What political gains did African Americans attain in the 1980s and 1990s?

In the 1980s, black mayors were elected in Chicago, Philadelphia, New York City, and other cities throughout the country. By 1990, there were 318 black mayors.

In 1983 and 1988, Jesse Jackson declared his candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination and promised to create a “rainbow coalition” of support among poor and dispossessed Americans.

Although unsuccessful in this bid, he was the second black presidential candidate to campaign for nomination by a major political party. In 1989, General Colin L. Powell became chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the country’s top military position. He was the first African American to hold this position.

By late 1990, there were 7,480 black elected officials in the United States, including twenty-six members of Congress. In 1991, federal judge Clarence Thomas was appointed a U.S. Supreme Court justice. His appointment followed a nationally televised Senate Judiciary Committee investigation into charges that he sexually harassed his assistant, Anita Hill, ten years previously.

In 1992, Arkansas governor Bill Clinton ran for president with record-breaking levels of black support; when he won, he filled his cabinet and administration with blacks, including Secretary of Commerce Ronald Brown, Secretary of Agriculture Mike Espy, Secretary of Energy Hazel O’Leary, and Secretary of Veterans Affairs Jesse Brown. In the months that followed, blacks reversed some of the policies of the Reagan-Bush years.

In 1992, the first black woman senator, Carol E. Moseley-Braun, was elected from Illinois.