10 Most Famous African-American Politicians

While African-American politicians have held office on the local and state level since Alexander Twilight was elected to the Vermont state legislature in 1836, race discrimination and laws prohibiting African-Americans from voting limited the number of Blacks holding office until the 20th century. Numerous African-Americans politicians have made their mark on shaping American history and public policy, but many of the 10 most famous African-American politicians lived in the 20th and 21th centuries. 

  1. Barack Obama: President Barack Obama is obviously the most famous African-American politician. Before taking the top political job in 2009, Mr. Obama served in the Illinois senate starting in 1996 and as a US Senator from Illinois beginning in 2004.
  2. Carol Moseley Braun: Ms. Braun served as a US Senator from Illinois from 1992 until 1999, after learning the political ropes as a Chicago attorney and serving in the Illinois legislature for ten years. Braun's name was also circulated as a Democratic presidential candidate in the 2004 election. 
  3. Shirley Chisholm: Shirley Chisholm made history in 1968 when she was the first African-American woman elected to the US Congress from New York. She topped that feat by running for president in 1972.
  4. Barbara Jordan: Ms. Jordan also made history with her election to the US Congress in 1972, becoming the first African-American congresswoman elected from the Deep South. She recorded more firsts when she was re-elected from her home state of Texas, where she had served as the first female Black in the Texas State legislatures. Jordan was the first woman, as well as the first person of color, to give the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention in 1976. Lots of important firsts for Barbara Jordan. 
  5. Jesse Jackson: The Democratic Party primary ticket listed the name of Rev. Jackson in 1984 and again in 1988 but his Rainbow Coalition did not bring in the vote to list Jackson in the November elections. Jackson also organized PUSH in 1971 to promote social welfare issues. Rev. Jackson began working with the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the Civil Rights Movement during the 1950s and 60s.
  6. Douglas Wilder: Lawrence Douglas Wilder was the first African-American in the US to be elected as a state governor. Wilder took office in 1990. The distinction of the election is important because the first African-American appointed as a state governor was P.B.S. Pinchback who served in the Reconstruction-era government of Louisiana in 1872 after the Civil War ended.
  7. Ron Brown: While never holding political office himself, Brown held power over politics as the first African-American politician to lead a major political power. The Democratic National Committee elected Brown in 1989. He also served as US Secretary of Commerce in 1993 and he died in a plane accident while holding the office.
  8. Julian Bond: Bond was a vice-presidential prospect in 1968 and again in 1972, but failed to capture the spot on the election ticket. Bond also served in the Georgia Assembly in 1965 and as a leader of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). He was given the National Freedom Award in 2002.
  9. Edward Brooke: Brooke, who also served as Massachusetts Attorney General, was the first African-American elected to the US Senate. He won election in 1966.
  10. Frederick Douglass: Douglass first ran for president in 1848 on the Liberty Party ticket and as a vice presidential candidate in 1856 on the Political Abolitionist party. Douglass tried to capture the top political office again with Victoria Woodhull as a running mate with the Equal Rights Party in 1872 and again with the Republican Party in 1888. In addition to being a politician, Douglass was a famous educator, writer and public speaker. 
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