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Black Women Making Political History

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Congresswoman Maxine Waters

ImageCongresswoman Maxine Waters is considered by many to be one of the most powerful women in American politics today.  She has gained a reputation as a fearless and outspoken advocate for women, children, people of color and poor people.

Elected in November 1998 to her fifth term in the House of Representatives with an overwhelming 89 percent of the votes in the 35th District of California, Congresswoman Maxine Waters represents a large part of South Central Los Angeles and the diverse cities of Gardena, Hawthorne and Inglewood.

In 1997-98, Rep. Waters served a two-year term as the Chair of the 39-member Congressional Black Caucus (CBC). She formulated the comprehensive Agenda for Black America-an agenda for justice, equality and fairness-which outlined CBC's legislative and programmatic priorities.  Those initiatives included a commitment to drug-free, safe and healthy communities; educational and technological opportunities; and job creation and economic development. The priorities also encompassed voting and civil rights; environmental justice; the protection of the most vulnerable Americans; and the promotion of opportunities for all Americans.

For the 106th Congress, Rep. Waters has been  appointed to the influential leadership position of Chief Deputy Whip of the Democratic Party. She continues to be a member of the House Committee on Banking and Financial Services and the Ranking Member of the Domestic and International Monetary Policy Subcommittee. She is also on banking subcommittees on General Oversight and Investigations and on Housing and Community Oportunity.

Rep. Waters also continues to serve on the Committee on the Judiciary and its Subcommittee on the Constitution. During the House impeachment proceedings, Congresswoman Waters was an outspoken advocate for fairness. She criticized Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr's ruthless investigative methods and condemned the House Republicans' unfair and partisan tactics in both the Judiciary Committee and on the House floor.

Prior to her election to the House of Representatives in 1990, Congresswoman Waters had already attracted national attention for her no-nonsense, no-holds-barred style of politics. During 14 years in the California State Assembly, she rose to the powerful position of Democratic Caucus Chair.  Early in her Assembly career, she worked with others on the strategy that made Willie Brown, Jr., the Speaker of the Assembly.

She was responsible for some of the boldest legislation California has ever seen. Among her legislative accomplishments were: the largest divestment of state pension funds from businesses involved in South Africa; landmark affirmative action legislation opening up state procurement and contracting opportunities to women and minority-owned businesses; and the introduction of the nation's first plant closure law.

She also created the nation's first statewide Child Abuse Prevention Training Program, gained passage of a law to prohibit police strip searches for nonviolent misdemeanors, and promoted legislation to prevent toxic chemical catastrophes.

Congresswoman Waters was a leader in the movement to end Apartheid and assure one-person, one-vote democracy in South Africa, working closely with African National Congress leader Nelson Mandela. She founded the Los Angeles Free South Africa Movement and was arrested in a protest against the Apartheid regime. In 1994, she was on the official U.S. delegation to Nelson Mandela's inauguration as President of a free South Africa, and in March 1998, she accompanied President Clinton on a visit to five African countries.

Maxine Waters was born in St. Louis, Missouri, the fifth of 13 children reared by a single mother.  She began working at age 13 in factories and segregated restaurants.   After moving to Los Angeles, she worked in garment factories and at the telephone company.  She attended California State University at Los Angeles, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree.  She began her career in public service as a teacher and a volunteer coordinator in the Head Start program.  Ms. Waters took part in many political campaigns, leafleting, and knocking on doors.  She later became the chief deputy to a Los Angeles city councilman before being elected to the California State Assembly in 1976.

She is married to Sidney Williams, the former U.S. Ambassador to the Commonwealth of the Bahamas.  She is the mother of two adult children, Edward and Karen, and has two grandchildren.

Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm

Shirley St. Hill Chisholm was born on November 30, 1924 in Brooklyn, New York to Charles and Ruby St. Hill. Her father was from British Guiana and her mother was from Barbados. In 1927, Shirley was sent to Barbados to live with her maternal grandmother. She received a good education from the British school system, which she later credited with providing her with a strong academic background.Image

In 1934, she rejoined her parents in New York. Shirley excelled in academics at Girls High School in Brooklyn from which she graduated in 1942. After graduation she enrolled in Brooklyn College where she majored in sociology. Shirley encountered racism at Brooklyn College and fought against it. When the black students at Brooklyn College were denied admittance to a social club, Shirley formed an alternative one. She graduated in 1946 with honors. During this time, it was difficult for black college graduates to obtain employment commensurate to their education. After being rejected by many companies, she obtained a job at the Mt. Calvary Childcare Center in Harlem.

