Home / Government / Articles / Here’s how the number of Black Americans in Congress has tripled over 30 years

The current meeting of Congress is one of the most racially diverse in history. About 11% of congressional members identify as Black. A quarter of members from the 118th Congress identify as something other than non-Hispanic white, according to the most recent data from the Congressional Research Service.

Congress is a ways away from 1870, when Rep. Hiram Rhodes Revel of Mississippi was elected to serve as the first Black person in Congress. Revels filled an empty Senate seat and only served a year. It was decades until Black representation really started to grow.

Here’s the current state of Black Americans in Congress and what it took to get there. 

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A record 62 Black Congressmembers (11.5% of total membership) are serving in the 118th Congress — three more than the 117th Congress. Fifty-nine of those members serve in the House and three serve in the Senate.

Twenty-seven House members including two Delegates (people representing a United States territory), are Black women.

Representation of Black Americans in the House is slightly larger than the share of Black Americans in the US: 13% of House members are Black, compared to 12.61% of the US population. Sixty years ago, there were only four Black members in Congress, all serving in the House. About 35 years ago, 21 Black members served in the House. None served in the Senate. The number of Black congress members has tripled since then.

Kamala Harris is the first of many: She is the first Black American and first South Asian American serving as Vice President. Vice President Harris served in the Senate beginning in 2017 and was the second Black woman to ever serve in the Senate.

The 118th Congress is also home to a few firsts. Rep. Maxwell Frost is the first Gen Z member and only Afro-Cuban in Congress. Rep. Summer Lee is the first Black woman elected to the House from Pennsylvania. New York’s Rep. Hakeem Jeffries is the first Black person to lead a major political party in Congress.

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Milestones for Black Americans in Congress

Rep. Joseph Rainey of South Carolina served for a decade in Congress beginning in 1869 under the 41st Congress. His tenure made history: He was the first Black person serving in the House and he was the longest-serving Black politician to serve in Congress during Reconstruction. [1] Rainey was one of three Black congressional members serving in the 41st Congress.

Several other Black representatives were elected to Congress during this time. However, Black representation in Congress declined sharply after Reconstruction due to violence against and intimidation of Black voters, gerrymandering, and other forms of discrimination.

It wasn't until the mid-20th century that Black representatives in Congress grew, due in part to the civil rights movement and the 1965 passage of the Voting Rights Act.

Rep. Shirley Chisholm of New York was one of the most significant figures during this period, becoming the first Black woman elected to Congress in 1968. She served seven terms in the House of Representatives and was a trailblazer for women and people of color in politics.

According to the US House of Representatives archive, a movement for a unified Black legislator organization ignited in the 1950s.

In the early 1950s, Reps. William Dawson of Illinois and New York’s Adam Clayton Powell were the only Black members of Congress until Rep. Charles C. Diggs Jr. of Michigan entered the House of Representatives in 1955. The three formed the largest delegation of Black congressmembers since Reconstruction.

Rep. Diggs initiated the creation of the Democratic Select Committee (DSC) in 1969. DSC members proposed changing the name to The Congressional Black Caucus two years later. According to the Caucus, its committed to a policy agenda that ensures African Americans and other minority communities have access to the “American Dream.” This includes reforming the criminal justice system, combatting voter suppression, expanding access to high quality education and more.

Black representation is uneven across aspects of the government. While the Senate still under-represents Black Americans, the percent of Black Americans working for the federal government (18.2%) is higher than the overall US population who identifies as Black (12.6%).

Learn more about US government structure.

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[1]

US Reconstruction Era lasted from 1865-1877.