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Yvonne Brathwaite Burke
Yvonne Brathwaite Burke Yvonne Brathwaite Burke


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A pioneer in any field is deserving of recognition But when the pioneering spirit belongs to an African-American woman forging ahead in the realm of American politics, it is especially deserving of attention Yvonne Braithwaite Burke has achieved a number of firsts during her career in American politics In the late 1960s, she was the first African-American woman elected to the California State Assembly, and was the first African-American woman elected to Congress from the American West Incidentally, she was also the first member of Congress to give birth during her term in office She was the first African-American vice chair of the Democratic National Committee and was the first woman to head the Congressional Black Caucus She became the first African-American member of the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors, a position she has held on and off since 1978 Time magazine once selected her as one of "America's 200 Future Leaders," and she was named as Woman of the Year by the Los Angeles Times Burke was born on October 5, 1932, and grew up in Los Angeles In 1949, after graduating high school, she traveled north to Berkeley to attend the University of California at Berkeley.

She also was a member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority In her junior year she transferred back down to Los Angeles to attend the University of California at Los Angeles, and earned her undergraduate degree from the institution In 1956 Burke graduated in the top third of her class to earn her juris doctorate from the University of Southern California Law School While attending USC, she and two Jewish students were refused membership in the women''s law society and so launched their own rival group Burke shone early in her career as a defender of public interest In 1965, after the infamous and wildly destructive Watts riots in Los Angeles, she played a key role in organizing the legal defense for those charged in the riots Soon after, she was named by the governor to the McCone Commission, which was charged with determining the cause of the riots Burke''s political career began in earnest in 1966 with her first "first"--her election as the first African-American assemblywoman in California She served three two-year terms in the California legislature as representative of the state''s 63rd Assembly District Among the causes she championed during these years were prison reform, child care, education, and equal opportunities for minorities and women.

When state legislature proved too unresponsive to Burke''s change-minded ways, she set her sights on a seat in the US Congress Her winning Congressional bid made her the first African-American woman elected to Congress from California, or any other state in the American West She was chosen vice chair of the 1972 Democratic National Convention, another first for African Americans, and remained in Washington DC for one six-year term, from 1972 to 1978 "I came along at a time when there was a demand to give men greater visibility and opportunity," Burke is quoted as saying in Columbia Book of Quotations "In white society they were saying, ''Women can''t do it'' In black society, they were saying, ''Women do too much'' It''s a diabolical situation" While in Congress, Burke also became the first member of Congress to give birth while in office.

Autumn, her daughter with husband William A Burke, a Los Angeles businessman, was born in 1973 She also has a stepdaughter, Christine Burke Burke left the nation''s capitol in 1978 to become the first African-American member of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors After just one year, however, she was not re-elected to her position, which was the first failure in what had been for Burke an unblemished political career For more than a decade, her position in American politics had risen steadily She also lost a bid for the California Attorney General''s office, which was another setback Burke may have failed to win an elected office in 1980, but she was no less a champion for various issues in Los Angeles She was effective as chair of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) board of directors and a member of the Alameda Corridor Transportation Authority She also is a member of the L.

A Coliseum Commission, the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO), and is a fellow of the National Academy of Public Administration She was chair of the LA Federal Reserve Bank, and was vice chair of the 1984 US Olympics Organizing Committee She has sat on boards of numerous organizations and corporations, including Nestle Burke regained a seat on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors in 1992, and has remained on the board since She was chair of the board in 1993-94, 1997-98, and 2003-04.

She has worked ardently on the behalf of children, especially those in foster homes, and public transportation issues Burke ran unopposed for the supervisor''s seat in 2000, and so used her campaign funds to establish the Second District Education and Policy Foundation The group provided $180,000 in scholarships to students in Los Angeles'' Second District by 2003 .



 
Supervisor Yvonne Burke (Ret.)
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