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Six Black U.S. Senators Since Reconstruction—Who & Why So Few?

There have been six Black United States Senators in post-reconstruction America.

Just six.

Here is a post on the three black post-reconstruction Governors.)

Here are the five Black Senators to date—

Ed Brooke (above) was a Republican elected from Massachusetts in 1966 and 1972.  He was defeated in 1978 by Paul Tsongas who went on to a notable career himself. Mr. Brooke was part of the moderate to liberal wing of the Republican party that does not so much exist anymore. The decline of moderate Republicanism is a big reason why Democrats are so strong in New England and New York state today.

Here is a Time Magazine article from 1971 pondering if President Richard Nixon would consider replacing Vice President Spiro Agnew on the ticket with Senator Brooke.

Carol Moseley Braun (Above) is the only Black woman to have served in the Senate. She represented Illinois. Ms. Moseley Braun defeated an incumbent Democrat Senator in a primary in 1992 and went on to win the General Election.

People had hopes for Carol Moseley Braun. For a variety of reasons, some maybe relating to her own mistakes and some maybe a product of unreasonable expectations, Ms. Moseley Braun lasted only one term.  This New York Times story from Ms. Moseley Braun’s 2004 run for President offers some perspective.

If Ms. Moseley Braun had been able to hold on, Barack Obama would most likely not have been elected to the Senate as the third post- Reconstruction black senator.   Mr. Obama won the seat once occupied by Ms. Moseley Braun. The Republican who defeated her in 1998, Peter Fitzgerald, did not run for reelection in 2004 against Mr. Obama in strongly Democratic Illinois.

Barack Obama of Illinois was elected to the Senate in 2004. He then went on to even bigger things.

The fourth Black U.S. Senator was Roland Burris (Above) of Illinois.  Mr. Burris was appointed by the Governor of Illinois to replace Barack Obama. His appointment was made under controversial circumstances as Governor Rod Blagojevich made the nomination while under indictment for a range of offenses including trying to sell the Obama Senate seat.

Mr. Burris was the first statewide elected Black in Illinois. He was elected as Comptroller of Illinois in 1979 and served in that post until 1991. In 1990 he was elected Attorney General of Illinois. He has also run unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate, Governor of Illinois, and Mayor of Chicago.

Here is a comprehensive profile of Mr. Burris.

Mr. Burris did not run for reelection in 2010.

Tim_Scott_official_photo

The fifth post-Reconstruction Black Senator was Tim Scott (Above) of South Carolina. Mr. Scott was designated in December, 2012 to replace Senator Jim DeMint who resigned his office.

Here is profile of Mr. Scott from the PBS News Hour.

Mr. Scott is the fIrst Black Republican Senator since Ed Brooke. He is expected to run to fill the seat on a permanent basis.

tim-scott425x320

The sixth post-reconstruction Black Senator is Mo Cowan (Above) of Massachusetts.

Mr. Cowan was appointed to the Senate by Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick to fill the vacancy caused by John Kerry being appointed Secretary of State.

Mr. Cowan is a well-connected attorney who has served as Governor Patrick’s Chief of Staff. Here is a profile of Mr. Cowan from the Boston Globe. 

Mr. Cowan will serve in the Senate until an election takes place on June 25. Mr. Cowan is not a candidate for the June election.

Why only six black senators in post-Reconstruction America?

Here are some reasons for the low number —

1. Jim Crow and racism long denied Black people the right to vote and to run for office.

2. Even given the (not always uncontested) right of Blacks to vote today, a large proportion of Blacks in America live in the South where whites are not always inclined to vote for Blacks. This is how George W. Bush or Mitt Romney easily carries Mississippi even though 30% of people in Mississippi are Black.

3. Many states have very few Black people and so Black candidates are less likely to emerge from these places. Though it must also be said there were not so many Black folks in Massachusetts to help elect Ed Brooke.

4. The overwhelming majority of Blacks are Democrats. As many Senators are Republicans, this limits the options for Black Republican Senators.

5. Since most Blacks are going to vote for Democrats no matter what, Democrats use this fact and do not push Blacks to run for the highest offices. If someone is going to do something for you anyway, why not take advantage of them?

6.  Since many Black office holders have safe majority-minority districts or serve in majority-Black cities, why take a chance on a tough statewide race?

