Guide

9 Historic Sites That Honor Black Politicians

Although race discrimination and voting laws once prohibited Black citizens from holding high positions in office, many Black politicians have made their mark on shaping politics and reform since the 19th century. As a way of recognizing those who’ve paved the way, check out nine sites that honor Black politicians in the United States.

  1. Photo By: Tony Fischer CC BY 2.0

    Alexander Twilight (Vermont General Assembly)

    This legendary political figure is the first American of African descent to serve in a state legislature in the United States. Elected to the Vermont General Assembly in 1836, Twilight is also the first person of color known to have graduated from an American college. Twilight attended Middlebury College in Middlebury, Vermont from 1821-1823 and was one of 18 men to graduate with a bachelor's degree, and while there were debates about his racial identity, he was described as a “Middlebury graduate, educator and stateman.”

  2. Photo By: Matt H. Wade via Wikipedia CC BY 2.0

    Shirley Chisholm (New York Legislature)

    Rep. Shirley Chisholm of New York became the second Black American in the New York State Legislature and the first Black American woman to announce her bid for presidency on January 25, 1972. Known for her firm stances on racism and sexism, Chisholm was acknowledged to be “unbossed and unbought” while serving seven terms in the U.S. House of Representatives. Chisholm co-founded the National Women's Political Caucus in 1971 and became the first Black woman to serve on the House Rules Committee in 1977.

  3. Photo By: Carol M. Highsmith, Library of Congress

    Frederick Douglass (Frederick Douglass National Historic Site)

    Frederick Douglass became the first Black American vice-presidential candidate when he ran alongside Victoria Woodhull—the first woman to run for president—in 1848. As a highly recognized abolitionist, writer, and politician, Douglass, actively fought for Black people’s and women’s rights during most of his life. The home where he lived in the last 17 years of his life is now a National Historic Site located in Washington, D.C.

  4. Photo By: Errol S. Watkis, Howard University Libraries

    L. Douglas Wilder (Howard University)

    After receiving his law degree from Howard University, L. Douglas Wilder began his political career in 1969 when he became the first Black American state senator in Virginia since Reconstruction. He served as lieutenant governor for the state before he made history as Virginia’s 66th governor (the first Black elected governor in the United States) on January 13, 1990. Later in his political career, he was elected as the mayor of Richmond in 2004.

  5. Photo By: University of Chicago Law School Communications Staff

    Carol Moseley Braun (University of Chicago Law School)

    Chicago native Carol Mosely Braun made history as the first Black American woman to serve in the United States Senate in 1993. As an alumna of the University of Chicago Law School, Braun worked actively in the political scene on issues such as civil rights, education, and crime. Before serving as a senator, she was the first Black American woman to work as a recorder of deeds and hold an executive position in Cook County. In addition to being the first woman to serve on the Senate Finance Committee, Braun served as one of the first three women to serve on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

  6. Photo By: Carson Bear

    Jesse Jackson (Lorraine Motel)

    Notable civil rights leader Jesse Jackson ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1984 and 1988. Years before being known as a Black politician, Jackson was a close friend and colleague of Martin Luther King Jr. Jackson was 26 years old when he witnessed King’s assassination at the Lorraine Motel on April 4, 1968, where Jackson, King, and other civil rights leaders stayed during their travel to support the city’s sanitation workers strike. Jackson has since continued his fight against racism and inequality in America as a politician and a civil rights icon.

  7. Photo By: Daniel Mayer/Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0)

    Barbara Jordan (Texas State Capitol)

    Known as a civil rights, LGBTQ, and disability advocate, Barbara Jordan successfully ran for the Texas senate, becoming the first Black American woman to ever hold a seat in state office. In 1972, she was elected the first Black U.S. Representative from the Deep South serving the 18th District in Texas (where she was their first female representative). In 1976, Jordan delivered a keynote speech Democratic National convention. She spent her career fighting for voting rights and immigration reform, and was a vocal advocate for the impeachment of President Nixon.

  8. Photo By: jondoeforty1 CC BY-SA 2.0

    Charlotta A. Bass (Evergreen Cemetary)

    Charlotta A. Bass accomplished many firsts during her lifetime as an entrepreneur and politician. Bass was the first Black woman to run for vice president, as well as to own and operate a newspaper. Endorsed by Black figures Paul Robeson and W.E.B. DuBois, she was a highly respected advocate for Black rights, women’s rights, and immigration. Her newspaper, The California Eagle, became the largest Black American paper on the West Coast. The publication focused on issues such as police brutality, housing, and the crimes of the KKK. The political trailblazer died on April 12, 1969 and is buried at Evergreen Cemetery in Los Angeles.

  9. Photo By: Sr13 via Wikimedia

    Barack Obama (Punahou Academy)

    In 2008 Barack Obama became the first Black American elected president of the United States. Before making history as the 44th President, Obama attended school in Honolulu at Punahou Academy while living with his grandparents. The academy was a place where he, one of three Black students at the school, became aware of his racial identity. Obama excelled in school and graduated with academic honors in 1979.

Brianna Rhodes is the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund Fellow for the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

We believe all Americans deserve to see their history in the places that surround us. As a nation, we have work to do to fill in the gaps of our cultural heritage.

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