Feb. 12, 2018: SACCULTURALHUB.Com - Political Black Firsts for the Activist Soul

February 12, 2018

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By Julie M. Waters, Contributing Writer

As a California Lobbyist, I spend countless hours roaming the halls of the State Capitol.  If you have never been, you should make it a point to visit this magical little place in the heart of Sacramento.  The original building doubles as a history museum of our California State Offices & Officials where you don’t have to look far to find pictures of our former State Legislative Leaders and custom paintings of our past Governor’s. When asked to write a blog celebrating Black History Month, I was reminded that I have never made it a point to research our California Black Firsts despite noticing their clear absence in my everyday life. 

I know the first African American to run for President, I’m well versed on the first Black Woman elected to Congress, but given my obvious affiliation with the State Politics I don’t know the name of the first Black Assemblymember? For shame! 

2018 marks the hundredth year since California elected our first African American State Official and in celebration of his memory, I invite you to join me in a little history lesson on our California Black Leaders:

Honorable Frederick M. Roberts: In 1918, this LA native became the first Black State Assemblymember in California. His most notable achievement was carrying the bill that established UCLA.  In the 100 years since his election, we have only elected forty-nine more African Americans to the legislature.

Honorable Wilson Riles:  In 1970, Riles was elected to serve as the State Superintendent of Public Instruction. This achievement marked the first time an African American was elected to statewide office in California. To date, he is still the only African American to serve in this critical role as the powerful caretaker of our public school system. His achievement extends beyond California. Riles was also the first African American in the nation to serve as State Superintendent.

Honorable Mervyn Dymally: In 1974, he became the first and only African American to serve as Lt Governor of California. Dymally truly lived a life of public service. Before serving as the 41st Lt Governor, he served in both the California Assembly and Senate.  After his Lt. Governorship, he served in U.S. House of Representatives and after a ten-year break, he returned to public service to serve in the State Assembly 2003-2008.

Honorable Willie Brown: In 1980, Brown was elected by his colleagues to serve as the first African American Speaker of the California State Assembly. He went from his first job as a shoeshine boy in whites only barbershop in Texas to one of the most powerful positions in the State of California. Now that’s what I call Black excellence. He later went on to serve as the first Black Mayor of San Francisco, hence his nickname Da Mayor. 

Congresswoman Karen Bass: In 2008, LA Native Karen Bass was elected by her peers to become the first African American woman (and only second woman ever) to serve as Speaker of the State Assembly. Bass continues to do us proud in in U.S. House of Representatives where she serves on the powerful House Judiciary Committee. 

US Senator Kamala Harris: On January 3, 2011, Bay Area native Kamala Harris became the first African American Attorney General of California.  This political powerhouse didn’t stop there. Harris has gone on to become the first African American U.S. Senator from California. 

Senator Holly Mitchell: In December 2016, Senator Mitchell became the first African American to Chair the Budget Committee of the State Senate, making her one of the most powerful African Americans in California Politics. This position is not to be taken lightly considering California boasts the sixth largest economy in the world.  

While Barack Obama has made it possible for our children to dream of becoming U.S. President we should not lose sight of progress to be made in California. In 100 years of public service to this State, we have yet to elect an African American Treasurer, Controller, Secretary of State or Governor.  In that time, Northern California has only elected fifteen African Americans to the Legislature, and only one African American woman.

Let’s celebrate the legacy of the Honorable Frederick M. Roberts by supporting our African American Elected Leaders and encouraging future leaders to seek State office.