As Kamala Harris is named Joe Biden’s running mate, Media Burn turns to the past for a story of another Black female trailblazer — Carol Moseley Braun.
As Kamala Harris joins the Democratic party’s ticket for 2020, another monumental glass ceiling shatters in American politics. Just as Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton shattered their respective glass ceilings, Kamala Harris has now become the first Black woman on a major party’s presidential ticket. In a reflection on the importance of breaking barriers in U.S. politics, Media Burn is highlighting the story of an earlier trailblazer.
Her career is a story of firsts. She was the first Black woman in the Senate; Illinois’ first female Senator; the first Black senator in Democratic party history; the first woman to beat an incumbent in their Senate election. Her name is Carol Moseley Braun.
After more than a decade spent in her native Chicago and Illinois politics, in 1992 Moseley Braun announced her bid for Alan Dixon’s (D) Senate seat. It was Dixon’s vote to confirm Clarence Thomas as a Supreme Court Justice that sparked her run. She won her primary election over Alan Dixon, and went on to resoundingly beat Richard Williamson (R) in the general election.
A fiery defender of her beliefs, Moseley Braun reached headlines as she worked to convince the Senate Judiciary Committee to reject a decades-old patent for a United Daughters of the Confederacy’s (UDC) Confederate symbol.
“It has no place in our modern times, place in this body, place in our society”, Moseley Braun said about the Confederate flag in 1993. Her campaign against the UDC’s patent ended with the Judiciary Committee’s rejection of its renewal.
Within the Senate doors, Moseley Braun continued to face barriers; women were barred from wearing pants on the Senate floor until 1993; it was Moseley Braun’s defiance of that policy alongside Barbara Mikulski which sparked a shift in policy that year.
Though Moseley Braun would only serve one term in the Senate, losing to Peter Fitzgerald in her 1998 reelection bid, history had been made. Her victory cleared a path for candidates of varied racial and gender backgrounds in the future.
Moseley Braun was nominated by President Bill Clinton as the U.S. Ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa in 1999. Her nomination was confirmed with a 96-2 vote and she served as ambassador for three years. A failed presidential bid in 2004 and another for Chicago mayor in 2011 are Moseley Braun’s most recent political forays. She has endorsed Joe Biden for the 2020 presidential election, and is actively campaigning on his behalf.
The video included here is an excerpt from The 90’s Election Special in 1992, produced by Tom Weinberg and Joel Cohen. It features a unique behind-the-scenes look at Moseley Braun’s historic Senate campaign, in tandem with the first primary wins of Bill Clinton. The election of both candidates was due in large part to high voter turnout and support in Black communities in Illinois and nationwide. Watch the full election special here.