Black Americans have contributed more to president-elect Joe Biden‘s campaign than any other president in U.S. History. More Black Americans organized, marched, registered, and voted for Biden than in any other presidential election.
However, a select few were directly involved in Biden’s winning campaign, and they all have one thing in common: they are all graduates of historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs). Below are a profile of four HBCU graduates who directly led to Biden becoming the president-elect and Kamala Harris becoming the vice president-elect.
Louisiana Congressman Cedric Richmond
Cedric Richmond’s resume was padded way before he became linked to the Biden campaign. The New Orleans native is the only Louisiana Democrat and the only Black American in the state serving in either chamber of Congress.
The Morehouse College graduate currently serves as the National Co-Chair for Biden’s presidential campaign and was involved in every important decision of the campaign, including the selection of Senator Kamala Harris as Biden’s vice-presidential running mate.
Richmond told BLACK ENTERPRISE seeing the title vice president fall under the long list of HBCU accomplishments “is awesome.”
“I’m glad that people finally realize that the Ivy leagues aren’t the end all, be all,” Richmond said. “There’s a lot of good talent in other places and it’s a very strong statement to the hundreds of thousands of people who graduated from HBCUs that are doing wonderful things across this country.”
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms was an early supporter of Biden’s campaign. The Florida A&M University alum served as a Super-Surrogate for the former vice president throwing her support behind him months before the election and going against billionaires that were running such as Mike Bloomberg.
Bottoms, a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, was significant to Black voters supporting Biden in Atlanta. The mayor was paramount in making sure polling stations were safe and residents had all the necessary information on where and when to vote.
When asked how her HBCU experience prepared her for being the mayor of a major city, Bottoms said certain values are instilled in you when attending an HBCU and those values ensure you succeed in anything you do.
“There is a consciousness, confidence, and compassion that is instilled in you when you attend an HBCU,” Lance Bottoms said. “I never once questioned whether or not could I compete at the highest levels because I was surrounded and supported by the best and the brightest hard-working students, faculty, and staff.”
Bottoms added watching Harris, a fellow HBCU graduate, become the first Black woman to be named vice president will have a significant impact on the number of HBCU college applicants who may not have previously considered attending an HBCU.
Voting Rights Advocate Stacey Abrams
Abrams may be the most important person to contribute to Biden becoming the president-elect without actually being a part of his campaign. In 2018, Abrams lost the 2018 Georgia gubernatorial election to Brian Kemp, who was accused of voter suppression. In 2020, Abrams made sure it didn’t happen again.
The Spelman College graduate founded Fair Fight Action, an organization dedicated to fighting voter suppression. Abrams’ organization and its efforts directly led to hundreds of thousand of Black residents in the state to register and vote. As a result, Biden became the first Democratic presidential nominee to win the state since Bill Clinton in 1992.
Abrams’ fight to get Black Americans registered to vote is one she picked up from her parents.
“It was actually my family that was involved in social justice and the civil rights movement, my dad was arrested at 14 registering Black people to vote during Jim Crow,” said Abrams, a tax attorney who served in Georgia’s House of Representatives for a decade.
Abrams had a message for HBCU students who might be struggling through the coronavirus pandemic and not getting the typical college experience because of it.
“College is an opportunity to not only learn for the future but it’s a place to discover who you are and while that’s accomplished in communion directly,” Abrams said. “It cannot be negated by distance and so I encourage students to stay connected with one another, to use social media and distance learning to challenge one another, but to always remember that you are part of a community that stretches across this nation and across decades, more than a century.
“Part of the nature of an HBCU experience is understanding how adversity leads to opportunity and I would hold to that, cling to that, and find a way to make that a part of your future,” Abrams added.
South Carolina Congressman Jim Clyburn
Congressman Jim Clyburn’s endorsement of Biden came at a pivotal time in the former vice president’s campaign. Biden was coming off of subpar showings in the Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada primaries and Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren were leading the pack.
But the South Carolina State University alum’s endorsement of Biden changed everything. Biden won the state’s primary, gaining 49% of the vote, and never looked back as Democratic primary candidates began to drop out and endorse him. It was also Clyburn that suggested Biden pick a Black running mate and has served as a mentor to Cedric Richmond.
Clyburn, who currently serves as the Majority Whip of the U.S. House of Representatives, said he couldn’t help but smile when he found out Biden and Harris were named the projected winners of the election and he’s glad that HBCUs are getting the credit they deserve.
“I’m just glad people are focusing on it, but it’s interesting when I hear people talk about the Tuskegee airmen and [how] instrumental they were in winning the war. Well Tuskegee is an HBCU, so this is not unusual, it’s just that people have never been given the proper credit, so it feels good now that people are focusing on giving credit where it’s due.”
Clyburn has been a staple of the South Carolina government, representing the state’s 6th district since 1993, and is the third-ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives behind Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer.