When Mark Kirk is sworn in this afternoon, the U.S. Senate will once again have no African-Americans.
Since Reconstruction, there have only been four black senators. Three of them–Carol Moseley Braun, Barack Obama and Roland Burris–have held the seat that Kirk is about to occupy.
For reasons that go back more than a century, all the way to the First Great Migration from the South, Illinois has led the nation in black political empowerment. We’ve elected more black statewide officials than anyone else. We produced the first black president. And it was a matter of pride among many Illinoisans that we kept the Senate integrated. In 2004, we picked such a great black senator that he went on to integrate the presidency.
This is no slur against Kirk. It’s not a slur against Illinois, either. It shouldn’t be our responsibility to provide a black senator. It’s a slur against the other 49 states, who refuse to elect a black politician to the U.S. Senate. African-Americans make up 12 percent of this country’s population. Their presence in America goes back nearly 400 years–Before the Mayflower,” as the title of a history of black America puts. Yet after 4 p.m. today, African-Americans will make up 0 percent of the nation’s most prestigious elective body. That’s disgraceful.