Black Women Who Have Run for President of the United States

Shirley Chisholm and Carol Moseley Braun make this list

Shirley Chisholm

Black women have been among the Democratic Party’s most loyal supporters through the years, according to Black Women's Roundtable adviser Avis Jones-DeWeever. As such, they have buoyed Black and White candidates alike, including the first White woman to the reach the top of the ticket in 2016—more than 90% of Black women were said to have voted for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election.

Although a woman has made it on the presidential ticket for the general election, a Black woman has yet to win the Democratic Party’s nomination for president. But that doesn’t mean several haven’t tried, with varying degrees of success.

List of Black Female Presidential Candidates

  • Charlene Mitchell: Communist Party candidate in the 1968 presidential election.
  • Shirley Chisholm: Democratic candidate in the 1972 presidential election.
  • Barbara Jordan: Not officially a candidate, but she did receive a delegate vote for the presidential nomination at the 1976 Democratic National Convention.
  • Margaret Wright: People's Party candidate in the 1976 presidential election.
  • Isabell Masters: Looking Back Party candidate in the 1984, 1988, 1992, 1996, 2000, and 2004 presidential elections.
  • Lenora Branch Fulani: New Alliance Party candidate in the 1988 and 1992 presidential elections.
  • Monica Moorehead: Workers World Party candidate in the1996, 2000, and 2016 presidential elections.
  • Angel Joy Chavis Rocker: Republican candidate in the 2000 presidential election.
  • Carol Moseley Braun: Democratic candidate in the 2004 presidential election.
  • Cynthia McKinney: Green Party candidate in the 2008 presidential election.
  • Peta Lindsay: Party for Socialism and Liberation candidate in the 2012 presidential election.
  • Kamala Harris: Democratic candidate in the 2020 presidential election.

Multiple Black women have run for president as Democrats, Republicans, Communists, Green Party members, and nominees of other parties. Get to know some of history's Black female presidential candidates.

Charlene Mitchell

Charlene Mitchell smiling with someone's hand on her shoulder
 Johnny Nunez / Getty Images

Many Americans mistakenly believe that Shirley Chisholm was the first Black woman to run for president, but that distinction actually goes to Charlene Alexander Mitchell. Mitchell ran neither as a Democrat nor a Republican but as a Communist.

Mitchell was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1930, but her family later moved to Chicago. They lived in the Cabrini Green projects. This housing development, populated by mostly poor Black families, was famous for crime, gang activity, violence, and drugs. The hardships that Black people experienced in this community and those like it as a result of their financial situations and discrimination would form the basis of Mitchell's fight as a politician.

Mitchell's father, Charles Alexander, was a laborer and the Democratic Party precinct captain for William L. Dawson before he joined the Communist Party. According to Mitchell, he was always politically active. Of joining the Communist Party herself as a teenager, Mitchell said:

"At the time of the Second World War, [the North Side] was the heart of the pro-fascist, racist, anti-labor movement in Chicago. My parents were working people. We were anti-fascist and pro-civil rights. We walked in picket lines. The Communist Party was on our side; when I was 16, I joined."

Mitchell took an early interest in politics and was exposed to different organizations through her parents' activism. She was invited to an American Youth for Democracy meeting when she was 13 and this was the first organization she joined. Soon, she belonged to the NAACP Youth Council and later the NAACP. In the 1950s, the NAACP disallowed Communist members.

As a member of many organizations that fought for everything from anti-police-crimes to Black unity and empowerment, Mitchell organized sit-ins and pickets to protest segregation and racial injustice in the Windy City. Her first experience picketing was against the Windsor Theatre in Chicago, which segregated Black and White customers.

Twenty-two years later, Mitchell launched her presidential bid with running mate Michael Zagarell, the National Youth Director of the Communist Party. The pair were only put on the ballot in two states. That year wouldn’t be Mitchell's last in politics. She ran as an Independent Progressive for U.S. Senator from New York in 1988 but lost to Democrat Daniel Moynihan.

Shirley Chisholm

Shirley Chisholm presidential campaign ad.
Shirley Chisholm presidential campaign poster. Seattle City Council/Flickr.com

Unlike many of the women on this list who ran for third-party, Shirley Chisholm ran as a Democrat.

Chisholm was born on November 30, 1924, in Brooklyn, New York. She lived in Barbados with her grandmother from 1927 to 1934 and received a British education during this time. She excelled in school and went on to graduate with distinction from Brooklyn College in 1946 and to receive a master's degree from Columbia University in 1952. Chisholm worked as a teacher and educational consultant before being elected to the New York state legislature in 1964.

