As we applaud and highlight the Black women who shape New York politics, we want to highlight some of the trailblazers who paved the way for greater representation in the state. By no means an exhaustive list, each of these women broke down barriers to transform politics in New York – and, in many cases, the nation.
Sarah Jane Smith Garnet - Along with being NYC’s first Black public school principal, she was a prominent voting rights activist who founded the Equal Suffrage League for Black women, in an era where the suffrage movement catered almost exclusively to white women.
Jane Bolin – Appointed by NYC Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia, she was the first Black woman to become a judge in the United States. She was also the first Black woman to join the NYC Bar Association, and work in the office of NYC corporation counsel.
Bessie A. Buchanan – She was the first Black woman to be elected to the New York Assembly, and the state Legislature at large.
Constance Baker Motley – In the span of three years, she became the first Black woman to be elected to the state Senate, the first Black woman to become Manhattan borough president, and the first Black woman in the nation to serve as a federal court judge, after being appointed by President Lyndon B. Johnson.
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Shirley Chisholm – She was the first Black woman to be elected to Congress, and the first to run for the Democratic nomination for president.
Mary Pinkett – She was the first Black woman to be elected to New York City Council.
Audrey L. Carey – Elected mayor of Newburgh, she was the first Black woman to serve as mayor of a city in all of New York.
Helen M. Marshall – She was the first Black woman to serve as Queens borough president. So far, only Manhattan and Queens have had Black women hold office as borough presidents.
Andrea Stewart-Cousins – Upending the longtime Albany trope of “three men in a room,” the state Senate majority leader is the first woman to ever lead a state legislative chamber in New York.
Crystal Peoples-Stokes – Appointed by Speaker Carl Heastie, she’s the first Black woman to be majority leader in the state Assembly.
Letitia James – After first making history as New York City’s first Black public advocate, she went on to become the first woman and first African-American to be elected New York attorney general. She’s garnered national attention by being one of the biggest and more effective thorns in President Donald Trump’s side.