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Black History Month 2013

In honor of Black History Month, SBAI is featuring black female leaders in the United States who have done groundbreaking work in government.

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Carol Elisabeth Moseley Braun

Carol Elizabeth Moseley Braun was born on August 16, 1947 and grew up living in a segregated neighborhood in Chicago’s south side. Moseley Braun graduated the University of Illinois at Chicago in 1969 for her bachelor’s degree and received her law degree in 1972 from the University of Chicago. She remained in Chicago, serving as a prosecutor for the United States Attorney’s office from 1973-1977. During this time she won the Attorney General's Special Achievement Award for her work on housing, health, and environmental issues. Moseley Braun was the first African-American woman elected to the U.S. Senate, representing Illinois from 1993-1999. In February 2003 she announced her intention to win the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination but dropped out of the race in January 2004. Moseley Braun is pro-choice, in favor of increased gun control initiatives, against the death penalty, and was one of 14 senators to vote against the Defense of Marriage Act.

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Barbara Charline Jordan

After unsuccessful campaigns in 1962 and 1964, Barbara Charline Jordan finally won a seat in the Texas House of Representatives in 1966. This election made her the first African American to be elected to the Texas Senate since 1883 and the first African American woman to be elected to the position. After serving in the Texas Senate until 1972, Jordan was elected to United States Congress. Former President Lyndon B. Johnson supported Johnson, assisting her in securing a spot on the House Judiciary Committee. In 1975 she was appointed to the Democratice Steering and Policy Committee. There was talk of Jordan being Jimmy Carter’s potential running mate in 1976 but instead she delivered the keynote at the Democratic National Convention, the first African American woman to do so. In 1979 Jordan retired from politics and began teaching ethics at the University of Texas at Austin. Suffering from Multiple Sclerosis and Leukemia, Jordan passed away in 1996 at the age of 59, survived by her long-term partner Nancy Earl.

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Patricia Roberts Harris

Patricia Roberts Harris, born May 31, 1924, graduated Howard University in 1945 with highest distinction. In 1943 she participated in one of the first lunch counter sit-ins where she met her future husband, William Beasley Harris. She pursued post-graduate work at the University of Chicago and at American University. Harris began working for the United States government as an attorney for the Department of Justice. It was there that she developed a friendship with the new Attorney General Robert Kennedy. She was appointed the co-chairperson of the National Women's Committee for Civil Rights by President John F. Kennedy in 1963. A year later, Harris was elected as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention and worked on Lyndon Johnson’s presidential campaign. In 1965, President Johnson appointed Harris as the Ambassador to Luxembourg, making her the first African American woman to serve as a United States Ambassador. She served on President Jimmy Carter’s cabinet when he began his term in 1977, which incidentally made her the first African American woman to be in the Presidential line of succession. Harris also served as the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and the Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare. She lost an election in 1982 for Mayor of Washington, D.C. but accepted a full-time professorship at the George Washington National Law Center. She died of breast cancer in 1985 at the age of 60.

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Shirley Anita St. Hill Chisholm

After graduating Columbia University in 1952 with a Masters in Elementary Education, Shirley Anita St. Hill Chisholm was a director of a child care center. Her political career began In 1964, winning a seat in the New York State Legislature. In 1968 she was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, making her the first black woman elected to such a position. Chisholm participated in the founding of the Congressional Black Caucus in 1971 and in 1972 she was the first black candidate for the President of the United States from a major party. Chisholm was backed by the National Organization of Women and Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem were among her supporters. During her unsuccessful campaign she survived three assassination attempts. Chisholm continued to serve in Congress until 1982. During her time there she was focused on increasing funding for education and healthcare, and reducing the military spending budget. Upon retiring, Chisholm returned to her roots in education, teaching Women’s Studies and Politics at Mount Holyoke College. In 1993 Chisholm was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame and President Bill Clinton nominated her as the ambassador to Jamaica, which she had to decline based on her health. She passed away January 1, 2005 at the age of 80.

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Condolezza Rice

Born in 1954, Condoleezza Rice has already had a long political career. She graduated the University of Denver in 1974 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science. Rice taught Political Science at Stanford University from 1981-1987. In 1982 she changed her political affiliation from Democrat to Republican in part because she disagreed with President Jimmy Carter’s foreign policy. Rice served as the Special Assistant to the Director of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 1986 and from 1989-1991 she served in the National Security Council as Director (and then Senior Director) of Soviet and East European Affairs under President George H.W. Bush. During this time she was also a Special Assistant to the President on National Security Affairs. On January 26, 2005, the United States Senate confirmed her nomination as Secretary of State, making her the first African-American female to hold the position. After the Bush administration, Rice returned to academia and to teaching at Stanford University. 

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