Yes, Virginia, you have your first Black woman in Congress. Jennifer McClellan was sworn into the House of Representatives on Tuesday, holding the poll tax receipt her father had to pay to vote. Her mother did not vote until the Voting Rights Act was enacted in 1965.
This marks a major achievement in a state that was once the bastion of the Confederacy, and leaves voters in northern states wondering when they will have a female representative. And when will New York elect a Black woman as senator or governor?
There is one thing New Yorkers can boast about—in 1969, Shirley Anita Chisholm became the first African-American woman in Congress.
At her swearing-in ceremony, McClellan recounted the struggle her family endured just to register to vote, noting how momentous the occasion was: “The fact that I’m the first from Virginia, the birthplace of American democracy and the birthplace of slavery, is kind of poetic justice,” she told reporters on Monday.
In this phase of American history, with Roe v. Wade being demolished and women struggling for equality in this society, it’s heartwarming to have another woman taking a seat in Congress, especially as we celebrate Women’s History Month.
With each barrier hurdled, we are reminded just how much farther we have to go to get equity for women, and giant steps farther for Black women.
But, alas, McClellan is on her way to Congress after failing to become governor, and that’s one of the elected positions that remains rare territory for women. It’s enough just to hold onto a mayoral position—ask Lori Lightfoot.
Her victory, and the efforts she extended in spearheading the state’s Voting Rights Act, coincides perfectly with President Biden’s recent comments about the necessity of voting rights. Maybe, if we continue to push harder, we can get a Black senator to join Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, and Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, all women of color. Such a success will give the emblematic purple an even darker hue.