Black Women Who Have Run for President of the United States

Shirley Chisholm and Carol Moseley Braun make this list

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

Black women are among the Democratic Party’s most loyal supporters. As such, they have buoyed everyone from white men to a black man and, now, a white woman to the top of the ticket. Unlike Hillary Clinton, a black woman has yet to win the Democratic Party’s nomination for president. But that doesn’t mean several haven’t tried.

Multiple black women have run for president—be it as Democrats, Republicans, Communists, on the Green Party ticket or that of another party.

Get to know the African American women who tried to make history before Clinton did with this roundup of black female presidential candidates.

Charlene Mitchell

Many Americans have the mistaken belief 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 famous Cabrini Green projects, and Mitchell took an early interest in politics, acting as a youth organizer to protest racial segregation in the Windy City. She joined the Communist Party USA in 1946, when she was just 16.

Twenty-two years later, Mitchell launched her unsuccessful presidential bid with running mate, Michael Zagarell, the National Youth Director of the Communist Party. Given that the pair were only put on the ballot in two states, winning the election wasn’t just a longshot but simply impossible.

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 Daniel Moynihan.

Shirley Chisholm

Shirley Chisholm is arguably the most famous black woman to run for president. That’s because, unlike most of the black women on this list, she actually ran as a Democrat rather than on a third party ticket.

Chisholm was born on Nov. 30, 1924, in Brooklyn, New York. However, she grew up partly in Barbados with her grandmother. The same year that Mitchell launched her failed presidential bid, 1968, Chisholm made history by becoming the first black congresswoman. The following year she co-founded the Congressional Black Caucus. In 1972, she unsuccessfully ran for U.S. president as a Democrat on a platform in which she prioritized education and employment issues. Her campaign slogan was "unbought and unbossed."

Although she didn’t win the nomination, Chisholm served seven terms in Congress. She died New Year’s Day 2005. She was honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015.

Barbara Jordan

Okay, so Barbara Jordan never actually ran for president, but many wanted to see her on the 1976 ballot and voted for the groundbreaking politician.

Jordan was born Feb. 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 for the House 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 both 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.

Lenora Branch Fulani

Lenora Branch Fulani was born April 25, 1950, in Pennsylvania. A psychologist, Fulani became involved in politics after studying the work of Fred Newman and Lois Holzman, founders of the New York Institute for Social Therapy and Research.

When Newman launched the New Alliance Party, Fulani became involved, running unsuccessfully for Lt. Governor of New York in 1982 on the NAP ticket. Six years later, she ran for U.S. president on the ticket. She became the first black independent and first female presidential candidate to appear on the ballot in each U.S. state but still lost the race. 

Undeterred, she ran unsuccessfully for New York governor in 1990. Two years after that, she launched a failed presidential bid as a New Alliance candidate. She has since continued to be politically active.  

Carol Moseley Braun

Carol Moseley Braun made history even before she ran for president. Born Aug. 16, 1947, in Chicago, to a police officer father and medical technician mother, Braun decided to pursue a career in law. She earned her law degree from the University of Chicago Law School in 1972. Six years later, she became a member of the Illinois House of Representatives.

Braun won an historic election in Nov. 3, 1992, when she became the first black woman in the United States Senate after defeating GOP rival Richard Williamson. This made her only the second African American elected as a Democrat to the U.S. Senate.

Edward Brooke was the first. Braun, however, lost her reelection race in 1998.

Braun’s political career didn’t come to a halt after her defeat. In 1999, she became the U.S. ambassador to New Zealand in which she served 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 endorsed Howard Dean, who also lost his bid.

Cynthia McKinney

Cynthia McKinney was born March 17, 1955, in Atlanta. As a Democrat, she served a half-dozen terms in the U.S. House of Representatives. She made history in 1992 by becoming the first black woman to represent Georgia in the House. She continued to serve until 2002, when Denise Majette defeated her.

However, in 2004, McKinney won a seat in the House once more when Majette ran for Senate. In 2006, she lost reelection. The year would also prove to be a difficult one, as McKinney faced controversy after reportedly slapping a Capitol Hill police officer who asked her to present identification. McKinney ultimately left the Democratic Party and ran unsuccessfully for president on the Green Party ticket in 2008.  

Wrapping Up

Several other black women have run for president. They include Monica Moorehead, on the Workers World Party ticket; Peta Lindsay, on the Party for Socialism and Liberation ticket; Angel Joy Charvis; on the Republican ticket; Margaret Wright, on the People’s Party ticket; and Isabell Masters, on the Looking Back Party ticket.