This is a list of African Americans who have served in the United States Senate. The Senate has had eleven African-American elected or appointed officeholders. Two each served during both the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
Of the eight African Americans ever to sit in the U.S. Senate since the African American Civil Rights Movement, three held Illinois's Class 3 seat, including Barack Obama, who went on to become the President of the United States. This makes Illinois the state with the most African-American U.S. senators to date.
In 2016, Kamala Harris became the first African American to be elected a U.S. senator from California. Harris would go on to become the first African-American Vice President of the United States and first African American President of the United States Senate.
Of the 11 African-American senators, seven were popularly elected (including one that previously had been appointed by his state's governor), two were elected by the state legislature prior to the ratification of the Seventeenth Amendment to the United States Constitution in 1913 (which provides for the direct election of U.S. senators by the people of each state), and two were appointed by a state Governor and never elected.
The United States Senate is the upper house of the bicameral United States Congress, which is the legislative branch of the federal government of the United States. The U.S. Census Bureau defines "African Americans" as citizens or residents of the United States who have origins in any of the black populations of Africa. The term is generally used for Americans with at least partial ancestry in any of the original peoples of sub-Saharan Africa.
During the founding of the federal government, African Americans were consigned to a status of second-class citizenship or enslaved. No African American served in federal elective office before the ratification in 1870 of the Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, although some (including Alexander Twilight, as state senator in Vermont) served in state elective offices concurrently with slavery. The Fifteenth Amendment prohibits the federal and state governments from denying any citizen the right to vote because of that citizen's race, color, or previous condition of servitude.
The first two African-American senators represented the state of Mississippi during the Reconstruction era, following the American Civil War. Hiram Rhodes Revels, the first African American to serve in the Senate, was elected by the Mississippi State Legislature to succeed Albert G. Brown, who resigned during the Civil War. Some Democratic members of the United States Senate opposed his being seated based on the court case Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857) by the Supreme Court of the United States, claiming that Revels did not meet the nine-year citizenship requirement, but the majority of senators voted to seat him.
In 1872, the Louisiana state legislature elected P. B. S. Pinchback to the Senate. However, the 1872 elections in Louisiana were challenged by white Democrats, and Pinchback was never seated in Congress.
The Mississippi state legislature elected Blanche Bruce in 1875, but Republicans lost power of the Mississippi state legislature in 1876. Bruce was not elected to a second term in 1881. In 1890, the Democratic-dominated state legislature passed a new constitution disfranchising most black voters. Every other Southern state also passed disfranchising constitutions by 1908, thus excluding African Americans from the political system in the entire former Confederacy. This situation persisted well into the 1960s, when federal enforcement of constitutional rights under the Voting Rights Act of 1965 commenced.
The next black United States senator, Edward Brooke of Massachusetts, took office in 1967. He was the first African American to be elected by popular vote after the ratification in 1913 of the Seventeenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which established direct election of United States senators instead of indirect election by a state legislature. A Republican, Brooke was the first black Senator to serve two terms in the Senate, holding office until 1979. From 1979 to 1993, there were no black members of the United States Senate.
Between 1993 and 2010, three black members of the Illinois Democratic Party would hold Illinois’s Class 3 Senate seat at different times. Carol Moseley Braun entered the Senate in 1993 and was the first African-American woman in the Senate. She served one term. Barack Obama entered the Senate in 2005 and, in 2008, became the first African American to be elected President of the United States. Obama was still a Senator when he was elected President and Roland Burris, also an African American, was appointed to fill the remainder of Obama's Senate term. Burris only briefly ran for re-election and did not enter the Democratic primary. From 2011 to 2013, there were no black Senators for the first time since Obama was elected in 2004.
