By LaKeshia N. Myers
Happy Black History Month Wisconsin! Did you know there were only 383 Black women serving in state legislatures in the United States? That’s right, only 383 (according to the Center for American Women in Politics); or 5.2% of all state legislators. In Wisconsin’s one hundred seventy-six year history, we have only had thirteen women serve in the state legislature, they are former Representatives Marcia Coggs, Annette Polly Williams, Johnnie Morris Tatum, Tamara Grigsby, and Barbara Toles. Currently serving are Representatives Dora Drake, Shelia Stubbs (Dane County) and myself.
In the State Senate, former Senators Gwen Moore, Lena Taylor, and Nikiya Harris Dodd. Currently, Senator LaTonya Johnson is the only Black woman serving in the Wisconsin senate. We are a rare sisterhood; Black women who legislate. This Black History Month, I would like to celebrate five prominent Black women who paved the way in the field of politics.
1. Shirley Chisholm-In 1968 became the first Black woman to serve in the U.S. Congress. Chisholm was a fierce advocate for education and employment. She was also a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus.
2. Alyce Griffin Clarke– Former State Rep. Alyce Griffin Clarke was the first Black woman elected to the Mississippi state legislature. An Alcorn State University graduate, she was responsible for helping bring the Women Infant and Children (WIC) program to Mississippi.
3. Winnie Mandela-While many only know her for role as “mother of South Africa,” many don’t realize she was an elected member of South African parliament. I admire her not only for her work as a freedom fighter, but her finesse in transitioning from an activist to an elder stateswoman.
4. Kamala Harris-The first Black woman Vice- President. She was also the second Black woman to be elected to the United States Senate. Enough said.
5. Diane Watson-Former educator and elder stateswoman of the state of California and former ambassador to Micronesia. Representative Watson was one of my favorite members of congress and a mentor to me when I was a young staffer on capitol hill.
These are just a few of the women who I model myself after as a legislator. I hope learning about them this month will inspire you to delve deeper and hopefully inspire more young Black girls to think about serving in public office.