By Genoa Barrow | OBSERVER Senior Staff Writer
A number of Black women have gone on from the California state legislature to continue their political service in other realms and roles. The OBSERVER highlights a few here — Yvonne Brathwaite Burke, Sydney Kamlager-Dove, Holly Mitchell and Karen Bass.
Yvonne Brathwaite Burke (D-Los Angeles) led from the front and had a number of firsts throughout her career. Brathwaite Burke was the first African American woman elected to the California legislature in 1966. She focused much of her efforts on legislation that supported civil rights and protected youth. Brathwaite Burke served in the state assembly until 1972. A year later, she became the first African American woman to represent the West Coast in Congress. She was the first African American and woman of color to serve as vice chair of the Democratic National Convention. While in office, she authored a bill to prohibit discrimination against pregnant women in the workplace. In 1974, Brathwaite Burke also became the first member of Congress to give birth while in office. That child, Autumn Burke, would later join the California Assembly just as her mother had decades prior. They were the first mother-daughter to both serve in the assembly. The elder lawmaker later went on to become the first woman and first African African to serve on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. Today, she sits on the national board of Amtrak, having been appointed by the nation’s first Black president, Barack Obama.
Kam In A ‘CRISES’
Sydney Kamlager-Dove (D-Los Angeles) was elected to the California Assembly in 2018 and the California Senate in 2021. She became a member of the U.S. Congress earlier this year, representing Los Angeles in the 37th District. In her time in the state legislature, Kamlager-Dove saw the passage of her bill, AB 2054, aka the C.R.I.S.E.S. Act, that provides for trained community-led teams to respond to non-violent 911 calls. She also worked to establish the Small Business COVID-19 Relief Grant Program and the Affordable Prescription Drug Act and sponsored bills aimed at reducing disparities in health care and California’s judicial system.
Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) has been described as the “queen of Los Angeles politics.” Mitchell was elected to the assembly in November 2010. She came from the non-pofit sector, but was no stranger to capital connections. She’d previously served in the Los Angeles field office for renowned former state senator, Diane Watson. Mitchell went on to be elected to the state senate herself and served from 2013 to 2020. Today, Mitchell sits on the powerful Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. In the Assembly, Mitchell focused on job creation and improving the quality of the state’s public health and education systems and families’ access to them. She authored the CROWN ACT, which protects people in workplaces from discrimination based on their natural hair. The bill was signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom in July 2019, making California the first state to offer such protection.
Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles) was making a good name for herself long before “Karen” became slang for White women behaving badly. Bass, a former social worker, served in the California Assembly from 2004-2010. While there, she was a tireless champion for foster youth and helped the state get through the unprecedented budget crisis of 2009. She was speaker of the assembly during her last term, making her the first Black woman in U.S. history to lead in that capacity. She served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 2011-2022, having been encouraged to take over the 33rd Congressional District by retiring predecessor Diane Watson. In December 2022 Bass became the first woman and only the second African African to become mayor of Los Angeles.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Look for more profiles on women like Maxine Waters, Diane E, Watson, Barbara Lee and more as our “A Powerful Sisterhood” series continues.