Moseley-Braun, Carol Elizabeth

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Moseley-Braun, Carol Elizabeth

Carol Moseley-Braun was the first woman and first African-American to serve as assistant majority leader of the Illinois House of Representatives; later, she became the first woman and first African-American to hold executive office in Cook County (Chicago), Illinois. In 1992, she became the first African-American woman from the state of Illinois to be elected to the U.S. Senate, where she served until 1998.

Carol Elizabeth Moseley was born on August 16, 1947 in Chicago, the daughter of a police officer and a medical technician. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Illinois at Chicago in 1969. She then went to the University of Chicago Law School, where she was awarded her juris doctor degree in 1972. After earning her law degree, she spent one year as an associate with the firm of Davis, Miner, and Barnhill.

In 1973, Moseley-Braun was appointed assistant U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, a position she held until 1977. Her election to the Illinois state legislature in 1978 started her on the road that would eventually lead to the U.S. Senate. While a member of the Illinois House, Moseley-Braun rose to the position of assistant majority leader, becoming the first African-American and the first woman to do so.

Moseley-Braun's last position before being elected to the U.S. Senate was Cook County recorder of deeds and registrar of titles. She was also the first woman and first African-American to hold this, or any, executive office in Cook County.

Moseley-Braun entered the Illinois primary and upset two-term Democratic incumbent Alan J. Dixon. She then played upon voters' unhappiness with the sagging U.S. economy to clinch her victory over Republican Richard S. Williamson and to become the first African-American woman elected to the U.S. Senate.

Moseley-Braun's rise to national office was not without controversy. During her campaign against Williamson, it was reported that she had received over $28,000 in royalty payments from the sale of timber on land owned by her mother, a nursing home resident whose care was being paid for by Medicaid. Moseley-Braun did not report the income to either the Internal Revenue Service or Medicaid, as required by law. She later repaid the state $15,239 for her mother's nursing home expenses.

During her term in the Senate, Moseley-Braun was appointed to some of the most powerful and influential Senate committees: Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs; Small Business; and Judiciary. She also became a member of the Congressional Black Caucus.

In May 1993, just a few months after her induction into the Senate, she challenged Senator strom thurmond (R-S.C.), the Senate's most senior member at the time. The two debated a bill that would have extended the design patent on the insignia of the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC), which featured the Confederate flag. Arguing that the flag was a symbol of a time in U.S. history when African-Americans were held as human chattel under the flag of the Confederacy, Moseley-Braun persuaded her colleagues on the Judiciary Committee not to extend the UDC patent.

The issue was not dead, however. In July 1993, Senator jesse helms (R-N.C.) included the patent extension as an amendment to another bill. The Senate voted 52–48 to approve the amendment. Undaunted, Moseley-Braun vowed to filibuster to reverse the vote. She lobbied her fellow Senators to reconsider the vote on the Helms amendment. She argued that the Confederate flag had no place in our modern times, no place in the Senate, and no place in our society. The Senate reconsidered its vote and finally tabled the Helms amendment, effectively killing it, by a vote of 75–25.

Moseley-Braun was narrowly defeated for re-election in 1998, losing to wealthy Republican Peter Fitzgerald in a heated race in Illinois. Immediately following her defeat, she served from 1998 to 1999 as a consultant on school construction to the Education Department. In 1999, with the support of President bill clinton, she was nominated to be the U.S. ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa. Her appointment was approved by a 96–2 vote in the Senate. She served for two years in that position.

"How we characterize the debate will have a critical impact on how we characterize the outcome."
—Carol Moseley-Braun

In 2003, Moseley-Braun served as executive vice president at Good Works International, a global policy and strategy consulting company. Although some expected her to run again for the Senate in 2004, she decided to enter the presidential race instead, announcing the decision in 2003. In the early stages of her campaign, she received support and endorsements from several feminist and minority political-action groups.

Further readings

Moseley-Braun, Carol. 1995. "Interracial Adoption." A.B.A. Journal 45.

Page, Clarence. 2003. "Dems' Dilemma: Moseley-Braun vs. Sharpton." Daily Press K3.