In 1949, she married Conrad Chisholm, a Jamaican who worked as a private investigator. Shirley and her husband participated in local politics, helping form the Bedford-Stuyvesant political League. In addition to participating in politics, Chisholm worked in the field of day care until 1959. In 1960, she started the Unity Democratic Club. The Unity Club was instrumental in mobilizing black and Hispanic voters.

In 1964 Chisholm ran for a state assembly seat. She won and served in the New York General Assembly from 1964 to 1968. During her tenure in the legislature, she proposed a bill to provide state aid to day-care centers and voted to increase funding for schools on a per-pupil basis. In 1968, After finishing her term in the legislature, Chisholm campaigned to represent New York's Twelfth Congressional District. Her campaign slogan was "Fighting Shirley Chisholm--Unbought and Unbossed." She won the election and became the first African American woman elected to Congress.

During her first term in Congress, Chisholm hired an all-female staff and spoke out for civil rights, women's rights, the poor and against the Vietnam War. In 1970, she was elected to a second term. She was a sought-after public speaker and cofounder of the National Organization for Women (NOW). She remarked that, "Women in this country must become revolutionaries. We must refuse to accept the old, the traditional roles and stereotypes."

On January 25, 1972, Chisholm announced her candidacy for president. She stood before the cameras and in the beginning of her speech she said,

"I stand before you today as a candidate for the Democratic nomination for the Presidency of the United States. I am not the candidate of Black America, although I am Black and proud. I am not the candidate of the women's movement of this country, although I am a woman, and I am equally proud of that. I am not the candidate of any political bosses or special interests. I am the candidate of the people."

The 1972 Democratic National Convention in Miami was the first major convention in which any woman was considered for the presidential nomination. Although she did not win the nomination, she received 151 of the delegates' votes. She continued to serve in the House of Representatives until 1982. She retired from politics after her last term in office. She has received many honorary degrees, and her awards include Alumna of the Year, Brooklyn College; Key Woman of the Year; Outstanding Work in the Field of Child Welfare; and Woman of Achievement. Shirley Chisholm passed away on January 1, 2005.



"I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired."

ImageBorn October 6, 1917, in Montgomery County, Mississippi, Fannie Lou Hamer was the granddaughter of a slave and the youngest of 20 children. Her parents were sharecroppers.

At age six, Fannie Lou began helping her parents in the cotton fields. By the time she was twelve, she was forced to drop out of school and work full time to help support her family. Once grown, she married another sharecropper named Perry "Pap" Hamer.

On August 31, 1962, Mrs. Hamer decided she had had enough of sharecropping. Leaving her house in Ruleville, MS she and 17 others took a bus to the courthouse in Indianola, the county seat, to register to vote. On their return home, police stopped their bus. They were told that their bus was the wrong color. Fannie Lou and the others were arrested and jailed.

After being released from jail, the plantation owner paid the Hamers a visit and told Fannie Lou that if she insisted on voting, she would have to get off his land - even though she had been there for eighteen years. She left the plantation that same day. Ten days later, night riders fired 16 bullets into the home of the family with whom she had gone to stay.

Mrs. Hamer began working on welfare and voter registration programs for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).

Mrs Hamer was left in the cell, bleeding and battered, listening to the screams of Ann Powder, a fellow civil rights worker, who was also undergoing a severe beating in another cell. She overheard white policemen talking about throwing their bodies into the Big Black River where they would never be found.

In 1964, presidential elections were being held. In an effort to focus greater national attention on voting discrimination, civil rights groups created the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP). This new party sent a delegation, which included Fannie Lou Hamer, to Atlantic City, where the Democratic Party was holding its presidential convention. Its purpose was to challenge the all-white Mississippi delegation on the grounds that it didn't fairly represent all the people of Mississippi, since most black people hadn't been allowed to vote.

