Meet Yvonne Brathwaite Burke

Meet Yvonne Brathwaite Burke The First Black Woman to Represent California in Congress

Yvonne Brathwaite Burke is a trailblazer who has left an indelible mark on California’s political landscape.

She shattered numerous glass ceilings, becoming the first African American woman elected to the California legislature, the U.S. Congress from California, and serving as the first Black woman to chair the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.

A Pioneering Journey

“Burke became the first Congresswoman to give birth while in office and the first to be granted maternity leave.”

Born Perle Yvonne Watson on October 5, 1932, in Los Angeles, Burke’s journey to political prominence was paved with determination and resilience. After graduating from UCLA and USC Law School, she found that no law firm would hire an African American woman, prompting her to start her own private practice.

Breaking Barriers in State and National Politics

Burke’s political career took off in 1966 when she was elected as the first African American assemblywoman, representing California’s 63rd District. She championed issues like prison reform, childcare, equal opportunities, and education during her three terms.

In 1972, Burke made history again, becoming the first Black woman elected to Congress from California, representing the 37th and later the 28th District until 1979. Notably, in 1973, she became the first Congresswoman to give birth while in office and the first to be granted maternity leave.

Trailblazing at the County Level

After an unsuccessful bid for California Attorney General in 1978, Burke was appointed to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors in 1979, though she lost her bid for a full term in 1980. She returned to politics in 1992, winning a seat on the same board for District 2, serving until her retirement in 2008.

Burke’s tenure as a County Supervisor was marked by her focus on improving the lives of children, promoting economic development, and enhancing transportation in Los Angeles. She made history once more as the first African American woman to serve as Chair of the L.A. County Board of Supervisors in 1993.

A Legacy of Firsts and Achievements

Throughout her remarkable career, Burke accumulated numerous accolades and distinctions. She served as the vice-chairperson of the 1972 Democratic National Convention, the first African American to hold that position. Burke was also the past chair of the L.A. Federal Reserve Bank and the vice-chair of the 1984 U.S. Olympics Organizing Committee.

Her contributions have been recognized by prestigious publications like Time, which named her one of America’s 200 Future Leaders, and the Los Angeles Times and UCLA, which both honored her as Woman of the Year.