Blacks have made gains in U.S. political leadership, but gaps remain

By | June 28, 2016

Barack Obama’s election to the highest political office in the land in 2008 was a proud moment for many Americans. It represented another advance in the slow but steady progress blacks have made in recent decades in gaining a greater foothold in political leadership, particularly in the U.S. House of Representatives and in the Cabinets of recent presidents. But they have lagged in the Senate and in governorships.

Many blacks view political representation as a potential catalyst for increased racial equality, according to a new Pew Research Center survey. Roughly four-in-ten black adults (38%) say that striving to get more black people elected to office would be a very effective tactic for groups working to help blacks achieve equality. Whites are less likely to view this as an effective way to bring about increased racial equality (24% say it would be very effective).

Data from the past 50 years reveal the upward yet uneven trajectory of black political leadership in America. In 1965, there were no blacks in the U.S. Senate, nor were there any black governors. And only six members of the House of Representatives were black. By 2015, there was greater representation in some areas (44 House members were black) but little change in others (there were two black senators and one black governor). The share of blacks who have served in a presidential Cabinet, however, has been generally high – even above parity with the population – under administrations in the past two decades. (Pew Research Center)

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