Fannie Lou Hamer spoke to the Credentials Committee of the convention about the injustices that allowed an all-white delegation to be seated from the state of Mississippi. Although her live testimony was pre-empted by a presidential press conference, the national networks aired her testimony, in its entirety, later in the evening. Now all of America heard of the struggle in Mississippi's delta.

A compromise was reached that gave voting and speaking rights to two delegates from the MFDP and seated the others as honored guests. The Democrats agreed that in the future no delegation would be seated from a state where anyone was illegally denied the vote. A year later, President Lyndon Baines Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act.

Prior to her death in 1977, Fannie Lou Hamer was inducted into Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, as an honorary member.


Charlotta Bass

ImageNewspaper publisher-editor, civil rights activist, stands among the most influential African Americans of the twentieth century. A crusading journalist and extraordinary political activist, she was at the forefront of the civil rights struggles of her time, especially in Los Angeles, but also in California and the nation.

Bass was managing editor and publisher of the California Eagle, from 1912 to 1951. The Eagle, founded in 1879, was one of the longest running African American newspapers in the West. Bass was also a political candidate at the local, state, and national level, including running for vice president of the United States on the Progressive Party ticket in 1952. She used the newspaper, along with direct-action campaigns and the political process, to challenge inequality for Blacks, workers, women, and other minorities in Los Angeles. Her mission was nothing short of achieving the equality and justice promised by the United States Constitution. She believed her own role in society, and the role of the Black community, was defined by Americanism, democracy, and citizenship.

Acting on this belief, Bass was one of the pioneers who helped to lay the groundwork for the later Civil Rights Movement and the women's liberation movement. She fought important battles against job and housing discrimination, police brutality, and media stereotyping, and for immigrant and women's rights and civil liberties.

Over time, her role as an activist evolved from championing local business concerns, to strengthening the labor movement, fighting fascism at home and abroad during World War II, and showing a global concern for world peace. Her leadership, courage, truth-telling, and tenacity were an effective force in Los Angeles, and the world, that yielded greater equality for Blacks, workers, and other people facing oppression.

Bass paid a price for her outspokenness. Her life was threatened on numerous occasions. The FBI placed her under surveillance on the charge that her newspaper was seditious and continued to monitor her until her death. Accused of being a Communist, in 1950, she was called before the California Legislature's Joint Fact-Finding Committee on un-American Activities. The accusations began to take a toll on her effectiveness in the community and her ability to sell her newspaper. In 1951, she sold the paper and continued her work in the political realm.

Whatever the consequences, Bass didn't waver in her pursuit of justice. Both Bass and her newspaper served the people--fighting for them, speaking for them, and leading them in battles against inequality and injustice.

Born Charlotta Amanda Spears in Sumter, South Carolina, in 1879 or 1880, Bass was the sixth of eleven children. At the turn of the century, Bass moved to Rhode Island. In 1910, she migrated to Los Angeles to improve her health.

Soon after arriving, Bass sold subscriptions for the Eagle, a Black newspaper founded by John Neimore in 1879. Fulfilling the deathbed request of Neimore, Bass became the Eagle's editor and publisher in March 1912, a career lasting over forty years until she sold the newspaper in 1951. In 1914, Bass hired and subsequently married Joseph Blackburn Bass, a Kansas newspaperman, who edited the paper until his death in 1934. They eventually changed the name of the paper to the California Eagle. The couple had no children, but Charlotta Bass was very close to her nephew John Kinloch, who worked at the California Eagle.

While she was always active at the national level, Bass devoted her greatest energy and activism to the pursuit of civil rights in Los Angeles. Though many viewed Los Angeles as a racially harmonious paradise, Bass used her positions as journalist, candidate, and activist to expose and eliminate racism and injustice in the city.

Likely around 1960, Bass retired and moved to Lake Elsinore, California, where she continued her civil rights activism. She turned her garage into a community reading room and a voter registration site for African Americans, and joined protests against South African apartheid and on behalf of prisoners' rights. In 1966, Bass suffered a stroke and died three years later from complications brought on by the stroke.

Charlotta Bass's steadfast fifty-plus year commitment to social justice distinguishes her as a pioneering civil rights leader.