She won the race and was elected to the House of Representatives in 1968, making history as the first Black congresswoman. She would serve on the Committee on Agriculture, the Veterans' Affairs Committee, the Committee on Education and Labor, the Committee on Organization Study and Review, and the Rules Committee. In 1971, she co-founded the Congressional Black Caucus and the National Women's Political Caucus, both powerful forces for change still today.

Chisholm bravely stood up for underserved demographics, herself the victim of systemic oppression and poor as a child. She was a passionate and courageous politician for individuals from many different backgrounds. A skilled speaker and fluent in Spanish, she won the admiration and respect of the people she represented and was not afraid to stand up for underserved demographics. She hired a staff of Black women and once claimed that she had been discriminated against more for being a woman than for being Black.

Chisholm campaigned for Congress in 1968 when the neighborhood she grew up in, Bedford-Stuyvesant, was reapportioned as a congressional district. She was up against two Black men and one Black woman. When a competitor belittled her because she was a woman and a schoolteacher, Chisholm used the opportunity to call him out for discrimination and explain why she was the best candidate.

In 1972, she ran for U.S. president as a Democrat on a platform in which she prioritized education and employment issues. Her campaign slogan was "Fighting Shirley Chisholm—unbought and unbossed." If elected, she intended to use her position to continue protecting the rights and representing the interests of poor Black Americans, women, and minorities.

Although she didn’t win the nomination, Chisholm served seven terms in Congress. She died on New Year’s Day in 2005. She was honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015 for her unwavering commitment to justice and the example she set for others.

Barbara Jordan

barbara-jordan.jpg
On House Committee. Keystone/Getty Images

Barbara Jordan never actually ran for president, but we include her in this list because she did receive a delegate vote for the 1976 presidential nomination at the Democratic National Convention.

Jordan was born February 21, 1936, in Texas, to a Baptist minister father and a domestic worker mother. In 1959, she earned a law degree from Boston University, one of two Black women that year to do so. The following year, she campaigned for John F. Kennedy to be president. By this time, she set her own sights on a career in politics.

In 1966, she won a seat in the Texas House after losing two campaigns earlier. Jordan wasn’t the first in her family to become a politician. Her great-grandfather, Edward Patton, also served in the Texas legislature.

As a Democrat, Jordan ran a successful bid for Congress in 1972. She represented Houston’s 18th District. Jordan would play key roles in the impeachment hearings for President Richard Nixon and in the 1976 Democratic National Convention. The opening speech she gave at the former focused on the Constitution and is said to have played a key role in Nixon’s decision to resign. Her speech during the latter marked the first time a Black woman gave the keynote address at the DNC. Although Jordan did not run for president, she earned a single delegate vote for president of the convention. 

In 1994, Bill Clinton awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom. On Jan. 17, 1996, Jordan, who suffered from leukemia, diabetes, and multiple sclerosis, died of pneumonia.

Margaret Wright

Margaret Wright was born in 1921 in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

When she ran for president on the People's Party ticket in 1976, Wright had been working as a community organizer and civil rights activist in Los Angeles, California, for decades. She founded various organizations including Women Against Racism and served as Minister of Education for the Black Panther Party. Before becoming involved in activism, Wright worked at a Lockheed factory and was part of a labor union. It was there that she became interested in politics.

Wright had faced discrimination all her life and intended to continue to fight for an end to inequality as president, as she had been doing as an activist and leader for years. Even as a civil rights activist rallying for racial equality, Wright was discriminated against and dismissed for being a woman. During her speech announcing her campaign for the presidency, she famously said:

"I've been discriminated against because I'm a woman, because I'm Black, because I'm poor, because I'm fat, because I'm left-handed."

Of priority for her platform was education reform. She was passionate about making schools and colleges more inclusive to Black Americans, and she was arrested multiple times for organizing and participating in demonstrations and protests meant to denounce systemic oppression in schools. Wright also planned to focus on transforming the country's capitalist economy—which she felt disadvantaged America's working- and middle-class citizens—into one that more closely resembled socialist principles.

Isabell Masters

Isabell Masters was born January 9, 1913, in Topeka, Kansas. She graduated from Langston University with a bachelor's degree in Education and later from the University of Oklahoma with a Ph.D. She had six children, some of whom joined her in her many political campaigns.

