Over 100 years ago, women gained the right to vote through the 19th Amendment. But it has been a long road for women—specifically, Black women—to be granted a seat at America’s cultural and political table.
Shirley Chisholm famously said, “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.”
A vanguard for women’s political leadership, Chisholm was the first Black woman elected to Congress in 1968 and the first woman and African American to seek the nomination for president of the United States from one of the two major political parties in 1972. The Brooklyn, New York, native was well-respected during her seven terms in the U.S. House of Representatives for her diplomatic efforts for inclusion throughout the political process.
As a new generation of Black political leaders is ushered in, the energy of BLACK ENTERPRISE’s Women of Power Summit still rings loud and clear.
“There’s nothing more powerful than a woman,” said the beloved Loretta Devine, our latest LEGACY AWARD honoree.
Here is a wave of Black women elected to office who are rising in their power to reshape America.
Summer Lee: Historymaker leading the working-class movement
Progressive Democrat Summer Lee is the first Black woman elected to Congress in Pennsylvania after defeating Republican Mike Doyle in last November’s midterm elections. Throughout her time in office, Lee has been a voice for working families, and a champion for sustainable jobs, environmental justice, police accountability, reproductive rights, immigration rights, and gender and racial equity. She tirelessly advocates for workers’ rights, unions, the right to organize, and the fight for a liveable wage. Lee has also brought millions back to her community for infrastructure upgrades and community revitalization.
“This was a movement that was about what it looks like when we prioritize the most marginalized and really fight for what a real working-class movement can look like in this country,” Lee said at her election night party in downtown Pittsburgh, according to The Hill.
Ketanji Brown Jackson: Trailblazing Supreme Court Justice
Ketanji Brown Jackson, the first Black woman nominated to the Supreme Court, took the oath of office to become the 104th Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States on June 30, 2022. The history-making move has inspired pride among Americans she has encountered. In her appointment, she focuses on how historically marginalized communities benefit from seeing her elevation to the high court.
“People from all walks of life approach me with what I can only describe as a profound sense of pride. And what feels to me like renewed ownership. I can see it in their eyes,” Jackson said. “They stare at me as if to say, ‘Look at what we’ve done … this is what we can accomplish if we put our minds to it.’”
She recently returned to her hometown in Miami for a street renaming in her honor.
Jennifer McClellan: A strong legislative champion for Virginians
In the last election cycle, Jennifer McClellan declared victory as the first Black woman in Congress to represent the 4th Congressional District in Virginia. According to data from the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, the 50-year-old’s election set a new record for the number of Black women in Congress.
McClellan, who has served greater Richmond in the General Assembly, brings a new perspective to Congress as a Black woman. She has earned a reputation as a strong legislative champion for Virginians, passing landmark laws to protect voting rights, safeguard abortion access, tackle climate change, rebuild crumbling schools, expand Obamacare in Virginia, protect workers’ rights, and reform Virginia’s criminal justice system.
“When we come together and we care more about doing the work and solving the problems than the soundbites and the show, we can help people,” McClellan said, according to CNN.
Joanna McClinton: Champion of educational opportunities for children
As a state lawmaker, Philadelphia state Rep. Joanna McClinton has made history three times. In 2018, she became the first woman and African American to be elected as House Democratic Caucus Chair, and again in 2020, when she was the first woman elected House Democratic Leader in the institution’s 244-year history. Her credentials include working as a Democratic floor leader since 2020, being the first woman appointed for the position.
In 2023, McClinton became the first woman to serve as speaker of the Pennsylvania House. Expanding educational opportunities for children is No. 1 on her agenda, including ensuring that public schools are fully supported and funded, regardless of zip code.
With her combined passion for public service and law, McClinton was an assistant public defender for seven years. She became active in her community while completing an internship with radio station WDAS as a lifelong resident of southwest Philadelphia and graduate of Grace Temple Christian Academy.
Kamala Harris: First Black woman U.S. VP focused on the people of our nation
U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris, who became the first Black woman to serve as attorney general in California and the second Black woman to be elected as a U.S. Senator, is still reigning as the first woman, first Black, and first Asian American vice president of the United States.
A lifetime public servant, Harris has tried to reduce migration by targeting economic development, led a national movement for marriage equality, passed a bipartisan anti-lynching bill, championed students and veterans, and more.
“This plan that Joe Biden is offering around dealing with racial disparity in the economy is a very important step because he is acknowledging that racial equities have to be a part of the priority,” said Harris during an exclusive interview with BLACK ENTERPRISE.