It may be hard for some folks to fully comprehend this, but in the entire 231 years that the U.S. Senate has existed, there have only been 10 senators who are Black. All but three of them were elected and just two of that already small number are women.
As of Tuesday morning, there were three sitting U.S. Senators who are Black.
It was already known since last month that figure was going to decrease by one when California Sen. Kamala Harris and her running mate Joe Biden won the presidential election, making her the first Black vice president in American history.
But it was not known who would fill her vacated Senate seat — until Tuesday afternoon when California Gov. Gavin Newsom appointed Alex Padilla, the California Secretary of State.
Before the announcement, Newsome had been facing pressure to name a Black woman to succeed Harris in the Senate. After all, there were already several Latino Senators. Without Harris, there was just one Black Senator who is a democrat and another who is a Republican. But no Black woman, a void that was glaring to critics of Newsom’s decision. It seemed logical — especially during a calendar year marked by national protests that were part of a larger racial reckoning — that Newsom would not only select a Black person, but also a Black woman to fill the seat.
To be sure, the ensuing debate following Newsom’s decision had everything to do with the absence of a Black woman in the U.S. Senate and nothing to do with the fact that Padilla would be the first Latino to represent California in the U.S. Senate. It had to do with the representation of Black people in the U.S. Senate, something that has historically been all but a novelty, even in the year 2020.
Only in recent years has the election of Black candidates to the U.S. Senate picked up steam.
It’s been 150 years since the first Black person was elected to the U.S. Senate, with another following four years later in 1874.
But it would be more than 90 years later until the next Black man was elected to the U.S. Senate.
It would be another quarter of a century until the next Black person — the first Black woman — would win a Senate election.
A little more than a decade later, America got its next Black Senator — one who would notably go on to become the first Black person elected president of the United States.
That seemingly opened the relative floodgates to usher in a historic era that would include four more Black U.S. Senators, culminating with two of whom had legitimate runs for the White House.
With the next round of U.S. Senate elections already coming up soon in the 2022 mid-term elections, who will be next to join the reclusive club of Black Senators? Until we get that answer, scroll down to better acquaint yourselves with their predecessors, in chronological order.
1. Hiram Rhoades RevelsSource:Getty
Hiram Rhoades Revels (1822-1901), an African American clergyman was the first Black person to be elected to the United States Senate. He was elected in 1870 in Mississippi after Reconstruction but only served two years.
2. Blanche K. BruceSource:Getty
Blanche K. Bruce, who was the Accessor and Sheriff of Bolivar County, Mississippi, was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1874. He was the first African American to serve a full term in the Senate. He, like Revels, was elected by the state legislature.
“Bruce focused on a number of state and national issues including the construction of levees along the Mississippi River, the development of a more humane and equitable federal Indian policy and the desegregation of the United States Army,” according to the Black Past website. “However one of his most memorable addresses in Congress occurred in March 1876 when he called for a Senate investigation of the racial and political violence that marked the Mississippi gubernatorial election of 1875.”
3. Edward Brooke IIISource:Getty
Former United States Senator from Massachusetts, Edward Brooke III (1919 – 2015) after conceding victory to the challenger, Paul Tsongas, 7th November 1978.
He was elected senator of Massachusetts as a Republican in 1966. He was the first Black senator elected since Reconstruction. He was also the first African American elected to the Senate by popular vote.
4. Carol Moseley BraunSource:Getty
Carol Moseley Braun, of Illinois, was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1992 and served a single term. She was the first Black woman elected to the U.S. Senate.
Pictured: U.S. Senator-elect Carol Moseley Braun declares her victory on Nov. 3, 1992, in Chicago. She called her campaign a step toward a new diversity in government.
5. Barack ObamaSource:Getty
Barack Obama, of Illinois, was elected to the United States Senate in 2004, making him the fifth Black person to serve in the Senate.
Notably, he would go on to become the first Black president of the United States after serving only a portion of his first and only term in the U.S. Senate.
6. Roland BurrisSource:Getty
US Senator Roland Burris, D-Il, listens as US Defense Secretary Robert Gates testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, January 27, 2009.
7. Tim ScottSource:Getty
Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) at the South Carolina Inland Port groundbreaking ceremony in Greer, S.C., on March 1, 2013.
8. William “Mo” CowanSource:Getty
William “Mo” Cowan, speaks to the media after begin named interim U.S. Senator January 30, 2013 at the Statehouse in Boston, Massachusetts. Cowan, a senior advisor to Governor Deval Patrick, will fill the position until a successor can be named for the departing John Kerry, who was recently named Secretary of State.
9. Cory BookerSource:Getty
Senate Judiciary Committee member Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) delivers remarks about Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh during a mark up hearing in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill September 28, 2018 in Washington, DC.
10. Kamala HarrisSource:Getty
Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) questions Attorney General William Barr as Barr testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee at the Dirksen Building on Wednesday, May 1, 2019, in Washington, DC. The hearing is to discuss Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.