As a young African-American man who aspires to one day serve my state in the United States Senate, it would seem, much to my chagrin, that all the odds are not in my favor. The 112th Congress (2011-2013) did not have a single African-American Senator, and the incoming 113th Congress, which will serve from 2013-2015 will be African-American-less as well. The United States Senate has failed to have a African-American Senator since Roland Burris (who replaced Barack Obama when he assumed the office of President in 2009). And, before the people of the great state of Illinois sent Barack Obama to the Senate in 2004, there hadn’t been an African-American in that body since 1999. Only six African-Americans have served in the United States Senate since the inception of that body in April of 1789.
Once the stains of slavery were wiped from the nation’s conscience and Reconstruction was instituted, a glimpse of hope could be seen in regards to our union being further perfected and African Americans who had only recently been property– now being able to run and be chosen for statewide and national office. The reason I say chosen is clear in the profiles of two men, both from the state of Mississippi: Hiram Revels and Blanche K. Bruce. Not until 1913 were U.S. Senators directly elected by the population, rather they were chosen by their respective state legislatures. Hiram Revels was the first African American to serve in the United States Senate (and U.S. Congress overall) when on February 23, 1870 the Mississippi Senate voted 81-15 to send him as their Senator to Washington.
However, the oppugnant Democratic party opposed on the grounds that Revels, even though a citizen under the 14th amendment, could not take his seat because he had not met the nine-year citizen requirement of the United States Constitution. Revels and the Republicans would counter saying that he was born a free man and had been a citizen all his life (he was of mixed black and white ancestry). Thus, he was seated as the first African American Senator on February 25, 1870 after the body voted 48-8. Revels would hold his seat for one year until 1871 and chose not to seek reelection.
Not until March of 1875 did another African-American serve in the United States Senate, and his name was Blache Kelso Bruce. Bruce, like Revels was of mixed ancestry, and Republican who represented the state of Mississippi. Bruce holds the distinction of being the first former slave and African-American to preside over the United States Senate, a feat he accomplished in February of 1879. The next year he also became the first African-American to receive votes at the Republican National Convention when eight delegates cast ballots for him as Vice President to serve on the ticket with James Blaine. He retired from the Senate when President James A. Garfield named him as Registrar of the United States Treasury, where he holds the distinct honor of being the first African-American to have his signature on paper currency.
With the retirement of Bruce, the Senate would not have another African-American to grace its halls for 86 years until 1967 when Massachusetts elected Edward Brooke, who held that seat until 1979. Once Brooke was defeated, the Senate would be African-American-less until 1993 when Illinois elected Carolyn-Mosley Braun who became the first and to date only African American woman to hold a seat in the United States Senate. When Roland Burris chose not to run for reelection in 2010, the Senate lost the only African-American to grace its chamber.
There seems to be a major problem when the nation is rapidly becoming more diverse but its chief lawmaking body, well at least one chamber, is not reflective of that diversity. According to data by Politico, “if the United States Senate were representative of the United States population, then 16 of the 100 members would be African-American.” As stated before, this incoming class of United States Senators, will have zero African-Americans. This is a serious problem. It is almost insane to think that a nation with such an influential population can’t seem to get at least one African-American elected from across 50 states. Why is it such an arduous task to elect an African-American to statewide office when we have been able to elect one to the Presidency not once, but now twice? I for one know that there are plenty of talented, ambitious and worthy candidates who would be awesome individuals to serve as not only Senators, but also Governors and Attorneys General.
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