Breaking New Ground -- African American Senators
To date, nine African Americans have served in the United States Senate. In 1870, Hiram Revels of Mississippi became the first African American senator. Five years later, Blanche K. Bruce of Mississippi took the oath of office. It would be nearly another century, 1967, before Edward Brooke of Massachusetts followed in their historic footsteps. Carol Moseley Braun broke new ground in 1993, becoming the first African American female to serve as U.S. senator. In 2005, Barack Obama of Illinois became the fifth African American to serve and third to be popularly elected. Upon Obama's resignation to become president, Roland Burris was appointed to fill the vacancy, becoming the sixth African American senator and the third to occupy the same Illinois Senate seat. Tim Scott of South Carolina was appointed to fill a vacancy in 2013, becoming the first African American since Reconstruction to represent a Southern state in the Senate. He was elected to a full term in 2014. The appointment of Massachusetts senator William "Mo" Cowan on February 1, 2013, marked the first time that two African Americans have served simultaneously in the United States Senate. Cory Booker of New Jersey became the ninth African American senator when he won a special election to replace Senator Frank Lautenberg on October 31, 2013.
Hiram Revels of Mississippi became the first African American senator in 1870. Born in North Carolina in 1827, Revels attended Knox College in Illinois and later served as minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Baltimore, Maryland. He raised two black regiments during the Civil War and fought at the battle of Vicksburg in Mississippi. The Mississippi state legislature sent him to the U.S. Senate during Reconstruction where he became an outspoken opponent of racial segregation. Although Revels served in the Senate for just a year, he broke new ground for African Americans in Congress. (Photo: Library of Congress)
Blanche K. Bruce
Born into slavery in 1841, Blanche K. Bruce spent his childhood years in Virginia where he received his earliest education from the tutor hired to teach his master's son. At the dawn of the Civil War, Bruce escaped slavery and traveled north to begin a distinguished career in education and politics. Elected to the Senate in 1874 by the Mississippi state legislature, he served from 1875 to 1881. In 2002, the Senate commissioned a new portrait of Bruce, now on display in the U.S. Capitol. (Photo: Library of Congress)
The first African American elected to the Senate by popular vote, Edward Brooke of Massachusetts served two full terms, from 1967 to 1979. Born in Washington, D.C. in 1919, Brooke graduated from Howard University before serving in the United States Army during World War II. After the war, he received a law degree from Boston University. During his Senate career he championed the causes of low-income housing and an increased minimum wage, and promoted commuter rail and mass transit systems. He also worked tirelessly to promote racial equality in the South. (Photo: Senate Historical Office)
Carol Moseley Braun
Some called 1992 the "Year of the Woman." More women than ever before were elected to political office in November of that year, and five of them came to the U.S. Senate. Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois not only joined that class on January 3, 1993, but also became the first African American woman ever to serve as U.S. Senator. During her Senate career, Moseley Braun sponsored progressive education bills and campaigned for gun control. Moseley Braun left the Senate in January of 1999, and soon after became the U.S. Ambassador to New Zealand, a position she held until 2001. Moseley Braun ran for the Democratic nomination for president in 2004. (Photo: Senate Historical Office)
Barack Obama was born in Hawaii on August 4, 1961. He received his earliest education in Hawaii and Indonesia, and then graduated from Columbia University in 1983. He moved to Chicago in 1985 to work for a church-based group seeking to improve living conditions in poor neighborhoods. In 1991, Obama graduated from Harvard Law School where he was the first African American president of the Harvard Law Review. He served in the Illinois state senate from 1997 to 2004. Elected to the United States Senate in November of 2004, he took the oath of office and became the fifth African American to serve in the Senate on January 3, 2005. On November 4, 2008, Barack Obama was elected as the 44th President of the United States. He was reelected in 2012.
Roland W. Burris
Born in Centralia, Illinois, on August 3, 1937, Roland Burris earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science from Southern Illinois University Carbondale and a Juris Doctor degree from Howard University. After finishing law school in 1963, Burris became the first African American to work as a national bank examiner for the Treasury Department. When Burris was elected comptroller of Illinois in 1978, he was the first African American to win a statewide election in Illinois. After serving more than ten years as comptroller, he became attorney general of Illinois. Appointed to the Senate on December 31, 2008, Burris filled the vacancy caused by the resignation of Barack Obama.
Appointed to the Senate on January 2, 2013, Tim Scott became the first African American since Reconstruction to represent a Southern state in the Senate. Born in North Charleston, Charleston County, S.C., on September 19, 1965, Scott attended Presbyterian College in Clinton, S.C., before graduating with a bachelor of science degree from Charleston Southern University in Charleston, S.C., in 1988. An entrepreneur, Scott pursued a career in insurance and real estate. He served on the Charleston County, S.C., council from 1995 until 2008, and was a member of the South Carolina house of representatives from 2009 until 2010. Elected as a Republican representative to the One Hundred Twelfth Congress, Scott served one term in the House of Representatives before being appointed to the United States Senate. He was elected in a 2014 special election for the term ending January 3, 2017.
William "Mo" Cowan
The appointment of Massachusetts Senator William "Mo" Cowan on February 1, 2013 marked the first time that two African Americans have served simultaneously in the United States Senate. Born in Yadkinville, North Carolina, in 1969, Cowan earned a bachelor of arts degree in sociology from Duke University and a juris doctor degree from Northeastern University School of Law. After finishing law school in 1994, Cowan practiced civil litigation and became a partner in a law firm. Prior to entering the Senate, he served as chief legal counsel and chief of staff to Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick.
Cory A. Booker
Cory Booker (D-NJ) became the first African American to represent New Jersey in the United States Senate on October 31, 2013. Born in Washington, D.C., he earned a bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Stanford and then attended The Queen’s College, University of Oxford, Oxford, England, as a Rhodes Scholar, where he received a graduate degree in 1994. Booker then attended Yale Law School, earning his Juris Doctor degree in 1997. He served on the Newark City Council from 1998 to 2002 and then as mayor of Newark from 2006 to 2013. Booker was elected to the United States Senate in a special election on October 16, 2013, to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Frank Lautenberg, a seat subsequently held by appointed senator Jeffrey Chiesa, and took the oath of office on October 31, 2013, for the term ending January 3, 2015. He was elected to a full term in November 2014.