From Madame Noire: Since the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776 – the document that expresses the want, will, and hopes of the people – the country’s political system has reflected a disproportionately low number of women. Black females are even scarcer. However, some black women have been trailblazers in the political arena, shaping history and leaving a legacy that cannot be erased.
Patricia Roberts Harris broke several racial and gender barriers throughout her distinguished political career. In 1965, she became the first black female ambassador when President Lyndon Johnson appointed her as U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg. Two years later, she returned to her alma mater, Howard University, where she became the law school dean, making her the first black female law school dean in the country. In 1977, President Jimmy Carter appointed Harris to serve in his cabinet as secretary of housing and urban development. She was the first black female in a presidential cabinet.
Constance Baker Motley also accomplished a staggering number of “firsts.” In 1944, she was the first black woman to be accepted at Columbia Law School. In 1948, Motley joined the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund. In 1954, she was the only female on the legal team that challenged Brown v. Board of Education, and in 1962, she was lead counsel in James Meredith’s battle to gain admission to the University of Mississippi. Her 1964 election to the New York State Senate made her the first black female senator. In 1966, Motley became the first black woman appointed to the federal bench when President Lyndon Johnson appointed her to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.
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