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December 22, 2006

The Last Black Senator

Posted in: Politics,Race

Barack Obama has been all over the news of late with hints that he may run for president. So, I wondered what the Senate would look like without him. It turns out that, if he leaves, there will be no more black folks in the Senate at all. He is the only black senator — but it doesn’t end there. Digging a bit deeper, I discovered that there have only been 5 African Americans elected to the Senate. Ever.

Give that a minute to sink in. Of the roughly 2700 Senate elections held since 1789, only 6 were won by an African American (Ed Brooke won re-election). That’s .2% or 1/5 of one percentage point. Considering that black folks have made up a fairly steady 10% of the population, this is a pretty serious reminder of how far the land of the free still has to go.

Of course, there are lots of factors that muddy the water. I’m not sure how many black folks were up for election or even ran in primaries. And this doesn’t take into account that there was a long period of time when black folks couldn’t run for any office, let alone Congress.

But none of that changes the fact that the Senate hasn’t seen nearly as many African Americans as it should have and that gives me pause. It also gives me pause that the first black senator, Hiram Revels, resigned his office after serving less than one year. How must he have been treated for him to decide, after making such a dramatic leap for his race, that he should give it all up almost immediately? I can’t imagine.

If the fifth African American senator decides to leave office prematurely, though, it does seem like he might do it for quite a different reason. And I must say that I’m more than happy to lose the last black senator if the result is the first black president. Hot damn.

Update: If you like Obama, check this poster.

with thanks to Mom; photo via Slate

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