Atlanta’s mayor is Keisha Lance Bottoms, who honed her political skills on the City Council. The mayor of Compton, Calif., is Aja Brown, who’s in her second term. LaToya Cantrell this year became the first female mayor of New Orleans. Kamala Harris, outspoken to the core, is making a name for herself as a U.S. senator from California. And Stacey Abrams, an attorney and House minority leader in the Georgia General Assembly, is her party’s gubernatorial nominee.
This theme isn’t that they are female politicians. It’s that they are black female politicians who have ascended on local, state and national levels. And they’re part of long-awaited trend in American politics that’s pushing our elected bodies to more accurately represent this ever-diversifying nation.
Of our aforementioned group, Abrams is the headliner. Her victory this month in Georgia’s Democratic Party primary put her one win away from becoming the first black female governor in U.S. history. With incumbent Gov. Nathan Deal term-limited and not on the ballot, Abrams has a chance — albeit slim, considering Georgia’s Republican-slanted electorate outside of metro Atlanta — to make tangible history this fall.
And then there’s Alabama.
So many African-American women are bidding for elected positions this year in our state that they’re gaining national notice. (There are at least 70, according to the nonprofit Emerge America, which assists female candidates.) Case in point: Glamour magazine this month profiled 18 black female candidates in Alabama who have legitimate chances to win their elections. They’re running for judgeships, seats in Congress, the state House of Representatives and county commissions. Those who prevail will join the likes of U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Birmingham, and state Rep. Barbara Boyd, D-Anniston, two veterans of Alabama’s state and Washington delegations. (Boyd is running for re-election; Sewell is unopposed.)
The Alabama movement, Glamour’s Samantha Leach posits, is credited in large part to Democratic Sen. Doug Jones’ victory over Republican Roy Moore last December, an easy position to support. Exit polls on election night showed that 17 percent of voters were black females; of those, 98 percent voted for Jones, who became Alabama’s first Democratic U.S. senator in more than two decades. It didn’t require a Ph.D. in political science to see that a stronger-than-expected turnout by black female voters fueled Jones’ unlikely victory over the GOP candidate.
Jones’ triumph has mobilized and motivated an under-represented Alabama demographic, the ripple effects unknown until this year’s elections are complete. “The question,” Leach wrote, “is not whether these candidates have what it takes to lead the state into a more just future; it’s whether they will receive equal access to the resources, institutional support, and megaphones needed to win.”
Nearly all of the black women seeking political office in Alabama are Democrats, often steep underdogs in our elections. Their paths to victory are rocky. But it’s progress nonetheless that our ever-diversifying state and nation are finally enjoying this symbol of progress. It’s about time.