by Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton
Not very long ago, a book titled Distinguished African American Political and Governmental Leaders would have been very thin indeed. Denial of opportunity to African Americans translated directly into exclusion from influential positions of all kinds. Nowhere was this discrimination more pronounced and less defensible than in government and politics, the domain of democracy. Private and personal bias is shameful. Official discrimination and systematic exclusion by government itself make a mockery of representative government and preclude democratic participation.
There are many ways to tell the story of race in America--the course of the civil rights movement, the path of court decisions, the heroism of particular Americans, for example. It is also possible to tell the history of the slow but increasingly sure decline of official racism by reading between the lines of the lives of African American elected and appointed officials and political leaders, some of them profiled in this unique volume. By selecting a group among the many African American public officials who have distinguished themselves, James Haskins has offered readers an intriguing way to view black history and the history of our country.
The names and posts of the black officials profiled here come unevenly in larger numbers as time moves toward the present. Their positions ripen with importance. Today, racism in America grasps at straws and demonstrates considerable resilience, but the pull and prominence of black public officials is a powerful response. Government officials are proxies for the state; when they are black, they reverse the historic role of the state in American racism.
That reversal began in earnest hardly 50 years ago with the 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education, after which sponsored discrimination could not be constitutionally maintained. However, even school segregation, the direct object of the Brown decision, did not succumb for years or without "massive resistance."
The struggle against discrimination in government has required a long and varied line of strategies. One of the most successful has been the election and appointment of African Americans to confront directly the problems that result from racial exclusion. Indispensable to the elimination of the stereotypes that perpetuate discrimination is the opportunity for excluded people to hold the same positions as those who have historically excluded them. This compilation begins with the earliest officials, when the numbers were especially low.
Only in recent decades have even ordinary jobs in federal, state, and local government been