Black women have been making history in politics for decades. In her campaign for the presidency, Senator Kamala Harris drew inspiration from many of those women, including the only other Black woman to serve in the U.S. Senate, Carol Moseley Braun. Braun, a Democrat, broke multiple barriers over the course of her long and impressive career.

Born and raised in Chicago, Braun was elected to the Illinois House of Representatives in 1978 after working for three years as an assistant U.S. attorney. While some of her neighbors thought she should run for the seat of a retiring state representative, others in the community thought it was a terrible idea. 

In an interview last year with the Chicago Sun-Times, Braun shared that her critics doubted that she would be able to get votes from due to her race and gender.

“They said, ‘You can’t possibly win. Blacks won’t vote for you because you’re not part of the Chicago machine," she recalled, according to the article. "Whites won’t vote for you because you’re black. And nobody’s going to vote for you because you’re a woman.”

Braun won and held the position for 10 years, becoming the first Black woman to serve as the assistant majority leader. After Illinois Senator Alan Dixon supported the confirmation of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court despite the accusations levied against him for sexual harassment by Anita Hill, she then decided to run for U.S. Senate.

“I talked to our senator twice, trying to explain to him why this was a bad thing. He went ahead and voted to confirm. And so I said, ‘That’s it. I’m in,’” Braun told
Sun-Times reporters.

With her election, she became the first Black woman to serve in the Senate, the first female senator to represent the state of Illinois, the first woman to ever beat a sitting U.S. Senator, and the first Black senator from the Democratic Party. She held the seat for one term, from 1993–1999, and was the first woman to ever sit on the Senate Finance Committee. In her position, Braun advocated for women and social issues. She voted against bans on partial-birth abortion and was one of only 14 senators to vote against the Defense of Marriage Act, which allowed the federal government to define marriage as between one man and one woman. 

The next Black person to serve in the Senate after Braun was Barack Obama, who also represented the state of Illinois. 

After serving as the U.S. Ambassador to New Zealand, Braun ran for president in 2004. Although she ran for mayor of Chicago in 2010, she lost to President Obama’s former Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel. However, her trailblazing career of firsts paved the way for Chicago to elect Lori Lightfoot in 2019, the city's first Black woman mayor.

Though America won't be choosing a Black woman president this election cycle, it's because of Braun's accomplishments that we may have the opportunity to elect one in the near future.