With Democratic Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick appointing his former chief of staff William “Mo” Cowan to fill the Senate seat vacated by incoming Secretary of State John Kerry, the United States’ upper legislative chamber will make history by boasting more black members than ever before: two.
This will be the first time the Senate has had more than one black member at once. Last December, Republican South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley appointed Rep. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) to fill the Senate seat vacated by Jim DeMint, who left to run the conservative Heritage Foundation. The Senate’s high-watermark of two black members may not last long, though: Cowan’s seat will be permanently filled by the winner of a special election in Massachusetts in June, and Scott’s seat will be up for grabs next year.
Throughout American history, there have only been eight black senators in total; in addition to Scott and Cowan, they include: Hiram Rhodes Revels (R-Miss.), Blanche Kelso Bruce (R-Miss.), Edward Brooke (R-Mass.), Carol Moseley Braun (D-Ill.), Barack Obama (D-Ill.), and Roland Burris (D-Ill.). Of these, only Brooke, Braun, and Obama were directly elected by popular vote; Revels and Bruce were appointed by their state legislatures, and Burris was appointed by embattled Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Eighty-five years separated the tenures of Bruce and Brooke, who served as the first black senator since Reconstruction. Before Scott, there hadn’t been a black senator from the South in over 130 years.
The Senate, in other words, has historically been a very difficult plateau for blacks to reach, and getting there hasn’t grown much easier since the Civil War.