10 Badass Trailblazers in Politics and Law (1930–1979)
Dear Badass Black Girl, During Black History Month, and every day of the year, let's honor the daring Black women who broke barriers in politics and law, and left us an important legacy. Although we continue to face considerable obstacles to securing high-profile offices at both the state and national level, it is thanks to these trailblazers that we are gaining increased access.
Advancing Black women’s representation is not only a matter of democratic fairness, but influences policy agendas and debates, as well as the political engagement of underrepresented constituencies.
Remember these names:
Charlotte E. Ray (1850–1911), was the first Black female lawyer in the United States. She was also the first Black woman admitted to the bar of the District Columbia in April 1872 and the first Black lawyer of any gender to be admitted to practice and argue before the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia.
Mary McLeod Bethune became the first Black woman appointed to a government post, when, on June 24, 1936, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt named her Director of Negro Affairs at the National Youth Administration. One of the youngest of seventeen children, born to former slaves, Bethune also opened a boarding school for Black girls, which eventually merged with another school to become Bethune-Cookman College. She served as Vice President of the NAACP from 1940 until her death in 1955.
The first Black woman judge in the United States was Jane Matilda Bolin. Bolin was also the first Black woman to earn her degree at Yale Law School, the first to join the New York Bar City Association, and, after becoming the first Black woman in the New York City Law Department, became the only (and first) Black female judge in the United States when she was appointed justice in Domestic Relations Court of New York City on July 22, 1939. She remained the only Black female judge in the United States for twenty years.
Alice Dunnigan was the first Black female reporter to receive White House press credentials. She was the first Black correspondent to travel with a sitting president when she joined President Harry S. Truman on his campaign tour. In 1947, Dunnigan made history when she became the first Black woman to serve as a White House correspondent.
Patricia Roberts Harris was the first Black American woman to hold two cabinet positions. She was Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development and Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare during the Carter administration. Harris was also the first Black woman to hold an ambassadorship. She was ambassador to Luxembourg during the Johnson Administration.
Constance Baker Motley was the first Black woman to hold a federal judicial post. She was appointed a US District Court judge on August 30, 1966. She also became the first Black woman to argue a case before the US Supreme court when she successfully argued Meredith v Fair in 1962, which won James Meredith the right to attend the segregated University of Mississippi.
Shirley Chisholm was the first Black woman to serve in the US House of Representatives. She ran under the campaign slogan “Unbought and Unbossed” and represented her district in Brooklyn for seven terms from 1969 to 1983. She was also the first Black woman to run for US President, and the first Black woman to take the stage in the Presidential debates in 1972.
Barbara Jordan was the first woman of any color to deliver a keynote address at a Democratic National Convention. She was also the first Black of any gender to be elected to the Texas Senate after Reconstruction and the first Southern Black of either gender to be elected to the US House of Representatives.
Azie Taylor Morton was the first Black woman to sign US currency. She was the thirty-sixth Treasurer of the United States and remains the only Black woman to have held that post.
Amalya Lyle Kearse was the first woman appointed to the US Court of Appeals and the second Black person of either gender (after Thurgood Marshall). She was named to the Second Circuit in 1979. She is also a world-class bridge player.
Read more in Badass Black Girl: Quotes, Questions, and Affirmations for Teens
Publishers Weekly Select Title for Young Readers ─ A Daily Dose of Inspiration for Badass Black Girls
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