Assembly Member Wilmer Amina Carter

ImageAssembly Member Wilmer Amina Carter works tirelessly for the 62nd District. A lifelong resident of the district, she proudly represents the cities of Rialto and Colton, portions of the cities of Fontana and San Bernardino, and the communities of Bloomington and Muscoy.

Carter's legislative focus includes, but is not limited to, transportation, job creation and education.

Governor Schwarzenegger has signed two of her bills into law: AB 428 (Carter) and AB 1229 (Carter).  AB 428 requires high schools to notify parents and pupils of the A-G curriculum required for admission to the UC and CSU systems.  AB 1229 gives rank-and-file officers a seat at the Peace Officers Standards and Training Commission.

Assembly Member Carter is the Chair of the Assembly Select Committee on Inland Empire Transportation.  Additionally, she currently sits on six Assembly committees: Transportation, Insurance, Business & Professions, Aging and Long-Term Care, Rules and Veterans Affairs.

Prior to being elected to the California State Assembly, she served on the Rialto Unified School District Board for sixteen years.  She was a staff member to the late Congressman George Brown for 23 years; during that time, she served as District Director.  She also served as a government affairs liaison for California State University, San Bernardino.

Assembly Member Carter has dedicated her career to public service.  After she retired from the Rialto School Board, the board members recognized her contributions to the community by voting to name Rialto's newest comprehensive high school the Wilmer Amina Carter High School.  Carter High School is the first high school in the Inland Empire to be named in honor of a living African American woman.

Assembly Member Carter graduated from San Bernardino High School, attended San Bernardino Valley College, and earned her bachelor's and master's degrees from California State University at San Bernardino.  She lives in Rialto with her husband, Ratibu Jacocks.  They have three adult children.


Assembly Speaker-Elect Karen Bass

ImageKaren Bass has been a State Assembly Member representing Los Angeles' 47th District since 2005. Speaker Fabian Núñez selected Bass as the Majority Leader for the California State Assembly during the 2007-2008 legislative session, making her the first African American and the first woman to hold this leadership position. During the 2005-2006 legislative session, Bass served as the Majority Whip. She also serves as the chair of the Select Committee on Foster Care.

Majority Leader Bass, who is the vice chair of the Legislative Black Caucus, commissioned a report to research the basic demographic profile of Black Californians including the basic social and economic conditions. The State of Black California report included a statewide organizing effort to involve Black Californians in identifying their concerns and making legislative recommendations.

Governor Schwarzenegger has signed 17 of Assemblymember Bass' bills into law focusing on Foster Care reform; Healthy Families Insurance Coverage to help prevent children from going without health insurance; a small business policy that removes red tape by preventing businesses from filling out duplicate certification forms for the city and state; and a measure that expands the Baldwin Hills Conservancy. She has also secured more than $2.3 million to help revitalize the historic Vision Theater in Los Angeles; and more than $600 million for Los Angeles Unified School District.

She was raised in the Venice/Fairfax neighborhood and graduated from the University of Southern California, School of Medicine - Physician Assistant Program, where she has been a faculty member for more than a decade. Bass worked as a Physician Assistant in the nation's largest trauma center, Los Angeles County/USC Medical Center. During her tenure in the emergency room, she saw the despair and violence unleashed by the crack cocaine epidemic. Bass used her organizing experience by founding the Community Coalition, a direct response to the devastation of the drug epidemic and "war on drugs" on South Los Angeles.

As the Assemblymember for the 47th District, Karen Bass serves the cities and communities of Culver City, West Los Angeles, Westwood, Cheviot Hills, Leimert Park, Baldwin Hills, Windsor Hills, Ladera Heights, the Crenshaw District, Little Ethiopia and portions of Korea Town and South Los Angeles.

Assemblywoman Bass lives in the Baldwin Vista neighborhood of Los Angeles County, and is the proud mother of a daughter.

The California Assembly elected Los Angeles Democrat Karen Bass its 67th Speaker, catapulting an African-American woman to the post for the first time in the United States.

"The wisdom of the Caucus is going to break the glass ceiling, to say, finally we're going to elect a Democratic woman to be the Speaker of the California Assembly," Speaker Fabian Núñez said. "We are going to not only write a new chapter in California history, but I've been told we're going to write a new chapter in American history by electing the first African-American woman in the history of this nation to be the Speaker of a state legislative body."

