Black Americans in Congress, 1870-2007 (Washington: GPO, 2008), http://baic.house.gov, supplemented
Note: Delegates are not included in the data.
Figure 1 shows, the number of African Americans serving in Congress stayed below 10 until
Congress (1969-1971), when those in the House doubled, growing from 5 to 10 in one
Congress. The number of African-American Senators remained at 1.
African American Members steadily increased. In the
Congress (1993-1995) reached 40. Since the
Congress (1999-2001), the number has remained between 39 and 44 at any one time.
Source: Black Americans in Congress, 1870-2007 (Washington: GPO, 2008), http://baic.house.gov, supplemented
by CRS. Figures compiled by CRS.
Notes: Delegates are not included in the data.
elected to the House and a third, Hiram Rhodes Revels (R-MS), was elected to the Senate by the
Mississippi state legislature.
(1865-1877). Of particular significance is the fact that
Congress (1929-1931), when one Member was elected to the House. This was in
part because (1) the congressional focus on racial equality had faded; (2) the slow disintegration
of the Republican-dominated Reconstruction governments had a detrimental effect on the rights
of black voters, and those seeking political office were vulnerable to Democratic state
governments controlled by former Confederates and their sympathizers; (3) a variety of
impediments such as the poll tax and educational tests prevented African Americans from voting;
and (4) some state legislatures attempted to gerrymander congressional districts to restrict the
election of African Americans.
Despite increases in the number of African Americans serving in Congress, especially since the
Congress (1969-1971), Figure 2 shows that 1.1% of Members in the United States history
have been African Americans. Figure 2 shows the current composition of the
The first African American Member of Congress was Hiram Rhodes Revels (R-MS), who served
Congress (1870-1871). He also has the distinction of being the first
African American Member of the Senate and the first African American Member of Congress
from Mississippi. On January 20, 1870, he was chosen by the Mississippi legislature to take the
seat previously held by Albert G. Brown, who withdrew from the Senate on January 12, 1861,
after Mississippi seceded from the Union. Senator Blanche K. Bruce (R-MS, 1875-1881) was the
first African American Senator to serve a full Senate term of six years.
Joseph H. Rainey (R-SC, 1870-1879) was the first African American Member of the House of
Congress. Shirley Chisholm
woman to serve in Congress. Edward Brooke (R-MA) was the first African American elected to
the Senate after passage of the Seventeenth Amendment, which provided for the direct election of
Senators. He served in the
Carol Moseley-Braun (D-IL, 1993-1999) is the only African American woman, as well as the first
African American Democrat, to serve in the Senate. President Barack Obama was the first African
American male Democrat to serve in the Senate. He served as a Senator from Illinois from 2005
until his resignation on November 16, 2008, after he was elected President of the United States.
Senator Roland Burris (D-IL, 2009-present), who was appointed to the seat vacated by President
Obama, is the first African American appointed to the Senate. Representative Walter Fauntroy (
, 1971-1991) was the first African American delegate to serve in Congress.
Representative Charles Diggs (D-MI, 1955-1980) was the first chair of the Congressional Black
Congress), Blanche K. Bruce (R-MS) was the first African American to chair a
congressional committee. As chair of the House Committee on Expenditures in the Executive
Congress), William L. Dawson (D-IL, 1943-1970) was the first African
American to chair a House committee.
John Conyers Jr. (D-MI), the current chair of the House Judiciary Committee, has served longer
than any other African American Member of Congress. Representative Conyers has served since
1965. Edward Brooke (R-MA, 1967-1979) holds the record for Senate service by an African
Article I, Section 2 of the United States Constitution requires that all Members of the House of
chosen every second Year by the People of the several States.
Therefore, all Representatives enter office through election, even those who enter after a seat
becomes open during a Congress. By contrast, the Seventeenth Amendment gives state
legislatures the option to empower governors to fill Senate vacancies by temporary appointment.
All 126 of the African Americans who have served in the House have been elected, as well as all
but one of the six African American Senators. The lone exception is Senator Roland Burris (D-IL,
Representative James E. Clyburn (D-SC, 1993-present), the House assistant minority leader in the
Congresses. Former Representatives
William H. Gray III (D-PA, 1979-1991) and J.C. Watts (R-OK, 1995-2003) were also elected
members of the House leadership. Representative Gray was chair of the House Democratic
Congress). Later in that Congress, when a vacancy occurred, he was
elected House majority whip, a position he held until his resignation from Congress in September
Congress). Representative Watts served as chair of the House Republican Conference
Representative John Lewis (D-GA, 1987-present), the Democratic senior chief deputy whip in the
(1991-2007). Representative Maxine Waters (D-CA, 1991-present) has served as a Democratic
Congress, and Representative G.K. Butterfield (D-NC,
Representative Shirley Chisholm (D-NY, 1969-1983) served as secretary to the Democratic
Nineteen African American Representatives and one Senator have chaired congressional
Congress. No African Americans serve as committee chairs in the
The other African American committee chairs were Senator Blanche Bruce (R-MS, 1875-1881)
and Representatives Yvonne B. Burke (D-CA, 1973-1979); William L. Clay Sr. (D-MO,
); William L. Dawson (D-IL, 1943-1970); Ronald V. Dellums (D-CA, 1971-1998); Charles
C. Diggs Jr. (D-MI, 1955-1980); Julian Dixon (D-CA, 1979-2000); William H. Gray III (D-PA,
1979-1991); Augustus F. Hawkins (D-CA, 1963-1991); George T. (Mickey) Leland (D-TX,
); Parren J. Mitchell (D-MD, 1971-1987); Robert N.C. Nix Sr. (D-PA, 1958-1979); Adam
Clayton Powell Jr. (D-NY, 1945-1967, 1969-1971); Louis Stokes (D-OH, 1969-1999); Juanita
Millender-McDonald (D-CA, 1996-2007); and Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-OH, 1999-2008).