7. Black politicians often have a terrible record of cultivating new people and young people for the tough battles ahead. It’s easy to sit in a safe seat and accumulate power . It is more difficult to help people and fight for people in a more constructive way.

(There have been a full total of seven black U.S. Senators in our history. The other two, from the Reconstruction Era were Hiram Revels a Republican from Mississippi who served in 1870 and 1871, and another Mississippi Republican, Blanche Bruce, who served from 1875 until 1881. Both of these men were appointed by the state legislature as was done for much of American history. Here is information about the 17th Amendment, ratified in 1913, that provided for direct election of Senators.

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February 4, 2008 - Posted by | Campaign 2008, History, Political History, Politics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

16 Comments »

  1. [...] have been 5 elected African-American Senators or Governors[4] post-Reconstruction and only one candidate (Ed Brooke) ever served more than one [...]

    Pingback by Barack Obama, Chris Paul, and “Lucky Black Man” Delusion | COSELLOUT: Tellin' It Like It Is when the "Cosellouts" Won't | March 27, 2008

  2. There is a simple reason why there have been so few Black U.S. senators elected. A U.S. Senate seat is a statewide office. To be elected by a statewide electorate, a Black candidate needs a considerable number of white votes, even in the states with the highest Black population.

    The state with the highest Black population in 2000 was Mississippi, with 36.6% Blacks, followed by Louisiana, with 32.9% Blacks. Although they have a relatively high population of Blacks, they are still outnumbered by whites by two to one. And these ex-slave states, where whites still fly the Confederate flag sometimes, are unlikely places for a Black candidate to run statewide and win with a majority white vote.

    The state of Vermont had a total population of 608,000 at the time of the 2000 census. Although it has a majority white population now, with only 0.7 percent of the population Black and 99% of the population white, if 25% of the Black population of the state of New York moved to Vermont (750,000 people), then Vermont would have a majority Black population and could reliably elect two Black US Senators to the US Senate.

    So, the reason that there are so few Black US Senators is that Blacks don’t want more US senators enough for 700,000 of us to move to Vermont.

    See here for the US Census Bureau source of these statistics.

    Comment by Francis L. Holland | April 28, 2008

  3. Note that Vermont and New York are neighboring states.

    Comment by Francis L. Holland | April 28, 2008

  4. 2 Black US Senators From Vermont????!!

    2 Black US Senators From Vermont????!!

    The Texas Liberal blog asks the question, Three Black U.S. Senators Since Reconstruction: Who & Why So Few?” There is a simple reason why there have been so few Black U.S. senators elected. A U.S. Senate seat is a statewide office. To be elected by a statewide electorate, a Black candidate needs a considerable number of white votes, even in the states with the highest Black populations.

    For example, the state with the highest Black population in 2000 was Mississippi, with 36.6% Blacks, followed by Louisiana, with 32.9% Blacks. Although they have a relatively high Black populations, Blacks there are still outnumbered by whites by two to one. And these ex-slave states, where whites still fly the Confederate flag sometimes, are unlikely places for a Black candidate to run statewide and win with the support of a quarter of the white vote, which is about what would be required in Mississippi.

    If Senate districts included half the voters in each state instead of all of them, then the population of Blacks in each district would be relatively higher and Blacks would have a greater chance of electing US Senators. You might well say that the US Constitution makes it very hard for a minority to elect a member of the US Senate.

    There is a viable solution however, that does not require a Constitutional amendment or any change of existing laws:

    At the time of the 2000 census, the state of Vermont had a total population of 608,000. Although it has a majority white population now, with only 0.7 percent of the population Black and 99% of the population white, if just 25% of the Black population of the state of New York (750,000 people) moved across the border into Vermont, then Vermont would have a majority Black population and could reliably elect two Black US Senators to the US Senate.

    Oh, but wait a minute! Blacks don’t need to be the majority of the population, but only the majority of the voting age population that actually turns out to vote. In 2004, a year in which Vermont voted both for the presidency and one of its US Senate seats, only 300,000 votes were cast for all of the US Senate candidates combined, with 60% of the state’s votes going to Kerry, the Democratic Party candidate for president. If a Black candidate won the Democratic primary, s/he would have an excellent chance of winning the general election.

