*Terri Sewell stood out last month among the newly elected congressional lawmakers waiting to be sworn in inside the House chamber.
Almost everyone in the crowd was white and male. Not Sewell, who made history that day as the first black woman from Alabama to take the congressional oath of office.
Fifteen black women are serving in the House this Congress, which ties the record set by the 110th Congress that convened in January 2007. There are no black women in the Senate.
Black women are increasingly winning at the state level as well. After last year’s elections, the number serving in state legislatures also reached a record — 238, an increase of 12 from the year before.
Sewell’s win underscores the gains made by black women seeking elected office, but it’s also a reminder of how long it’s taken to achieve those gains, black lawmakers and political experts say.
“We’ve come a long way, (but) we’re obviously not where we need to be,” Sewell said. “We need more women. We need more minorities. We need more diversity in electoral politics.”
Among black elected officials of both genders, the proportion of women has increased. They now account for nearly 40 percent of black elected officials, according to the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a nonpartisan research group that focuses on issues affecting African-Americans. Among white elected officials, women make up a smaller proportion — about 20 percent, the center found.
“Black women are becoming a dominant force in black politics,” said David Bositis, a senior analyst at the center.
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