The United States of America has been in existence for 229 years. In those 229 years, there have only been six black U.S. senators. A problem? I think so.
Former NAACP president Kweisi Mfume announced Tuesday he plans to run for the vacant Maryland Senate position in the next election. This announcement comes in the wake of Sen. Paul Sarbanes stating he will not be running for a sixth term.
If elected, Mfume will be making even more history, not only by being the seventh black U.S. senator, but being the first black U.S. senator in Maryland’s history. It is unbelievable there are states that have never had a black U.S. senator.
Clearly, the scale of blacks to non-blacks in politics is definitely not tipped to the blacks’ side, but there should have still been more than six black senators in 229 years.
Blacks received the right to vote and serve in the U.S. Congress upon passing of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution. Unfortunately, it took from 1776 to 1865 to receive these rights.
The first black senator was elected in 1869 to serve in the Mississippi legislature. Hiram Revels was properly elected but unable to be an effective senator because of racism during the time.
The next decade saw two other black senators elected to positions. One of them was Blanche Bruce (1875-1881), the first black senator to serve a full term.
So the current trend made it seem like the country was becoming more accepting to black being involved in Congress, right? Wrong.
The next elected black senator was not until 1966. A full 81 years separate the two elections. Edward William Brooke III represented Massachusetts and went on to serve as the first black state attorney general and the only black to serve two terms.
In 1993, Carol Moseley Braun won her election in Illinois, making her the first black woman in the U.S. Senate.
The most recent black to hold a position in the U.S. Senate is Barack Obama, elected in November to represent Illinois.
The blame does not rest fully on the shoulders of blacks. Because of the way the country is divided for voting districts, there has been no black majority vote in any state since 1940. Therefore, blacks can only become senators with the assistance of non-black voters.
It is a travesty that there aren’t more blacks interested in politics or pursuing the lofty goal of senator. Although there has been a multitude of blacks in the House of Representatives, the same representation is missing in the Senate.
Many blacks are quick to complain about the government cutting this and “the man” keeping us down, but they are not willing to take the necessary actions to make a change. Perhaps if there was more of black representation in the Senate, issues affecting the black community would be addressed in a more appealing manner.
With only six years between Moseley Braun and Obama’s elections, there does seem to be progress. If Mfume runs a successful campaign in the next two years, the situation would be even better because there would be two blacks representing in the Senate at the same time.
In the meantime, the black community needs to employ my favorite saying for the last two weeks: Step it up!
Dominique Drake is a third-year professional MBA student from Cleveland. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.