    The entire voting age population of Vermont was 490,000 in 2007. So, even if the influx of Blacks caused every single white Vermonter of voting age to register and turn out to vote for the white candidate, still 500,000 voting Blacks could win 2 US Senators for Black America from the state of Vermont, or 900,000 with a 60% turnout. (Blacks who move to snowy Vermont for the purpose of electing Black senators are likely to be highly motivated to vote.)

    In a sense, the reason that there are so few Black US Senators in the United States, in addition to the Constitutional requirement that senators be elected statewide, is that Blacks have not wanted two more Black US senators enough for 500,000 of us to move out of New York and across the border into the state of Vermont.

    See here for the US Census Bureau source of these statistics.

    Comment by Francis L. Holland, Esq. | April 28, 2008

  5. Only since 1913 have US Senators been directly elected by the voters in their states. Before that time the state legislatures selected the Senators.

    Senators are funny things. Once, when a US Senator from Louisiana died in office, Governor Edward Edwards of Louisiana was having a steamy affair with a woman who was not his wife. Edwards immediately appointed his wife the the vacant Senate Seat in Washington DC, to get her out of Louisiana. Then he resumed his affair in New Orleans.

    Comment by Jim Newman | May 1, 2008

  6. Mr. Holland–Thanks for your comments and the link in your fine blog.

    Comment by Neil Aquino | May 2, 2008

  7. ed likes barbara walters ok that is for sure.

    Comment by bill brady | May 2, 2008

  8. For my information

    Comment by child7@comcast.net | May 8, 2008

  9. We are also dealing with a gerrymandered concept called the electoral college. Nobel Prize winner vs. “Daddy got me this job” have proven it as an anti-democratic, anti-one-man-one-vote soul flushing device. In defense of Vermont, they heavily requested a black president in the same way Iowa did. Vote for the guy who talks to you like you aren’t a mouth-breathing rube.

    Comment by Y | May 9, 2008

  10. The Electoral College is a racket. But one I imagine that will never go away.

    The people of Vermont are as you say good people.

    Thanks for the comment.

    Comment by Neil Aquino | May 9, 2008

  11. The reason there are so few black politicians elected is because white people fear the widely accepted (and expected!) racism. The only reason Barack Obama was elected was the liberal media and that he acts white. If you believe otherwise you are in denial. We as Americans will never have equality because blacks are more violent less ambitious and less intelligent than whites. I centainly am not offended when test results show that asians are more intelligent than whites. Blacks are more racist than whites. My solution make it illegal to declare race on any level. Schools in Baton Rouge La. are:public 4.7 per cent white, private schools 88 per cent white. When I learned this I did the math and made the choice for my child. If I did not know the race mix I probably would not have chosen private.

    Comment by Todd McInnis | January 15, 2009

  12. This man is awesome: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kendrick_Meek

    He will be running against Fl. Gov. Charlie Crist who just spoke out against Sotomayor for SCOTUS. Because Crist just shot himself in the foot, then Meek has a good chance if the Hispanic ppopulation in FL jumps on Meek’s wagon.

    Lets send a real progressive to the Senate.

    Comment by deb | July 22, 2009

  13. Todd McInnis, question? If Obama acts White, how does McCain act? I can’t believe that people like you still believe Obama won because he acts ‘white’. What does that mean? History has Whites being just as violent as any other race. Ask the Native Americans, ask the Japanese, ask the Iraqis, ask the history books. It’s 2009, no one on this earth is better than anyone else. We become who we want to be by choice. Despite every person’s upbringing, they have a choice to continue grow a family tree or remain a family wreath. You have chosen to be narrow minded,a racist, and a parent. Of the three, a parent is the worse…cause you’re going to pass on this stupidity to your children.

    Comment by Faith Galloway | October 3, 2009

  14. [...] women, education, and retaining the legacy of the only state that has been able to produce a Black senator in more modern times. She also told me tonight that she is nominated for four Emmy’s for the [...]

    Pingback by CHERYLE JACKSON | 4 SENATE | family « PERKINS' PICKS | by thejamesperkins.com | January 14, 2010

  15. [...] Four Black U.S. Senators Since Reconstruction—Who & Why So Few? «African, Hispanic (Latino), and Asian American members of Congress … Congressional Black Caucus … Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus… [...]

    Pingback by Black senators | TrueMinistry | March 18, 2011

  16. [...] Four Senators (Currently zero) [...]

    Pingback by What does our government really represent? Racial Inequality | physicistical | May 17, 2012


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