Record number of Black women set to run for U.S. Congress

FILE PHOTO: Joyce Elliot, a Democratic U.S. congressional candidate for Arkansas' 2nd district (AR-02) which represents Little Rock and the surrounding areas, works from her office in Little Rock, Arkansas, U.S., July 20, 2020. REUTERS/Gerard Matthews

Joyce Elliott, an Arkansas state senator who is seeking a U.S. congressional seat in November, was the second Black student to attend her local public high school; the first was her older sister. If elected in November, she will be the first Black lawmaker in Congress from Arkansas, ever.

On the campaign trail in June, Elliott attended a demonstration against racism in White County, which is more than 90% white, and spoke to attendees in the shadow of a Confederate monument.

The November election is a “chance to change our history,” she told Reuters afterward. “I really decided I needed to run because I could see a pathway to winning.”

As the United States grapples with a deadly coronavirus pandemic that has disproportionately sickened and killed Black Americans and recent upheaval over police brutality, a record number of Black women are running for Congress.

Elliott is one of at least 122 Black or multi-racial Black women who filed to run for congressional seats in this year’s election; this figure has increased steadily since 2012, when it was 48, according to the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP).

As primary season draws to a close, nearly 60 Black women are still in the running, according to Collective PAC.

Black women are nearly 8% of the U.S. population, but 4.3% of Congress, according to a report by the Center of Women and Politics and Higher Heights for America, a political action committee that seeks to elect more progressive Black women to elected office. They are underrepresented in statewide executive’s jobs and among mayors as well, according to the report.

But Black women voters showed the highest participation rate of any group in the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections.

Historically, Black women have been more likely to win in majority-Black districts, but many are running this cycle in majority-white or mixed districts, some of which had previously voted for Republicans.

The coronavirus crisis has also highlighted the importance of issues these women are running on – improving healthcare, creating better jobs, ameliorating access to broadband internet.