January 1969 when Representative Charles Diggs (MI) brought together the other African
American Members of the House to form the Democratic Select Committee.
Committee expanded its legislative goals and activities during 1970, it reorganized into a more
formal organization, the Congressional Black Caucus, with 13 members at the start of the
Congress in 1971. The CBC became only the fifth Member organization to exist in Congress.
Congress, all African American Members except three have joined the CBC.
Currently, there are 42 members of the Congressional Black Caucus, comprising all the African
American Members of Congress except one. It is chaired by Representative Emanuel Cleaver
Three main factors contributed to the founding of the CBC: greater African American
participation in electoral politics following passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, a perceived
African American leadership vacuum due to the deaths or marginalization of many civil rights
leaders in the late 1960s, and perceived inattention to issues of concern to African Americans by
the Nixon Administration.
during the 1968 and 1970 congressional elections, the African American community was still
proportionally underrepresented in Congress. According to the CBC, its founding members
believed that a black caucus in Congress, speaking with a single voice, would provide political
influence and visibility far beyond their numbers.
In addition to serving as a voice for the African American community, the Congressional Black
Caucus has also addressed issues of concern to the poor and other underrepresented minority
groups, both in the United States and abroad. This broader scope is reflected in the original
needs of millions of neglected citizens.
improve access and quality of education and health care, reduce unemployment, protect voting
rights, and provide better housing and childcare for the poor and working class. In foreign policy,
the CBC generally supports international human rights and focuses on issues where current U.S.
policy may conflict with professed American values of liberty and equality.
the CBC stance against apartheid in South Africa, its push for humanitarian aid and refugee
assistance for Haiti, and the continual efforts of some CBC members to urge Congress to consider
the concerns of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).
both informal and formal strategies to influence foreign policy, varying from organizing protests
and boycotts to conducting special hearings, writing letters, and introducing legislation.
At times, the CBC plays an oppositional role, both within Congress and the established party
structure. One scholar has argued that within Congress, the CBC serves
group for blacks but also as a labor union for its members.
leadership agreed to put one black Member on each major committee at the urging of the CBC.
The CBC also often issues declarations of its policy agenda, distinct from either party
This was reflected by some of the earliest caucus efforts, beginning with a February 1970 letter to
President Richard Nixon addressing issues facing black and impoverished Americans and the
presentation of 61 policy recommendations to the President concerning domestic and foreign
policy matters at a meeting on March 25, 1971.
budget, which has been presented to Congress annually since 1981.
The caucus also plays a symbolic role for the African American community. Some scholars have
argued that the caucus is more effective as a social and community organization than it is a
political or legislative institution.
committee leadership positions.
highest national elected office positions of any African Americans until the 2008 presidential
election of former CBC member Barack Obama. The CBC Foundation (CBCF) sponsors a
number of leadership development programs, internships, fellowships, and scholarships to
encourage the next generation of African American leaders.
regularly celebrate the accomplishments of African Americans and minorities, by introducing
resolutions to commemorate African American and minority leaders as well as civil rights
Three noteworthy legislative initiatives championed by the CBC include the establishment of
Martin Luther King Jr. Day, sanctions on South Africa to pressure an end to apartheid, and
humanitarian assistance to Haiti.
Martin Luther King Jr. Day
The bill to establish a federal holiday to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was signed into law by
President Ronald Reagan on November 3, 1983.
the first Martin Luther King Jr. holiday bill on April 8, 1968, four days after King
After its founding in 1971, the CBC became a strong advocate for a Martin Luther King Jr.
holiday, frequently participating in demonstrations, orchestrating petition drives, and introducing
legislation. In 1971, Congress received a petition signed by 6 million Americans in support of the
King holiday, and Representative Conyers and Representative Shirley Chisholm (NY), another
CBC member, reintroduced King holiday legislation during every subsequent session of Congress
until the holiday became law. On January 15, 1981, musician Stevie Wonder, with the support of
the CBC, sponsored a march, rally, and benefit concert in Washington, DC, to celebrate what
birthday and to raise awareness about the King holiday legislation.
On August 27, 1983, more than 200,000 people gathered for a civil rights march at the Lincoln
s march on Washington.
s legacy, coupled with political protests and the spread of local and state King holiday
legislation, made 1983 an opportune time for enactment of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.