Following Obama's election as president, the next two black senators, Tim Scott of South Carolina and Mo Cowan of Massachusetts, were both appointed by governors to fill the terms of Jim DeMint and John Kerry, respectively, who had resigned their positions. Thus, 2013 marked the first time in history that more than one African American served in the Senate at the same time. On October 16 of that year, citizens of New Jersey elected Cory Booker in a special election to fill the seat of the late senator Frank R. Lautenberg. Sworn into office, Booker was the first African-American senator to be elected since Obama and the first to represent the state of New Jersey. He was later elected a full six-year term in the 2014 mid-term elections. Scott retained his seat in a special election in 2014 and also secured a full six-year term in 2016.
In 2017, Scott and Booker were joined by Kamala Harris of California. Harris was the second African-American woman to serve in the U.S. Senate, and, in 2020, was elected as the first female vice president of the United States. In 2021, Raphael Warnock of Georgia was elected as the first African-American Democrat to represent a former Confederate state in the U.S. Senate.
As of January 20, 2021, there have been 1,994 members of the United States Senate, of which 11 have been African American.
|Image||Senator||State||Took office||Left office||Tenure||Party||Congress||Note|
|Hiram Rhodes Revels
|Mississippi||February 25, 1870||March 3, 1871||1 year, 7 days||Republican||41st
|Retired [note 1]|
|Mississippi||March 4, 1875||March 4, 1881||6 years, 0 days||Republican||44th
|Retired [note 2]|
|Massachusetts||January 3, 1967||January 3, 1979||12 years, 0 days||Republican||90th
|Lost reelection [note 3]|
|Carol Moseley Braun
|Illinois||January 3, 1993||January 3, 1999||6 years, 0 days||Democratic||103rd
|Lost reelection[note 4]|
|Illinois||January 3, 2005||November 16, 2008||3 years, 318 days||Democratic||109th
|Resigned following election as President of the United States[note 5]|
|Illinois||January 15, 2009||November 29, 2010||1 year, 318 days||Democratic||111th
|Retired [note 6]|
|South Carolina||January 2, 2013||Incumbent||9 years, 139 days||Republican||112th
|Massachusetts||February 1, 2013||July 16, 2013||165 days||Democratic||113th
|Retired [note 8]|
|New Jersey||October 31, 2013||Incumbent||8 years, 202 days||Democratic||113th
|California||January 3, 2017||January 18, 2021||4 years, 15 days||Democratic||115th
|Resigned following election as Vice President of the United States. [note 11]|
|Georgia||January 20, 2021||Incumbent||1 year, 121 days||Democratic||117th
|P. B. S. Pinchback
|Denied seat due to a contested election that involved William L. McMillen.|
The histograph below sets forth the number of African Americans who served in the United States Senate during the periods provided.
|March 4, 1789||0|
|February 25, 1870||1|
|March 4, 1871||0|
|March 4, 1875||1|
|March 4, 1881||0|
|January 3, 1967||1|
|January 4, 1979||0|
|January 3, 1993||1|
|January 4, 1999||0|
|January 3, 2005||1|
|November 17, 2008||0|
|January 15, 2009||1|
|November 30, 2010||0|
|January 2, 2013||1|
|February 1, 2013||2|
|July 17, 2013||1|
|October 31, 2013||2|
|January 3, 2017||3|
|January 18, 2021||2|
|January 20, 2021||3|
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Harris’ mother, Dr. Shyamala Harris, emigrated from India. Her father, Donald Harris, emigrated from Jamaica.
Kamala D. Harris (D-CA) became the first African American to represent California in the United States Senate on January 3, 2017.
Harris, a Democrat, was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2016. She became California's attorney general in January 2011. She was the first woman and the first African-American to hold the office in California's history.
The Senate Judiciary Committee will welcome its first African American members in this century after Democrats added Sens. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) to the panel that handles judicial nominations and appointments to the Justice Department.
She will also be just the second black woman to serve in the U.S. Senate, and the first black senator from California.
The race to succeed Senator Barbara L. Boxer of California was supposed to be one of the marquee contests of the year ... It offers a window into the ethnic kaleidoscope that is California: Pitting a Latino, Representative Loretta Sanchez, against an African-American, Kamala Harris, the state attorney general.
Harris, California’s first African-American senator, has not responded to the conservative response online.