When Ayanna Pressley heads to Congress in January, the newly elected Massachusetts representative will work from the same office that Shirley Chisholm once occupied decades ago. The symbolism is powerful: Chisholm was the first Black woman elected to Congress 50 years ago, while Pressley is part of the incoming class of Black women who made history of their own in 2018.
The November midterm elections saw five new Black women nab seats in the House, according to Higher Heights for America and the Center for American Women in Politics (CAWP) at Rutgers University. In 2019, that cohort will join the 20 Black women already in office including Representatives, non-voting Delegates, and a U.S. Senator. The Congressional Black Caucus will have 50 members, the largest number to date.
“It will be the largest group of Black women officials in Congress,” said Glynda Carr, who co-founded Higher Heights with Kimberly-Peeler Allen to help elect Black women nationwide. “It’s a pivotal moment.”
Others agreed. “Election night 2018 was definitely a historic night for women of color, with groundbreaking gains for African American women,” said Tonya J. Williams, director of strategic communications at EMILY’s List.
The organization, which works to elect pro-choice, Democratic women nationwide, endorsed Pressley, Jahana Hayes of Connecticut; Lucy McBath of Georgia and Lauren Underwood of Illinois, among many others. All became the first women of color to represent their respective states’ or Congressional districts.
Black women, Williams noted, also prevailed on the state and local level.
Juliana Stratton became the first African-American woman elected to serve as Lieutenant Governor in Illinois. Melanie Levesque is the first African American to be elected to the New Hampshire State Senate. Andrea Stewart-Cousins will lead the New York State Senate, the first African-American to do so. And Tish James will be the first African American attorney general in New York.
“Folks need to remember, if you want to win, follow Black women,” said Melanie Campbell, President/ CEO of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation (NCBCP) and convener of the Black Women’s Roundtable (BWR). “We’re the secret sauce.”