Black History Month Spotlight: Yvonne Brathwaite Burke, California’s First Black Congresswoman

Every weekday this month, we’re profiling fascinating figures from L.A.’s Black history

For a running list of all our 2021 Black History Month profiles, click here.

Born in Los Angeles in 1932, Yvonne Brathwaite Burke has had a lifetime of firsts. A lawyer, in 1966 she became the first Black woman to serve in the California Assembly. In 1972, she became the first Black woman to represent the state of California in the U.S. Congress. She was also the first Congresswoman to give birth while in office, the first woman chair of the influential Congressional Black Caucus, and the first treasurer of the Congressional Women’s Caucus.

After leaving Congress in 1979, she went on to serve as the vice chair of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee and as an L.A. County supervisor (1992-2008). “You’re not going to change hearts and minds,” she once explained pragmatically. “You have to change the law.”

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