The recent election of Kamala Harris as the first African American female vice president points to a new period in the long and rich tradition of African American political history. Today’s panel, The History of Black Politics: A Long Road—The Black Political Tradition, is a moderated discussion hosted by Spencer Overton, lawyer and president of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies. Overton will be joined by an impressive panel of legislative leaders including U.S. Representatives James Clyburn and Eleanor Holmes-Norton, former Speaker of the California State Assembly Willie L. Brown and Congresswoman Maxine Waters. We will also hear from Charles Henry and Lorenzo Morris as commentators. The discussion also features a Q&A session with questions from The HistoryMakers PoliticalMakers Advisory Committee. After an unprecedented election cycle and a year like no other, be sure to tune in for this important discussion on the past of black politics, and the future that lies ahead.
This 90-minute program is scheduled to stream on YouTube at 12:00 noon EST on Wednesday, December 16, 2020 as the sixteenth installment of The HistoryMakers 20@2020: 20 Days and 20 Nights Convening and Celebration.
Charles P. Henry, is Professor Emeritus of African American Studies at the University of California at Berkeley. In 1994, President Clinton appointed him to the National Council on the Humanities for a six-year term. Former president of the National Council for Black Studies, Henry is the author/editor of eight books and more than 80 articles and reviews on Black politics, public policy, and human rights. Before joining the University of California at Berkeley in 1981, Henry taught at Denison University and Howard University. Henry was chair of the board of directors of Amnesty International U.S.A. from 1986 to 1988 and is a former NEH Post-doctoral Fellow and American Political Science Association Congressional Fellow. In 1994-95 he served as an office director in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor at the U.S. Department of State. Professor Henry was Distinguished Fulbright Chair in American History and Politics at the University of Bologna, Italy for the Spring semester of 2003. In the fall of 2006, Henry was one of the first two Fulbright-Tocqueville Distinguished Chairs in France teaching at the University of Tours. Chancellor Birgeneau presented Henry with the Chancellor’s Award for Advancing Institutional Excellence in April 2008. He holds a doctorate in Political Science from the University of Chicago.
Lorenzo Morris is professor emeritus and former chair of Political Science at Howard University. He taught in the Tocqueville-Fulbright Distinguished Chair at the University of Paris, and in Political Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He has been a Research Fellow at the Brookings Institution and a Senior Fellow in the Institute for the Study of Educational Policy. He has served internationally as a visiting lecturer and analyst on electoral behavior and civil rights in numerous countries. He is an author and consultant on electoral behavior, black politics, and international and American public policy. He has provided frequent television, radio and newspaper commentary on public affairs in the U.S., Western Europe, Canada, and francophone West Africa. He has published five scholarly books, including Elusive Equality, and about hundred fifty articles. His recent papers include “Behavioral Pragmatism: President Obama’s Approach to Unemployment,” in Review of Black Political Economy, “African American Representatives in the United Nations,” in African American in U.S. Foreign Policy (2015), and “The Last Stages of Gentrification: Mayoral Elections” (2019). He has been an officer in numerous professional associations including president of the National Conference of Black Political Scientists. He is the former chair of the Howard University Faculty Senate He has served on numerous advisory boards for scholarly journals and associations such as PS Political Science & Politics, which he chaired. He received his Ph.D. and M.A. degrees in political science from the University of Chicago. He is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Fisk University. He studied at Oberlin College and Yale University. He was born in Poughkeepsie, New York.
Spencer Overton is the President of the Joint Center, which is America's Black Think Tank. The Joint Center is currently focused on economic recovery in Black communities in the wake of COVID-19 (including the future of workers), the impact of tech policy on Black communities, and diversity in congressional staff and presidential appointments. Spencer is also a tenured Professor of Law at GW and a published author. Spencer served as Government Reform Policy Chair for the 2008 Obama campaign, on the 2008 Transition, and as Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General of Legal Policy at the Department of Justice. Spencer is an honors graduate of both Hampton University and Harvard Law School, and clerked for U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Damon J. Keith.
