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March 18, 2002

Trailblazing senator to keynote Women's History Month

By Eric Rangus


The first African American woman to serve in the United States Senate, Carol Moseley-Braun, will deliver the keynote speech for Emory’s Women’s History Month celebration, Monday, March 25, at 7:30 p.m. in Cannon Chapel.

The title of Moseley-Braun’s address will be “Right Side Up,” and she will discuss “women who turn things around.”

When the Women’s History Month Committee began brainstorming for a keynote speaker last fall, the former Illinois senator’s name drifted to the top of the list. “We discussed how women’s voices are not often heard in political contexts and how there aren’t a lot of prominent women leaders,” said Rachel Mather, special program assistant at the Emory Women’s Center. Mather sits on the committee along with Women’s Center Director Ali Crown and a cross-section of staff, faculty and students from around the University.

“In the wake of Sept. 11, we thought about how violence and terror would either not happen or reactions might be different, if there were more women with political power,” Mather said.

If the idea was to find a political figure, Moseley-Braun, a Democrat who served from 1992–98, was an ideal choice.

“She is definitely a woman who is talking and acting, and we see her as someone who is fierce, fearless and wise,” said Mather, referencing the theme of these year’s monthlong women’s history celebration.

A Chicago native, Moseley-Braun graduated with a bachelor’s degree from the University of Illinois-Chicago in 1969, then received her law degree from the University of Chicago three years later. After earning her law degree, Moseley-Braun worked with the U.S. attorney’s office in Chicago and then served 10 years in the Illinois state house, five of them as assistant majority leader—the first African American woman to hold that post.

In the early 1990s Moseley-Braun held the relatively anonymous title of Cook County recorder of deeds. The contentious confirmation hearings of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court and the way she felt Anita Hill was treated led Moseley-Braun to challenge Democratic Senator Alan Dixon—a major player in Thomas’ confirmation—in 1992. A decided underdog, she defeated Dixon in the primary, then topped Republican state Sen. Richard Williamson in the general election.

“She represent[s] the aspirations of many African Americans and many women who believe they haven’t been represented in government,” the Chicago Tribune said in an editorial following Moseley-Braun’s 1992 victory.

Several experts said Moseley-Braun’s election, as well as those of other women that year like California’s Barbara Boxer and Washington’s Patty Murray, represented backlash against the Senate’s then all-male judiciary committee that conducted the Thomas confirmation hearings.

Ironically, Moseley-Braun eventually took a seat on the Senate judiciary committee as well the finance and banking, housing and urban affairs committees. She also was a member of the committees on aging and taxes and entitlements.

Moseley-Braun sponsored a great deal of successful legislation, including bills regarding low-income housing support, school construction and women’s pension equity.

Despite serving just one term—Moseley-Braun was defeated for re-election in 1998—she viewed her accomplishments positively.

“What my tenure most proved is that an African American girl from the south side of Chicago could well represent the interests of farmers, could well represent the interests of rich white males, could well represent the interests of people from a variety of walks of life,” she told the Tribune following her 1998 loss. “And none of these aspects of situation or status were limitations.

“It seemed to me the whole idea was moving the American dream one step further. Moving it closer to the level of inclusion that we’d all like to think it represents,” she said.

After her defeat, Moseley-Braun consulted for the Department of Education before being named ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa in 1999 by President Bill Clinton. She described her time in the South Pacific as being “ambassador to paradise.”

Moseley-Braun currently is a visiting distinguished professor and scholar-in-residence at Morris Brown College, where she is teaching courses on political science. Since last year, Moseley-Braun also has served at executive vice president of GoodWorks International, an organization involved in business facilitation and development in Africa, the Caribbean and the South Pacific. Andrew Young is the co-founder and chairman of the Atlanta-based firm.

Moseley-Braun’s keynote speech is free and open to the public. For more information, contact Mather at the Women’s Center at 404-727-2001.