UPDATED: 3:30 p.m. ET, Oct. 3, 2023
Black history was made on Tuesday afternoon when the U.S. Senate got its newest member.
Laphonza Butler was sworn in by Vice President Kamala Harris during a ceremony at the U.S. Capitol, making her the third-ever Black woman U.S. Senator and just the 12th Black person to serve in the U.S. Senate’s 234-year history.
Butler was on Monday selected by California Gov. Gavin Newsome to replace longtime Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who died last week at 90.
“I’m honored to accept Governor Newsom’s appointment to be U.S. Senator for a state I have made my home and honored by his trust in me to serve the people of California and this great nation,” Senator Designate Butler said in a statement on Monday. “No one will ever measure up to the legacy of Senator Dianne Feinstein, but I will do my best to honor her legacy and leadership by committing to work for women and girls, workers and unions, struggling parents, and all of California. I am ready to serve.”
The nearly all-white upper chamber of the U.S. Congress will maintain its slim racial diversity in Capitol Hill’s most exclusive club.
So exclusive, in fact, that in the more than 234 years that the U.S. Senate has existed, all but four Black Senators were elected and just two — now three — of that already small number have been women. Tuesday Currently, there are three Black Senators: Warnock, Democrat Cory Booker of New Jersey and Republican Tim Scott of South Carolina.
A glaring void of Black women senators was left after then-California Sen. Harris was elected U.S. Vice President in 2020, making her the first Black vice president in American history.
Hopes were raised when Newsom had the chance to fill Harris’ Senate seat with another Black woman. Instead, the 2021 Congress opened without a Black woman Senator for the first time in four years, a fate it faced for more than two years until Tuesday.
To be sure, the ensuing debate following Newsom’s decision was centered on the absence of a Black woman in the U.S. Senate and not the fact that then-Senate-designate and California Secretary of State Alex Padilla became the first Latino to represent California in the U.S. Senate. It also was about the representation of Black people in the U.S. Senate, something that has historically been all but a novelty.
Only in recent years has the election of Black candidates to the U.S. Senate picked up steam.
It’s been more than 150 years since the first Black person was elected to the U.S. Senate, with another following four years later in 1874.
But it would be more than 90 years later until the next Black man was elected to the U.S. Senate.
It would be another quarter of a century until the next Black person — the first Black woman — would win a Senate election.
A little more than a decade later, America got its next Black Senator — one who would notably go on to become the first Black person elected president of the United States.
That seemingly opened the relative floodgates to usher in a historic era that would include four more Black U.S. Senators, culminating with two of whom had legitimate runs for the White House.
With the next round of U.S. Senate elections coming up next year — including the current race for Butler’s new seat — who will be next to join the exclusive club of Black Senators?
Scroll down to better acquaint yourselves with every Black U.S. Senator in American history, in chronological order.
1. Hiram Rhoades Revels
Hiram Rhoades Revels (1822-1901), an African American clergyman, was the first Black person to be elected to the United States Senate. He was elected in 1870 in Mississippi after Reconstruction but only served two years.
2. Blanche K. Bruce
Blanche K. Bruce, who was the Accessor and Sheriff of Bolivar County, Mississippi, was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1874. He was the first African American to serve a full term in the Senate. He, like Revels, was elected by the state legislature.
“Bruce focused on a number of state and national issues including the construction of levees along the Mississippi River, the development of a more humane and equitable federal Indian policy and the desegregation of the United States Army,” according to the Black Past website. “However one of his most memorable addresses in Congress occurred in March 1876 when he called for a Senate investigation of the racial and political violence that marked the Mississippi gubernatorial election of 1875.”
3. Edward Brooke III
Edward Brooke III was elected senator of Massachusetts as a Republican in 1966. He was the first Black senator elected since Reconstruction. He was also the first African American elected to the Senate by popular vote.
4. Carol Moseley Braun
Carol Moseley Braun, of Illinois, was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1992 and served a single term. She was the first Black woman elected to the U.S. Senate.
Pictured: U.S. Senator-elect Carol Moseley Braun declares her victory on Nov. 3, 1992, in Chicago. She called her campaign a step toward a new diversity in government.
5. Barack Obama
Barack Obama, of Illinois, was elected to the United States Senate in 2004, making him the fifth Black person to serve in the Senate.
Notably, he would go on to become the first Black president of the United States after serving only a portion of his first and only term in the U.S. Senate.
6. Roland Burris
In 2009, Senate Democrats grudgingly accepted embattled then-Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s hand-selected Senate appointee, Roland Burris, as they sought to break an impasse over then-President-elect Barack Obama’s former seat.
But the appointment was mired in controversy in a so-called “pay to play” scheme that resulted in an investigation into bribery in exchange for Obama’s former Senate seat.
Burris was never punished, but Blagojevich was impeached, driven from office after he was accused of trying to sell the Senate seat and ultimately convicted and sentenced to prison.
He served in the Senate until late November 2010 when his successor was chosen in a special election.
7. Tim Scott
Tim Scott in 2013 became the first African American since Reconstruction to represent a southern state in the Senate. The Republican was appointed to the U.S. Senate during his first term as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. He was officially elected in a special election in 2014 and then re-elected in both 2016 and 2022.
Scott, currently a Republican presidential candidate, has consistently sided against the best interests of Black America, including trying to convince voters that Donald Trump is not racist.
Pictured: Sen. Scott at the South Carolina Inland Port groundbreaking ceremony in Greer, S.C., on March 1, 2013.
8. William “Mo” Cowan
William “Mo” Cowan was named interim U.S. Senator of Massachusetts on Jan. 30, 2013. Then a senior advisor to Gov. Deval Patrick, Cowan filled the position until a successor was named for departing Sen. John Kerry, who was named Secretary of State for Obama’s presidential administration.
Cowan served for less than a year until July 15, 2013.
9. Cory Booker
Cory Booker became New Jersey’s first Black U.S. Senator after winning a special election in 2013. He was elected to a full term in 2014 and re-elected to another this past November following an unsuccessful presidential campaign.
Pictured: Senate Judiciary Committee member Sen. Booker delivers remarks about Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh during a mark up hearing in the Dirksen Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 28, 2018.
10. Kamala Harris
Kamala Harris became the first Black person — man or woman — to serve as U.S. Senator for the state of California. She was elected in 2016. Her inaugural term was cut short after she was elected the first Black vice president of the United States as Joe Biden’s running mate in 2020.
Pictured: Sen. Harris questions Attorney General William Barr as Barr testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee at the Dirksen Building in Washington, D.C., on May 1, 2019.
11. Rev. Raphael Warnock
Rev. Raphael Warnock beat Republican incumbent Kelly Loeffler to become the first Black U.S. Senator from Georgia following an intense runoff campaign and a close runoff election in 2021.
Less than a year later, on Dec. 6, 2022, Warnock beat upstart Republican candidate Herschel Walker to win re-election and pave the way to serve a full six-year term in the U.S. Senate.
12. Laphonza Butler
Laphonza Butler, the now-former Emily’s List president, was sworn in as a U.S. Senator for California on Oct. 3, 2023, just days after California Gov. Gavin Newsom appointed her to fill the Senate vacancy left when Sen. Dianne Feinstein died.
Butler was notably sworn in by Vice President Kamala Harris, herself an alumnus of the U.S. Senate representing California.
After being sworn in by Vice President Kamal Harris, Butler became the third-ever Black woman U.S. Senator and the first Black lesbian U.S. Senator.