The successful 1983 legislation was introduced by CBC member Representative Katie Hall on
July 29, passing the House by a vote of 338-90 on August 2 and the Senate by a vote of 78-22 on
October 19, and was signed into law on November 2.
The CBC began to address apartheid during the 1970s because it felt that the executive branch
had not made ending discrimination in South Africa a priority.
members of the CBC introduced more than 15 bills seeking to end apartheid and racial
discrimination practices in South Africa. As a result of the CBC
the CBC helped establish TransAfrica in 1976, a foreign policy advocacy group designed to raise
awareness about African and Caribbean issues. Besides endorsing legislative sanctions,
TransAfrica and the CBC also lobbied corporations and universities to divest from South Africa.
Through hearings, rallies, and protests in their home districts and in Washington, DC, CBC
members increased attention on apartheid in South Africa.
During the 1980s, public awareness and concern about apartheid grew as violence increased in
South Africa. By the mid-1980s, the need to address apartheid in South Africa became more
pressing and politically feasible. The Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act (H.R. 4868), introduced
by a CBC member, Representative William H. Gray (PA),
Africa that would not be eased until certain conditions, like the release of political prisoners, were
met. The original sanctions in the bill included banning new investments in or loans to South
Africa, prohibiting imports of uranium, steel, and coal imports, and removing airport landing
rights for South African Airways. An amendment by another CBC member, Representative
Ronald Dellums (CA), strengthened the sanctions to include a full trade embargo and complete
divestment from South Africa.
Senate vote of 78 to 21 on October 2, 1986.
In 1976, Representative Shirley Chisholm (NY) and Delegate Walter Fauntroy (DC) formed the
Congressional Black Caucus Task Force on Haitian Refugees to pursue humane treatment and
equal justice for refugees from Haiti entering the United States. The name of the caucus was
changed to the Congressional Task Force on Haiti in 1981 as it adopted broader policy objectives
regarding Haiti and also included members outside of the CBC.
By 1985, it was clear that the 30-year dictatorial regime of Francois Duvalier and his son
Duvalier was nearing its end. In 1986, the U.S. Embassy, working with the Roman
Catholic Church and Haitian army, deposed President Jean-Claude Duvalier peacefully, and Haiti
scheduled its first free election for November 29, 1987.
Congressional Task Force on Haiti, American aid to Haiti doubled from $50 million in 1986 to
$101 million in 1987, despite tight fiscal conditions.
CBC activism for Haiti continued during the late 1980s and 1990s, as a series of military coups
led to a difficult post-Duvalier transition period. After Haiti
election in December 1990, President Bertrand Aristide was overthrown in September 1991, eight
months after taking office. Many in the CBC believed the only remedy for the escalating refugee
crisis was to restore Aristide to office. Beginning in October 1993, the CBC asked President Bill
Clinton to impose the strongest military sanctions available against Haiti or to conduct a military
intervention. A letter sent to President Clinton on March 18, 1994, by the CBC and signed by all
The United States Haiti policy must be scrapped.
the U.S.- and U.N.-imposed sanctions on Haiti during May and June 1994, with some members
advocating for even stronger sanctions. An envoy sent to Haiti on September 18, 1994, by
s military rulers to resign and to allow U.S. peacekeeping
troops to enter the country and restore Aristide to the presidency.
Concerned about the cost of the Haiti mission and the lack of a troop withdrawal date,
Representative Gary Franks (CT), the only Republican member of the CBC, publicly opposed the
majority of the Congressional Black Caucus wanted the United States to invade Haiti, and
President Clinton caved in.
position and that the refugee situation constituted a vital American interest.
This section of the report provides tabular information on African American Members of
Congress, including the Congresses in which they served, the committees, on which they served,
and an indication of the committees they chaired or co-chaired, or served as ranking Member. In
addition, five tables summarize information about African American Members.
Table 1 presents the number and names of African American Members by Congress. Table 2
presents the same information by state. Table 3 shows the changing number of African American
Members serving in Congress since 1870, when the first Member was elected.
Most of the data presented are drawn from the Biographical Directory of the American Congress,
http://bioguide.congress.gov, various editions of the Congressional Directory, and a broad range
of Congressional Quarterly Inc. and Leadership Directories Inc. publications. For additional
information, refer to Black Americans in Congress, 1870-2007, (Washington: GPO, 2008),
http://baic.house.gov, written by the Office of History and Preservation in the House of
Congress committee assignments, the sources are Official Alphabetical List of the
Note that the names and jurisdiction of House and Senate committees have changed several times
over the years covered by this report. In the interest of brevity, this report does not identify all
historical name changes. The committee names that are listed are those that were in effect at the
time a particular Member served on a panel.
BALLANCE, FRANK W. Jr., a Representative from North Carolina. Born on February 15, 1942.
BASS, KAREN, a Representative from California. Born on October 3, 1953. Elected as a
Congress; has served since January 3, 2011.
BISHOP, SANFORD D. Jr., a Representative from Georgia. Born on February 4, 1947. Elected as
Congresses; has served since January 5, 1993.