Masters is said to have more presidential campaigns than any other woman in history. She ran in 1984, 1988, 1992, 1996, 2000, and 2004. For her first three races, she was a Republican party candidate. Starting in 1992, she represented the Looking Back Party. But though Masters intended to run for president six times, she did not publicly campaign each time or make it on the ballot in most elections.

Masters was a self-described evangelist and religion was a key part of her platform. The Looking Back Party was a short-lived third party and it is unclear exactly what it stood for and against. Masters, however, talked often about ending hunger in the U.S.

Lenora Branch Fulani

Lenora Fulani stands between two men and is about to speak
Donald Bowers / Getty Images

Lenora Branch Fulani was born April 25, 1950, in Pennsylvania. A psychologist, Fulani became involved in politics after studying the work of philosopher and activist Fred Newman and social therapist Lois Holzman, founders of the New York Institute for Social Therapy and Research. She received a doctorate in Developmental Psychology.

Fulani became involved with the New Alliance Party, a pro-socialist progressive party established by Newman, when it was founded in 1979. This party was created with the purpose of serving underrepresented demographics and bringing them together to seek independence outside of the Republican and Democratic parties. Of joining an independent party, she explained:

"My own involvement in third party politics was based on wanting to create a way out of being essentially held hostage to a two-party system that was not only hostile to [Black Americans] but hostile to the democratic participation of all the American people."

Fulani ran for Lt. Governor of New York in 1982 and for governor in 1990 on the NAP ticket. In 1988, she ran for U.S. president. She became the first Black independent and first female presidential candidate to appear on the ballot in each U.S. state. She lost the race but ran again in 1992, this time reaching out to White independents for support.

Though she was not elected, Fulani is said to have influenced politics greatly by encouraging the unity of Black leaders and White independents. She sought to disentangle Black Americans from the Democratic Party and empower Americans to think beyond bipartisan politics and ideological boundaries. She is still active in politics today.

Monica Moorehead

Monica Moorehead was born in 1952 in Alabama.

Moorehead ran for president as the Workers World Party (WWP) candidate in 1996, 2000, and 2016. The Workers World Party was founded in 1959 by a group of communists led by Sam Marcy. This party describes itself as a Marxist-Leninist party dedicated to fighting for social revolution. Its goal is to bring progressive movements to a global stage of recognition and unite against the "capitalist 1%." The official Workers World Party website elaborates on this philosophy, saying:

"We envision a world without ... the racism, poverty, war and mass suffering it promotes and maintains."

As of 2020, Moorehead is still active in politics and writes for Workers World Party publications.

Angel Joy Chavis Rocker

Angel Joy Chavis Rocker was born in 1964. She worked as a school guidance counselor before running for president on the Republican ticket in 2000.

Chavis Rocker hoped to recruit more Black Americans to the Republican party and encourage this party to be more inclusive of voters from different races and backgrounds.

Though Chavis Rocker received little support during her campaign for the presidency, she stands out as the only candidate on this list that represented the Republican party. Since the 1930s, Black Americans have aligned with the Democratic party.

Carol Moseley-Braun

Carol Moseley Braun wearing a blue suit jacket and smiling at a man
Scott Olson / Getty Images

Carol Moseley-Braun was born August 16, 1947, in Chicago, Illinois, to a police officer father and medical technician mother. Moseley-Braun earned a law degree from the University of Chicago Law School in 1972. Six years later, she became a member of the Illinois House of Representatives.

Moseley-Braun won a historic election on November 3, 1992, when she became the first Black woman elected to the United States Senate after defeating GOP rival Richard Williamson. She was motivated to run for Congress when she watched Anita Hill testify that Clarence Thomas had sexually harassed her and the senators hearing her testimony dismiss her claims in the televised 1991 Supreme Court case.

Feeling that women, Black Americans, and poor people needed a voice fighting for them from within a predominantly male, wealthy Senate, she entered the race in 1991. When she won the election in 1992 with very little campaign funding, she proved that "ordinary people can have a voice with no money." Her victory made her only the second Black person elected as a Democrat to the U.S. Senate—Edward Brooke was the first.

In the Senate, Moseley-Braun served on the Finance Committee as the first woman to do so. She also served on the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee, and the Small Business Committee. She caught the media's attention when she refused to renew a design patent, routinely granted for years until then, that contained an image of the Confederate flag. Moseley-Braun used her platform to support affirmative action, gender and race equality measures, and sexual misconduct investigations.

