It’s hard to believe that we had to wait until 2022 to see a Black woman on the U.S. Supreme Court. But as we celebrate the confirmation of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, we thought it was the perfect time to give some shine to some of the other amazing Black women who have battled discrimination and broken barriers to become firsts in their fields. Although we have lots to be proud of today, the 53-47 vote means we still have a long way to go.
Patricia Roberts Harris - First Black Woman Cabinet Member
Patricia Roberts Harris (May 31, 1924 - March 23, 1985) broke several glass ceilings as the first African American woman named to a U.S. ambassadorship and the first to serve in a presidential cabinet. Born and raised in Illinois, Harris served as the U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg from 1965 to 1967 under President Lyndon Johnson. She took a break from public service and became the first African American dean of a U.S. law school, at Howard University. Harris returned as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (1977-1979) in President Jimmy Carter’s administration. She later served as Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare (now known as Health and Human Services).
Shirley Chisholm - First Black Woman in Congress
Brooklyn-native Shirley Chisholm (November 30, 1924 - January 1, 2005) was a nursery school teacher before she got into politics. In 1969 Chisholm became the first Black woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, representing the 12th District of New York. Chisholm used her platform to work on issues including education, women’s rights, and a guaranteed minimum income. During her tenure, she helped establish the Congressional Black Caucus which continues to advocate for issues important to the Black community to this day. In 1972, she threw her hat into the ring for the highest office in the land, making her the first Black woman to run for President of the United States.
Carol Moseley Braun - First Black Woman Senator
Carol Moseley Braun (Born August 16, 1947) was inspired to run for senate in her home state of Illinois, after being upset with then-Senator Alan Dixon’s backing of U.S. Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas. After beating Dixon in the 1992 Democratic primary, she went on to beat her Republican challenger and become the first Black woman elected to the U.S. senate, where she served from 1993 to 1999.
Winsome Sears - First Black Woman Lieutenant Governor
No state has ever elected a Black woman to serve as governor, yet (we’re looking at you, Stacey Abrams). But Republican Winsome Sears (Born March 11, 1964) made history by getting pretty close. In January 2022, she became the first Black woman to hold statewide office when she was elected lieutenant governor of Virginia alongside Glenn Youngkin.
Condoleezza Rice - First Black Woman Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice (Born November 14, 1954) has been shattering glass ceilings throughout her career. She was a political science professor at Stanford University before becoming the first woman and African American provost in 1993. In 2001, she became President George W. Bush’s National Security Advisor before going on to become the first Black woman Secretary of State in 2004.
Vice President Kamala Harris - First Black Woman Vice President
Kamala Harris (Born October 20, 1964) has an impressive list of firsts in her bio. In 2010, she was elected Attorney General in California, the first woman and African American to hold the position. She represented California as the first Indian American in the U.S. Senate from 2011 to 2017. And in 2021, she made history again, when she was elected the first female and first African American Vice President of the United States.
Brig. Gen. Hazel Johnson - First Black Woman U.S. Army General
Brig. Gen. Hazel Johnson-Brown (October 10, 1927 - August 5, 2011) joined the Army in 1955, after President Harry Truman banned segregation and discrimination in the armed services. After working as a nurse at Harlem Hospital and the Philadelphia Veterans Administration Hospital, she wanted to travel the world and use her nursing skills. During her military career, Johnson-Brown rose through the ranks, becoming first the Black female general and first Black Chief of the United States Army Nurse Corps
Susan Rice - First Black Woman to Represent the U.S. at the United Nations
A few U.S. presidents have turned to Susan Rice (Born November 17, 1964) for advice. After his 2008 election, President Barack Obama appointed Rice to serve as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. During his second term, she was appointed National Security Advisor in 2013. She currently serves as the Domestic Policy Advisor in the Biden Administration. As the Director of the Domestic Policy Council, Rice plays a key role in helping form President Biden’s domestic policy agenda, working on issues including racial equity, health care and immigration.