"I look forward to our caucus uniting in the effort to address the current fiscal crisis and the other challenges and opportunities that we will face together and we will solve together in California," Speaker-elect Bass said.

Under Speaker Núñez, Speaker-elect Bass has been a part of the leadership since her first term when she was appointed to Majority Whip. In her second term, she was elevated to the post of Majority Leader, making her the first African American and first woman to hold the post. As vice chair of the Legislative Black Caucus, Bass was the driving force behind the State of Black CA, which highlighted the disparities between Blacks and other ethnic and minority groups throughout the state. She is also the chair of the CA Assembly Select Committee on Foster Care. Under her leadership, the Speaker-elect was able to secure more than $82 million and the signing of eight new laws to help improve the state's Foster Care System.

She will work in tandem with Speaker Núñez as she makes the transition into her new position.

The Los Angeles Democrat will be the first African-American woman Speaker and the first Democratic woman to hold the position. Republican Doris Allen served from June 5, 1995 to September 14, 1995.


Congresswoman Barbara Jordan

ImageBarbara Jordan was the first Black woman to serve in the U.S. Congress from the South.

Barbara Jordan was born in the Fifth Ward of Houston, Texas to a Black Baptist minister, Benjamin Jordan, and a domestic worker, Arlyne Jordan. She attended Roberson Elementary and Phyllis Wheatley High School.

While at Wheatley, she was a member of the Honor Society and excelled in debating. She graduated in 1952 in the upper five percent of her class. She wanted to study political science at the University of Texas-Austin, but was discouraged because the school was still segregated.

She attended Texas Southern University and pledged Delta Sigma Theta Sorority. Barbara was a national champion debater, defeating her opponents from such schools as Yale and Brown and tying Harvard University.

In 1956, she graduated magna cum laude from Texas Southern with a double major in political science and history. She expressed an interest in attending Harvard University School of Law, but opted to go to Boston University and graduated in 1959.

Ms. Jordan taught political science at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama for one year before returning to Houston in 1960 to take the bar examination and set up a private law practice.

She ran for a seat in the Texas House of Representatives in 1962 and 1964, but lost both times... however, she made history when she was elected to the newly drawn Texas Senate seat in 1966, thereby becoming the first Black to serve in that body since 1883. She was an oddity at that time, as the first Black woman in that state's legislature.

Her brief record in the Texas State Senate is viewed as somewhat of a phenomenon. On March 21, 1967 she became the first Black elected official to preside over that body; she was the first Black state senator to chair a major committee, Labor and Management Relations, and the first freshman senator ever named to the Texas Legislative Council.

When the Texas legislature convened in special session in March, 1972, Senator Jordan was unanimously elected president pro tempore. In June of that year, she was honored by being named Governor for a Day. Shortly, thereafter she decided to run for Congress and was elected, in Nov. 1972, from the newly drawn Eighteenth Congressional District in Houston.

Both as a state senator and as a U.S. Congressman, Jordan sponsored bills that championed the cause of poor, Black, and disadvantaged people. She gained national prominence for the position she took and the statement she made at the 1974 impeachment hearing of President Richard Nixon. In casting a "yes" vote, Jordan stated,"My faith in the Constitution is whole, it is complete, it is total." Having become a national celebrity, Ms. Jordan was chosen as a keynote speaker for the Democratic National Convention in 1976, and again in 1992. She was the first Black selected to keynote a major political convention.

President Jimmy Carter considered her for attorney general and U.N. Ambassador but she chose to remain in Congress. She was seriously thinking about challenging Sen. John Tower for re-election in 1978, but became ill and retired from politics.

She became a Professor of Public Affairs at the Lyndon Baines Johnson School of Public Affairs. She was very close to President Johnson, often visiting him at the White House as a state Senator. In 1987, she became an eloquent voice against Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork. She served as an unpaid adviser on ethics for former Gov. Ann Richards of Texas and was praised for her work on the Clinton panel on Immigration Reform.

Barbara Jordan died of complications from pneumonia on January 17, 1996.

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