Two-term Mayor of San Francisco, legendary Speaker of the California State Assembly, and widely regarded as the most influential African-American politician of the late twentieth century, Willie L. Brown, Jr., has been at the center of California politics, government, and civic life for an astonishing four decades. His career spans the American Presidency from Lyndon Johnson to George W. Bush, and he’s worked with every California Governor from Pat Brown to Arnold Schwarzenegger. From civil rights to education reform, tax policy, economic development, health care, international trade, domestic partnerships, and affirmative action, he’s left his imprimatur on every aspect of politics and public policy in the Golden State. As Mayor of California’s most cosmopolitan city, he refurbished and rebuilt the nation’s busiest transit system, pioneered the use of bond measures to build affordable housing, created a model juvenile justice system, and paved the way for a second campus of the University of California, San Francisco, to serve as the anchor of a new development that will position the City as a center for the burgeoning field of biotechnology. Today, he heads the Willie L. Brown, Jr., Institute on Politics and Public Service, where this acknowledged master of the art of politics shares his knowledge and skills with a new generation of California leaders.
James E. Clyburn is the Majority Whip, the third-ranking Democrat in the United States House of Representatives, and currently serves as the Chairman of the House Select Committee on the Coronavirus Crisis. He is also the Chairman of the Rural Broadband Task Force and Democratic Faith Working Group. When he came to Congress in 1993 to represent South Carolina’s sixth congressional district, Congressman Clyburn was elected co-president of his freshman class and quickly rose through leadership ranks. He was subsequently elected Chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, Vice Chairman, and later Chairman, of the House Democratic Caucus. He previously served as Majority Whip from 2007 to 2011 and served as Assistant Democratic Leader from 2011 to 2019. As a national leader, he has championed rural and economic development and many of his initiatives have become law. His 10-20-30 federal funding formula was included in four sections of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Congressman Clyburn is also a passionate supporter of historic preservation and restoration programs. His efforts have restored scores of historic buildings and sites on the campuses of historically black colleges and universities.
Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, now in her fifteenth term as the Congresswoman for the District of Columbia, is the Chair of the House Subcommittee on Highways and Transit. She serves on two committees: the Committee on Oversight and Reform and the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. Before her congressional service, President Jimmy Carter appointed her to serve as the first woman to chair the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. She came to Congress as a national figure who had been a civil rights and feminist leader, tenured professor of law, and board member at three Fortune 500 companies. Congresswoman Norton has been named one of the 100 most important American women in one survey and one of the most powerful women in Washington in another. The Congresswoman's work for full congressional voting representation and for full democracy for the people of the District of Columbia continues her lifelong struggle for universal human and civil rights. The Congresswoman, who taught law full time before being elected, is a tenured professor of law at Georgetown University, teaching an upper-class seminar there every year. After receiving her bachelor's degree from Antioch College in Ohio, she simultaneously earned her law degree and a master's degree in American Studies from Yale University. Yale Law School has awarded her the Citation of Merit for outstanding alumni, and Yale Graduate School of Arts and Sciences has awarded her the Wilbur Cross Medal for outstanding alumni, the highest awards conferred by each on alumni. She is the recipient of more than 50 honorary degrees. Before being elected, Congresswoman Norton served as a trustee on a number of public service boards, including the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Board of Governors of the D.C. Bar Association, as well as served on the boards of civil rights and other national organizations.
Congresswoman Maxine Waters is considered by many to be one of the most powerful women in American politics today. She has gained a reputation as a fearless and outspoken advocate for women, children, people of color and the poor.
Elected in November 2018 to her fifteenth term in the U.S. House of Representatives with more than 70 percent of the vote in the 43rd Congressional District of California, Congresswoman Waters represents a large part of South Los Angeles including the communities of Westchester, Playa Del Rey, and Watts and the unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County comprised of Lennox, West Athens, West Carson, Harbor Gateway and El Camino Village. The 43rd District also includes the diverse cities of Gardena, Hawthorne, Inglewood, Lawndale, Lomita and Torrance.
Congresswoman Waters made history as the first woman and first African American Chair of the House Financial Services Committee. An integral member of Congressional Democratic Leadership, Congresswoman Waters serves as a member of the Steering & Policy Committee and is the Co-Chair of the bipartisan Congressional Task Force on Alzheimer’s Disease. She is also a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, and member and past chair of the Congressional Black Caucus.