the events of the American Civil War. It was Sojourner Truth who gave a historic speech during the Women's Convention in Akron, Ohio, on May 29, 1851, that made many people stop and listen and was introduced to a wider audience when transcribed and published by Marius Robinson, an abolitionist reporter. The speech, "Ain't I A Woman?" discussed American white women's privilege, and the courtesies that were not given to African-American women. While African-American men attained the vote in 1870 with the passage of the 15th Amendment, African-American women were still unable to participate in political elections. It was during the 1890s that women's suffrage efforts began. During the period, African-American women were widely minimized or ignored due to racism from white suffragists or general sexism.[1]

Though women obtained the right to vote in the United States in 1920, many women of color still ran into obstacles. Some faced tests that required them to interpret the Constitution in order to vote.[1] Others were threatened with physical violence, false charges, and other extreme danger to prevent voting.[2] Due to these tactics and others that marginalized people of color, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was put into place. It outlawed any discriminatory acts to prevent people from voting.

Women and Black Power[edit]

Despite the fact that elements of the Black Power movement had some views centered on misogyny,[3] African-American women quickly found a voice in the movement. Women held leadership positions, ran community-based programs, and fought misogyny.[3] Other women also contributed to the grass-roots movement through community service.[4]"In the age of rights, antipoverty, and power campaigns, black women in community-based and often women-centered organizations, like their female counterparts in nationally known organizations, harnessed and engendered Black Power through their speech and iconography as participants of tenant councils, welfare rights groups, and a black female religious order."[5]

Misogynoir in Politics[edit]

Misogynoir is misogyny directed towards black women where race and gender both play roles in bias. It was coined by queer Black feminist Moya Bailey. The term was created to tackle the misogyny directed toward black women in American visual and popular culture as well as in politics. In the U.S political sphere, misogynoir has led to the lack of African American Women in politics. The number of African-American elected officials has increased over the last four decades, however black people remain underrepresented at all levels of government. Black Women make up less than 3% of U.S. representatives and there are no black women in the U.S. Senate.[6]

In comparison to Black Man, Black Women tend to be more active participants in the electoral process and this could lead to more potential for Black Women to equal or surpass Black Men in the number of elected officials within their race.[7] However, because of issues of both race and gender it has been much harder for African-American Women to rise in the political sphere. When fighting for equal voting rights, Black Women found that they were often surrounded by sexist Black Men who did not want them to rise in power, and racist White Women who did not want them to be on the same level.[8]

Political representation[edit]

African-American women have been underrepresented in politics within the United States, but numbers continue to increase. According to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, currently 13 African-American women serve in the 112th Congress, with 239 state legislators serving nationwide.[9] The paths to public office for women in the African-American community have differed from men and other groups, such as women's organizations,[10] rallies, and fundraisers.

Shirley Chisholm ran for president of the United States in 1972.

Though African-American women have run for presidential nomination in several campaigns, many have been labeled as "non-viable" due partly to their party affiliations, i.e., Charlene Mitchell in 1968 for the Communist Party USA, Lenora Fulani in 1988 for the New Alliance Party, and Cynthia McKinney in 2008 for the Green Party. Shirley Chisholm ran as both the "black candidate" and the "woman candidate" in the 1972 presidential campaign and "found herself shunned by leaders from the political establishments she helped to found—the Congressional Black Caucus and the National Women's Political Caucus."[11] Still, Chisholm was able to gain 151 votes at the Democratic National Convention, despite missing the presidential nomination.[11]

In 1993, Carol Moseley Braun became the first African American woman to be elected to the United States Senate, and the only female senator from Illinois. Braun's original spark came from her anger at incumbent Democratic senator Alan Dixon's vote to confirm Clarence Thomas after his 1991 sexual harassment scandal. Shortly after being elected, Braun took a one-woman stand against the United Daughters of the Confederacy's renewal of patent for the Confederate flag as their insignia.[12] Though Braun considered it a non-issue, she was still puzzled: "Who would have expected a design patent for the Confederate flag?"[13] Incredibly, Braun was able to sway the Senate vote against renewal of the patent. The United Daughters of the Confederacy no longer uses the confederate flag as their insignia.

