Black History Month is the time we get to reflect on the many contributions of African-Americans. Since they, as a whole, have had to fight such obstacles as discrimination, bigotry and violence, their accomplishments are all the more remarkable.
Regarding the area of politics, gaining ground has been a particular struggle. Many of those who have striven to succeed in this arena have paid a tremendous sacrifice, but thanks to the efforts and courage of those first African-Americans who dared to “shake things up”, all in their community have the right to participate in the political process of our country.
Here is a list of some African-American” firsts” in U.S. politics:
…In 1855, John Mercer Langston was the first African-American to become an elected official, serving as the town clerk for Brownhelm Township in Ohio. He was born in Virginia, the son of a slave and slavemaster. Upon his father’s demise, he was freed and went to Ohio to receive an education. He experienced much discrimination in terms of being able to obtain a law degree, finally getting admitted to the bar in 1854. He was elected to Congress in 1888.
…Oscar Dunn of Louisiana was the first African-American elected to the office of lieutenant governor. Sadly, he passed away while in office. Granted, he wasn’t there for long, but the fact that he was elected at all, especially in the South, is pretty amazing.
…Former riverboat gambler P.B.S. Pinchback was the first appointed African-American governor. He served as governor of Louisiana from December 9, 1872 to January 1873, while the white elected governor was in the midst of impeachment proceedings. He had also served as interim lieutenant governor following the death of Oscar Dunn. Pinchback’s grandson was Harlem Renaissance writer Jean Toomer.
…L. Douglas Wilder was the first African-American elected governor, serving as Virginia’s governor from 1990-1994. Before that time, he had served as the state’s lieutenant governor and also had the distinction of being the first African-American person to serve in the Virginia state legislature since Reconstruction days.
…Hiram Rhodes Revels was the first African-American man to serve in the U.S. Congress, where he represented the state of Mississippi. Ironically, the seat he took formerly belonged to Jefferson Davis. Revels attempted to use his position to advance the cause of African-Americans. for which he was always challenged. He later became the president of Alcorn State University.
…Robert C. Henry was the first African-American mayor of a U.S. city, having been appointed mayor of Springfiled, Ohio in 1967. Ohio seems to have been on a roll, because the very next year, Carl Stokes became the first African-American person to get elected as the mayor of a major American city-Cleveland.
…The outspoken, extremely articulate Shirley Chisholm was the first African-American female elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, serving from 1969-1983 as a rep for New York’s 12th District and becoming one of the founders of The Black Caucus. She passionately championed the Equal Rights Amendment and many other causes that concerned American women.. Chisholm was also the first African-American to make a run for the Presidency of the United States.
…Patricia Harris was appointed by President Jimmy Carter as Secretary of HUD in 1977. She was the first African-American female to serve in that position.
…In 1989, the voters of New York City elected David Dinkins as their mayor, making him the first African-American to hold that office.
…Colin Powell, a well-respected four-star U.S. Army general, was appointed as the U.S. Secretary of State by President George W. Bush. He was the first African-American to serve in this role and had previously chaired the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon. Powell was in office from 2001-2005, but his course in the Bush administration did not always run smooth and he made the decision not to return to serve in the second Bush administration.
…Alabama born Condoleeza Rice is the first African-American woman to serve as U.S. Secretary of State. She was also appointed by President George W. Bush in 2005, having previously served as his National Security Advisor. Rice is a brilliant woman, a Ph.D who is fluent in Russian and who taught for a time at the prestigious Stanford University.
She has not been without her numerous detractors, especially in the African-American community. She has been criticized for backing what they feel are bad doctrines set forth by the Bush administration. In spite of this, she continues to stand her ground, preferring to ignore her opponents.