It may be hard for some folks to fully comprehend this, but in the entire 231 years that the U.S. Senate has existed, there have only been 10 senators who are Black. All but three of them were elected and just two of that already small number are women.
As of Tuesday morning, there were three sitting U.S. Senators who are Black.
It was already known since last month that figure was going to decrease by one when California Sen. Kamala Harris and her running mate Joe Biden won the presidential election, making her the first Black vice president in American history.
But it was not known who would fill her vacated Senate seat — until Tuesday afternoon when California Gov. Gavin Newsom appointed Alex Padilla, the California Secretary of State.
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Before the announcement, Newsome had been facing pressure to name a Black woman to succeed Harris in the Senate. After all, there were already several Latino Senators. Without Harris, there was just one Black Senator who is a democrat and another who is a Republican. But no Black woman, a void that was glaring to critics of Newsom’s decision. It seemed logical — especially during a calendar year marked by national protests that were part of a larger racial reckoning — that Newsom would not only select a Black person, but also a Black woman to fill the seat.
To be sure, the ensuing debate following Newsom’s decision had everything to do with the absence of a Black woman in the U.S. Senate and nothing to do with the fact that Padilla would be the first Latino to represent California in the U.S. Senate. It had to do with the representation of Black people in the U.S. Senate, something that has historically been all but a novelty, even in the year 2020.
Only in recent years has the election of Black candidates to the U.S. Senate picked up steam.
It’s been 150 years since the first Black person was elected to the U.S. Senate, with another following four years later in 1874.
But it would be more than 90 years later until the next Black man was elected to the U.S. Senate.
It would be another quarter of a century until the next Black person — the first Black woman — would win a Senate election.
A little more than a decade later, America got its next Black Senator — one who would notably go on to become the first Black person elected president of the United States.
That seemingly opened the relative floodgates to usher in a historic era that would include four more Black U.S. Senators, culminating with two of whom had legitimate runs for the White House.
With the next round of U.S. Senate elections already coming up soon in the 2022 mid-term elections, who will be next to join the reclusive club of Black Senators? Until we get that answer, scroll down to better acquaint yourselves with their predecessors, in chronological order.
1. Hiram Rhoades RevelsSource:Getty
Hiram Rhoades Revels (1822-1901), American clergyman who was the first African American to be elected to the United States Senate. (Photo by © CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images) vertical,photography,people,one person,waist up,portrait,african-american ethnicity,religion,politics,government,archival,united states senate,clergy,politics and government,senator,black history in the us,hiram rhodes revels – politician
2. Portrait of Blanche K. BruceSource:Getty
Blanche K. Bruce, the Accessor and Sheriff of Bolivar County, Mississippi, was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1874. (Photo by © CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images) vertical,photography,people,one person,waist up,portrait,politics,archival,politician,united states senate,politics and government,1870-1879
3. Outgoing Senator From MassachusettsSource:Getty
Former United States Senator from Massachusetts, Edward Brooke III (1919 – 2015) after conceding victory to the challenger, Paul Tsongas, 7th November 1978. (Photo by Barbara Alper/Getty Images) microphone,photography,people,horizontal,usa,waist up,success,african-american ethnicity,medium group of people,politics,archival,politician,former,election,massachusetts,politics and government,senator,conceding defeat,1978,edward brooke,paul e. tsongas
4. US Senator-elect Carol Moseley Braun declares her vSource:Getty
CHICAGO, IL – NOVEMBER 3: US Senator-elect Carol Moseley Braun declares her victory as the first African-American woman elected to the US Senate 03 November 1992 in Chicago, IL. She called her campaign a step toward a new diversity in government. (Photo credit should read BRIAN BAHR/AFP via Getty Images) color image,horizontal,usa,adult,success,african-american ethnicity,women,politics,1990-1999,illinois,chicago – illinois,election,democracy,united states senate,carol moseley braun
5. Democratic luncheonSource:Getty
UNITED STATES – NOVEMBER 16: Sen. Barack Obama, D-Il., speaks to the press at the weekly Senate Democratic luncheons. (Photo By Chris Maddaloni/Roll Call/Getty Images) horizontal,usa,talking,politics,barack obama,washington dc,lunch,united states senate,democratic party – usa
6. US Senator Roland Burris, D-Il, listensSource:Getty
US Senator Roland Burris, D-Il, listens as US Defense Secretary Robert Gates testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, January 27, 2009. AFP PHOTO/Jim WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images) photography,horizontal,usa,law,politics,government,washington dc,occupation,listening,weapon,organized group,capitol hill,politics and government,testimony,senator,senate,roland burris,robert m. gates
7. Will Sen. Tim Scott oppose judicial pick accused of disenfranchising black voters?Source:Getty
Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) at the South Carolina Inland Port groundbreaking ceremony in Greer, S.C., on March 1, 2013. (Gerry Melendez/The State/Tribune News Service via Getty Images) photography,horizontal,usa,politics,politics and government
8. Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick Appoints William Cowan For Interim Kerry Senate SeatSource:Getty
BOSTON – JANUARY 30: William “Mo” Cowan, speaks to the media after begin named interim U.S. Senator January 30, 2013 at the Statehouse in Boston, Massachusetts. Cowan, a senior advisor to Governor Deval Patrick, will fill the position until a successor can be named for the departing John Kerry, who was recently named Secretary of State. (Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images) horizontal,usa,the media,beginnings,talking,politics,boston – massachusetts,massachusetts,state capitol building,temporary
9. Senate Judiciary Committee Holds Vote On Brett Kavanaugh NominationSource:Getty
WASHINGTON, DC – SEPTEMBER 28: Senate Judiciary Committee member Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) delivers remarks about Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh during a mark up hearing in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill September 28, 2018 in Washington, DC. The committee agreed to an additional week of investigation into accusations of sexual assault against Kavanaugh before the full Senate votes on his confirmation. A day earlier the committee heard from Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford, a California professor who who has accused Kavnaugh of sexually assaulting her during a party in 1982 when they were high school students in suburban Maryland. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images) color image,photography,people,one person,horizontal,usa,headshot,politics,government,washington dc,organized group,court hearing,nominee,judge – law,dirksen senate office building,cory booker,politics and government,supreme court,senate judiciary committee,brett kavanaugh,christine blasey ford
10. Attorney General William Barr Testifies Before the Senate Judiciary CommitteeSource:Getty
WASHINGTON, DC – MAY 1: Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) questions Attorney General William Barr as Barr testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee at the Dirksen Building on Wednesday, May 1, 2019, in Washington, DC. The hearing is to discuss Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. (Photo by Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post via Getty Images) photography,horizontal,usa,topix,discussion,law,washington dc,focus on background,human interest,asking,court hearing,attorney general,kamala harris,testimony,senate judiciary committee,robert mueller – special counsel,bill barr – attorney general,mueller report