So many firsts! Carol Moseley Braun is the first and only African-American woman elected to the US Senate. The first woman to defeat an incumbent US Senator in an election. The first and only woman senator from Illinois. And the first African-American senator for the Democratic party. For her entire time serving in the United States Senate, Carol Moseley Braun was the only African-American Senator.
Born in Chicago in 1947, Carol attended public schools and lived in the segregated South Side of Chicago. Majoring in Political Science at University Illinois, Chicago and earning her JD from University of Chicago Law School in 1972.
Her early career was as a prosecutor focusing on housing, health policy and environmental law. 1978 saw her to the Illinois House of Representatives and she became known as a champion of social rights and causes.
Moseley Braun in the 1980's fought to end death penalties in Illinois. And in an incredible landmark case, she brought to light the cutting up of Black Voting districts into "the absolute minimum number of districts in which they could have a voting majority". And for the Hispanic communities, she said, they were "carved up by lines that actually looked like a swastika imposed on the barrios". Well, she successfully sued her own Democratic Party and the State of Illinois and won in Crosby vs State Board of Elections on behalf of black and latino voters. What this meant was a core tenant in being a citizen, voting, could not unjustly be taken away from a group by forcing the voice to be a minority vote through re-mapping, even when they are in fact the majority for that area.
In 1993, she, the sole Black Senator, fought to keep the Confederate Flag from being a part of the United Daughters of the Confederacy even though the Senate already disapproved it's use. With pleas to the US Senate to understand what the symbolism means to African-Americans, she threatened to filibuster "until this room freezes over". Jesse Helms worked to find a way to keep it, but Carol's argument eventually won and the Confederate Flag was no longer allowed.
Economically conservative, she voted for NAFTA, voted for a Balanced Budget Amendment to the constitution, socially she was liberal. Moseley Braun voted against the death penalty, voted for gun control, was only 1 of 14 Senators to vote against the Defense of Marriage Act (which prevented gay marriages), she voted against bans on abortions in military bases, and voted against the Communications Decency Act.
In 1999, President Clinton nominated Moseley Braun as US Ambassador to New Zealand. Once again Jesse Helms opposed her nomination, but Mosely-Braun did get confirmed by the Senate and served throughout Clinton's Presidency. The Ambassadorship was her last Federal Position. Carol Moseley Braun ran in 2004 for the Democratic Nomination for President, eventually pulling out and supporting Howard Dean. In 2011, she ran for Mayor of Chicago.
Today, Carol Moseley Braun runs a private Law Firm in Chicago. Her work in law and government has been incredible. Moseley Braun has left a political legacy and a body of work that we hope many young African-American women will follow and build upon.