Black History

Historic Elections5 Historic Elections

Who Made History?

 

This blog post highlights historic elections and trailblazing African Americans elected to key positions in government. They include the first blacks elected to congress, the first black elected to a governorship and of course the first black president.

Edward Brooke

 

November 1966
Edward W Brooke (1919-2015) of Massachusetts became the first African American elected to the United States Senate by popular vote. He served from 1967-1979. Brooke, a moderate republican led efforts to attach an anti-discrimination amendment to the Civil Rights Act of 1968. He also defended the need to extend the 1965 Voting Rights Act, and pushed his colleagues to make Dr. King’s birthday a national holiday.

 

 

Shirley Chisholm


November 1968

Shirley Chisholm (1924-2005) of Brooklyn, New York became the first African American woman elected to the United States House of Representatives. Chisholm was an activist in her community and carried that spirit with her to the House of Representatives where she fought to increase federal funding to extend hours of daycare facilities. She was also the primary backer of the national school lunch bill and led efforts to override President’s Gerald Ford’s veto of the bill. Chisholm served in the House of Representatives from 1969 to 1983.

 

Lawrence Douglas Wilder

 

November 1989
Lawrence Douglas Wilder (born 1931) became the first African American elected Governor in the United States. He served four years, from 1990-1994. During his governorship he balanced the state budget and sponsored new construction projects at several Virginia colleges and universities, mental health facilities, and state parks.

 

 

Carol Moseley-BraunNovember 1992 (born 1947)
Carol Moseley-Braun (born 1947) of Illinois became the first African American woman elected to the United States Senate. During her term in Congress she fought for social legislation including federal funding for the Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday Commission. She sponsored a National Park Service Initiative to fund historic preservation of the Underground Railroad. She also convinced the Judiciary Committee not to renew a design patent for the United Daughters of the Confederacy because it contained the Confederate Flag. Moseley-Braun’s time in the senate was marred by controversy. She was accused of campaign finance violations and was criticized by the Congressional Black Caucus for taking a private trip to Nigeria to attend the funeral of a dictator’s son.

 

Barack Obama

 

November 2008
Barack Obama (born 1961) was elected 44th President of the United States. During his presidency he addressed the financial crisis and put the United States on the path to financial recovery. He was reelected for a second term in  2012. During his second term he implemented the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).

Chart to share with students: History Making Elections

Benjamin FletcherBenjamin Fletcher (1890-1949) was a union leader and organizer in the early 1900’s. He joined the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) while employed as a dockworker in Philadelphia in 1912. The IWW, nicknamed Wobbly, was the one union that welcomed members from all races and treated them fairly and equally.

Fletcher was active in the union and soon stood out for his intellect and oratory skills.

In 1913 he helped establish the Philadelphia Marine Transport Workers Industrial Union Local 8, the local or Philadelphia branch of the IWW.

The membership of Local 8 was made up of African Americans, European immigrants and West Indians. Fletcher believed that worker solidarity in the workforce was more important than racial solidarity. He realized that integrated union groups prevented employers from using race to pit different ethnic groups against each other, and made sure the leadership of Local 8 reflected the diversity of its members.

The IWW was against war and passed an anti-war resolution at the union’s 1916 convention. This view made the IWW leadership a target of the FBI. They were accused of treason and arrested for conspiring to strike. Fletcher was convicted in 1918 and sentenced to ten years in prison.

African American leaders, including W.E.B. DuBois, and civil rights leader, Asa Philip Randolph protested Fletcher’s imprisonment. In 1920 Fletcher was released on bail. President Warren G. Harding commuted his sentence in 1923, and in 1933 he received a full pardon from President Franklin D Roosevelt.

Frederick Douglass

How well do students know Frederick Douglass? Do they know that he recruited troops to fight in the Civil War, including his sons Lewis and Charles?

When the war broke out Douglass, who had already escaped from slavery, was living in Massachusetts. He was very active in the abolitionist movement and traveled on the lecture circuit speaking out against slavery. He was also the publisher of the North Star, an antislavery newspaper.

Douglass saw the Civil War as a war to end slavery and believed that black men should be allowed to fight in the battle for their freedom. As the war progressed his speeches and newspaper editorials included calls for President Lincoln to grant slaves their freedom and to allow them to enlist in in the Union army. “A war undertaken and brazenly carried for the perpetual enslavement of the colored men, calls logically and loudly for the colored men to help suppress it”, said Douglass.

In 1863, after suffering defeats on the battlefield and a decrease in white volunteers, President Lincoln authorized the enlistment of black men in combat and asked states to begin recruitment of black men.

The 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment was the first black regiment formed after President Lincoln issued the call for black troops. The governor of Massachusetts asked Frederick Douglass to help recruit men for the unit. Douglass agreed and wrote an editorial for the local newspaper urging men to join the Union forces.

“Men of Color, To Arms! The case is before you. This is our golden opportunity. Let us accept it, and forever wipe out the dark reproaches unsparingly hurled against us by our enemies. Let us win for ourselves the gratitude of our country, and the best blessings of our posterity through all time.”

Douglass’ sons, Lewis and Charles were among the first to enlist.

369th Infantry Regiment

African Americans in World War I…who were they? If you’re teaching World War I, African American soldiers that made up the 369th Infantry Regiment should be included.

During World War I several all-black units served and fought in Europe. The most famous of those units was the 369th, nicknamed the Harlem Hellfighters by the Germans.

Members of the the 369th fought alongside the French and on the front lines for several months. More than 170 members of the unit received medals and citations from the French government, including the the Croix de Guerre, the French medal that is awarded to soldiers for bravery in combat.

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