Condoleezza Rice became the first African-American woman to serve as Secretary of State in the United States in 2005 under President George W. Bush, she also became the first woman to serve as the National Security Advisor. She was known and widely criticized for her views on foreign policy[14] and the American War in Iraq.

Although not in political office, Michelle Obama, the first African-American First Lady of the United States, has made an impact on women in the 21st century. Obama became first Lady of the United States in 2009, when her husband, Barack Obama, took office as President of the United States. Michelle Obama has donated her services to soup kitchens, homeless shelters, and other urban social services,[15] but she eventually found her niche in childhood obesity. Ms. Obama has created Let's Move![16] in an effort to reduce childhood obesity around the nation.[17]


The National Council of Negro Women, located at 633 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C., exists today as a non-profit organization.

A number of organizations supporting African-American women have historically played an important role in politics.[18] The National Association of Colored Women (NACW), founded in 1896 by Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin and Mary Church Terrell, is one of the oldest political groups created for and by African-American women. Among its objectives were equal rights,[19] eliminating lynching, and defeating Jim Crow laws. Another organization, the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW), was founded in 1935 by civil rights activist Mary McLeod Bethune and was more involved in African-American politics with the aim to improve the quality of life for African-American women and families. NCNW still exists today as a non-profit organization reaching out through research, advocacy, and social services in the United States and Africa.

In 1946 Mary Fair Burks founded the Women's Political Council (WPC) as a response to discrimination in the Montgomery League of Women Voters, who refused to allow African-American women to join.[20] The WPC sought to improve social services for the African-American community and is famously known for instigating the Montgomery Bus Boycott.[21]

In the 1970s, the National Black Feminist Organization (NBFO) sought to address issues unique to African-American women such as racism, sexism, and classism. Though in previous years feminism and suffrage had been considered a white women's fight, NBFO "refused to make black women choose between being black and being female."[22] Margaret Sloan-Hunter, one of its founders, went on to help found Ms. Magazine, a magazine focusing on a feminist take on news issues. Though the organization had disintegrated by 1977, another organization, which formed just a year after the NBFO in 1974, turned out to be one of the most important black feminist organizations of our time. Combahee River Collective was founded by African-American feminist and lesbian, Barbara Smith, and described themselves as a "collective of Black feminists [...] involved in the process of defining and clarifying our politics, while [...] doing political work within our own group and in coalition with other progressive organizations and movements."[23] Perhaps the most notable piece to come out of the Combahee River Collective was the Combahee River Collective Statement, which helped to expand on ideas about identity politics.[24]

In 2014, political activist and women's rights leader Leslie Wimes founded the Democratic African-American Women's Caucus in Florida. She enlisted the help of Wendy Sejour and Mayor Daisy black to help African-American Women in the state of Florida have a voice.[25] In the last two presidential elections, the turnout percentage of African-American women was greater than all other demographic groups, yet has not translated into more African-American Women in office, or political power for African-American women. Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe credits African-American Women for his win in the state.[26] Black women-owned businesses are the fastest growing segment of the women owned business market.[27] The DAAWC seeks to increase the number of elected African-American Women on the State and Federal levels, as well as focus on issues specific to African-American Women. While the DAAWC begins in the state of Florida, the organization is hoping to expand to other states to mobilize the political power of African-American Women.

