Carol Mosely-Braun

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Carol Mosely-Braun

Carol Mosely-Braun (born 1947), Democrat from Chicago, Illinois, became the fourth African American and the first African American woman elected to the U.S. Senate when she defeated Republican Rich Williamson on November 3, 1992.

Carol Mosely-Braun was born August 16, 1947, and began life in a middle-class Chicago neighborhood. Her father, a policeman, and her mother, a medical technician, divorced when Mosely-Braun was in her teens, and she moved in with her grandmother in an African American Chicago neighborhood. One of four children, her childhood was marred by a sometimes abusive father and the responsibilities of caring for her younger siblings. But her parents also imbued her with a sense of social responsibility that helps explain her political activism in high school. As a teenager she staged a one-person sit-in at a restaurant that refused to serve her, integrated a previously all-white beach, and marched with Martin Luther King, Jr., in a local civil rights demonstration.

Mosely-Braun attended Chicago public schools and earned a B.A. in political science from the University of Illinois, Chicago. Upon graduation she took a law degree from the University of Chicago Law School in 1972 and then worked for the federal government for three years as an assistant U.S. attorney under Jim Thompson. She married Michael Braun, a lawyer, in 1973. Four years later she gave birth to her only child, Matthew. In 1978 Mosely-Braun ran for and won election to the state legislature. She served for ten years and after two terms became the fist woman and the first African American ever elected to serve as assistant majority leader. She also became Chicago Mayor Harold Washington's legislative floor leader and sponsored bills to reform education and to ban discrimination in housing and private clubs. In addition, she introduced the bill that barred the State of Illinois from investing funds in South Africa until the apartheid system was abolished. Finally, Mosely-Braun filed, and won, the reapportionment case that affirmed the "one man-one vote" principle in Illinois. While in the state legislature, she gained a reputation as a superb debater and coalition builder.

Near the end of her service in the state legislature Mosely-Braun suffered some personal losses, including divorce from her husband, a stroke to her mother, and the death of her younger brother, Johnny. Despite these personal misfortunes, she agreed to join Harold Washington's multi-ethnic, multi-racial, and gender-balanced "Dream Ticket" in 1987 and ran for the office of recorder of deeds. Her victory made her the first African American woman to hold executive office in Cook County. As recorder she managed an $8 million budget and 300 employees. In that position she modernized the recorder of deeds office and saved the city significant sums of money. It was while serving as recorder that she decided to run for the U.S. Senate.

Angered by the Senate's handling of the sexual harassment case involving Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas and the University of Oklahoma law professor Anita Hill, Mosely-Braun decided to run in the Democratic primaries against incumbent Senator Alan Dixon, who had voted to confirm Thomas. Although virtually a political unknown, she launched a grassroots campaign to win the nomination from Dixon (who had never before lost an election) and a third candidate, Albert Hofeld, a personal injury lawyer with a $5 million campaign chest. Despite being outspent in the campaign by more than 10-to-1, and having a campaign described as underfunded, disorganized, and understaffed, Mosely-Braun won the three-way Senate primary with 38.9 percent of the vote. According to Mosely-Braun, the turning point came when she hired Kgosie Matthews to run her campaign, although the English educated South African himself became a controversial figure during the campaign. He also became her fiancée. The victory made her the first African American woman ever nominated to the U.S. Senate by a major political party.

In the general election she ran against Richard Williamson, a former official in President Ronald Reagan's administration. Mosely-Braun's victory in that election made her only the fourth African American to win a U.S. Senate seat. She was also the first African American woman ever elected to the Senate and one of seven women to win congressional races in the November elections.

Shortly after taking office on January 5, 1993, Mosely-Braun was named to the Judiciary Committee, the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, and the Small Business Committee. Her first year in office was marked by controversy over her handling of several personal financial dealings and praise for her stand against the renewal of the patenting for the Confederate flag as the insignia of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. She single-handedly reversed the Senate's vote on the matter and cajoled the Senate to defeat Senator Jesse A. Helm's (Republican, North Carolina) amendment to renew the patent. Such action demonstrates the importance of having a more inclusive U.S. Senate.

Mosley-Braun continued to make headlines in Washington. In 1994, she sponsored the education Infrastructure Act, which was designed to repair and restructure public schools with federal money. In 1995 she was appointed to the Senate Finance Committee thus making her the first woman to ever hold such a position. Moseley-Braun will be up for re-election in 1998.

Further Reading

No full-length biography exists for Mosely-Braun, but good biographical material can be found in Karima A. Haynes, "Campaigning for History" in Ebony (June 1, 1992), and in Jill Nelson, "Carol Mosely-Braun: Power Beneath Her Wings" in Essence (October 1, 1992). □

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Carol Mosely-Braun

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