Moseley-Braun lost her reelection race in 1998, but her political career didn’t come to a halt after this defeat. In 1999, she became the U.S. ambassador to New Zealand and served in this position until the end of President Bill Clinton’s term.

In 2003, she announced her bid to run for president on the Democratic ticket but dropped out of the race in January 2004. She then endorsed Howard Dean, who also lost his bid.

Cynthia McKinney

Cynthia McKinney wearing an orange and white blouse shaking hands with a man and smiling in a circle of people
Mario Tama / Getty Images

Cynthia McKinney was born March 17, 1955, in Atlanta, Georgia. She graduated from the University of Southern California in 1978 with a bachelor's degree in 1978 and received a graduate degree from Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. She was elected as an at-large representative in the Georgia state legislature in 1988, where her father, Billy McKinney, also served. McKinney did not hesitate to oppose her father when she disagreed with him.

McKinney played an important role in securing more Black congressional representatives for voters in Georgia in the 1980s. When the Georgia legislature created two new majority-Black districts, McKinney moved to one of them and decided to run for office in the House of Representatives to represent it. She won the election to the 103rd Congress in 1993 and made history by becoming the first Black woman to represent Georgia in the House.

As a House member, McKinney advocated for equality. She worked to protect the rights of women, help poor Americans, and was consistent in her fight to identify and correct human rights violations.

She continued to serve six terms until she was defeated by Denise Majette in 2002. In 2004, she won a seat in the House once more when Majette ran for Senate. In 2006, she lost reelection. McKinney ultimately left the Democratic Party and ran unsuccessfully for president on the Green Party ticket in 2008.

Peta Lindsay

Peta Lindsay smiling

Bill Hackwell / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Peta Lindsay was born in 1984 in Virginia. She was raised by politically-active parents and some of her grandparents had been members of the Communist Party.

Lindsay has described both of her parents as progressive. Her mother, who earned a Ph.D. in African American Studies from Temple University, was heavily involved in the Civil Rights movement. From a young age, Lindsay was exposed to topics of women's rights including abortion, reproductive freedom, and equal pay for women. Both of Lindsay's parents ardently supported women's rights, Black rights, and the Cuban Revolution by attending protests, strikes, and demonstrations.

Lindsay first got involved with socialism as a 17-year-old anti-war activist. At Howard University, where she earned her bachelor's degree, she studied intersectional feminism.

As a Black feminist socialist, one of the foundations of Lindsay's political platform was to defend the rights of and protect poor Black Americans, especially Black women, from continued oppression. She has drawn connections between herself and Shirley Chisholm many times and once said of her campaign:

"My campaign stands in the tradition of Shirley Chisholm—knocking down barriers, demanding inclusion, refusing to be put 'in our place.' I don’t meet the criteria of the 'typical' candidate in a lot of obvious ways, and like Chisholm, I know the political and media establishment will use that to ignore or discredit my campaign."

In 2012, Lindsay ran for president on the Party for Socialism and Liberation ticket. If elected, she would have fought to dismantle capitalism by canceling student debt, offering free education and healthcare, and making a good-paying job a constitutional right. Another important promise of her 10-point campaign was to shut down the military and send all U.S. troops home.

Kamala Harris

Kamala Harris speaking into a microphone and pointing finger while standing on a stage surrounded by cars and audience members in Florida
Octavio Jones / Getty Images

Kamala Harris was born October 20, 1964, in Oakland, California. Her mother, Shyamala Gopalan, is Indian and her father, Donald Harris, is Jamaican. Harris graduated from Howard University before going on to receive a law degree from the University of California. She worked as a District Attorney of the City and County of San Francisco beginning in 2003 and completed two terms.

Harris' parents were politically active in their Oakland community and took Harris with them to protests. She has credited their activism with instilling in her a passion for social justice from an early age.

Throughout her career, Harris has made history. She became the first Black woman elected as California's Attorney General in 2010. She advocated for human rights for minority populations, gun control, and climate change reform. Harris endorsed Obama during his 2008 presidential campaign.

Senator Harris then achieved another victory when she was elected as the first South Asian American woman to the Senate in 2017. She announced her campaign for the presidency at the beginning of 2019 with a platform centered around support for low-income demographics, debt-free higher education, and universal healthcare. In December 2019, she announced the end of her campaign, explaining that funding was insufficient to continue.

In 2020, Harris became the running mate of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. She was the first Black vice presidential candidate nominated by a major party.

Additional References