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b Terborg-Penn, R (1998). African American women in the struggle for the vote:1850–1920. Bloomington,IN: Indiana University Press. p. 8. ISBN 978-0-253-33378-0. OCLC 260107480.
  2. ^ Prescod, M. (1997). Shining in the Dark: Black Women and the Struggle for the Vote, 1955–1965. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press. ISBN 978-0-585-08352-0.
  3. ^ a b Williams, R.Y. (2008). "Black Women and Black Power". OAH Magazine of History. 22 (3): 22–26. doi:10.1093/maghis/22.3.22.
  4. ^ Ogbonna, J. (2005), Black power: radical politics and African American identity, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ Press, p. 105
  5. ^ Williams, R.Y. (2006). Black women, urban politics, and engendering black power. In P.E. Joseph (Ed.), The black power movement: Rethinking the civil rights-black power era. New York: Routledge. p.79-103.
  6. ^ Philpot, Tasha S.; Walton, Hanes (January 1, 2007). "One of Our Own: Black Female Candidates and the Voters Who Support Them". American Journal of Political Science. 51 (1): 49–62. doi:10.1111/j.1540-5907.2007.00236.x. JSTOR 4122905.
  7. ^ Kaba, Amadu Jacky; Ward, Deborah E. (2009). "African Americans and U.S. Politics: The Gradual Progress of Black Women in Political Representation". The Review of Black Political Economy. 36 (1): 29–50. doi:10.1007/s12114-009-9036-4.
  8. ^ tinashe (January 16, 2012). "The women's suffrage movement: The politics of gender race and class by Cherryl Walker". Retrieved December 7, 2016.
  9. ^ "Facts about women of color in elective office". Rutgers, New Jersey: Center for American Women and Politics. 2010. Archived from the original on September 28, 2011. Retrieved July 24, 2011.
  10. ^ Rosenthal, C.S. (1998). "Determinants of collaborative leadership: civic engagement, gender or organizational norms?". Political Research Quarterly. 51 (4): 847–868. doi:10.1177/106591299805100401. hdl:11244/25274.
  11. ^ a b Smooth, W.G. (2010). "Standing at the crossroads". Crisis. 117 (2): 14–20.
  12. ^ McCain, L. (1997), African American women in congress: forming and transforming history, New Jersey: Rutgers Univ Press, ISBN 978-0-8135-2353-8
  13. ^ Clay, J. (2000), Rebels in law: voices in history of black women lawyers, Michigan: Univ of Michigan Press, p. 152, ISBN 978-0-472-08646-7
  14. ^ "Cheney In Twilight", Time, March 19, 2007.
  15. ^ Romano, Lois (March 31, 2009). "Michelle's Image: From Off-Putting To Spot-On". The Washington Post. Retrieved April 4, 2009.
  16. ^ Let’s Move! Archived August 20, 2011, at the Wayback Machine
  17. ^ Stolberg, S.G. (January 14, 2010). "After a Year of Learning, the First Lady Seeks Out a Legacy". The New York Times. p. A20. Retrieved July 25, 2010.
  18. ^ Smith, Robert C (2003). Encyclopedia of African-American politics. New York City: Facts On File. p. 240. ISBN 978-0-8160-4475-7. OCLC 260053829.
  19. ^ Gray, D (1999). Too heavy a load: Black women in defense of themselves, 1894–1994. New York: W. W. Norton & Company. p. 42. ISBN 978-0-393-31992-7.
  20. ^ Ryan, B (2001). Identity politics in the women's movement. New York City: NYU Press. ISBN 978-0-8147-7479-3.
  21. ^ Freedman, R. (2006). Freedom walkers: the story of the Montgomery bus boycott. New York: Holiday House. p. 33. ISBN 978-0-8234-2031-5.
  22. ^ Irvin, N. (2006). Creating black americans: african-american history and its meanings, 1619 to the present. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 317. ISBN 978-0-19-513755-2.
  23. ^ Smith, B. (2000). Home girls: a black feminist anthology. New Jersey: Rutgers Univ Press. pp. 264–276. ISBN 978-0-8135-2753-6.
  24. ^ Kyungwon, G. (2006). The ruptures of American capital: women of color feminism and the culture of immigrant labor. Amherst: Univ Of Minnesota Press. p. xxvi. ISBN 978-0-8166-4635-7.
  25. ^ "Tired of the Oscar for Supporting Voter Role, Florida's Democratic African-American Women Take the Lead".
  26. ^
  27. ^