Tuesday, June 2, 2009

American Political Barrier Breakers

Last year Barack Obama became the first African-American to reach the presidency, and now it is quite likely that this year, Sonia Sotomayor will become the first Latina (or Latino) to be appointed to the Supreme Court. In light of these historic developments, I think a brief overview of individuals who have broken racial, religious, and sexual barriers is in order.

Supreme Court Barrier Breakers
First Catholic - Roger B. Taney (Appointed by President Andrew Jackson, 1836)
First Quaker - Noah H. Swayne (Appointed by President Abraham Lincoln, 1862)
First Jew - Louis Brandeis (Appointed by President Woodrow Wilson, 1916)
First African-American - Thurgood Marshall (Appointed by President Lyndon Johnson, 1967)
First Woman - Sandra Day O'Connor (Appointed by President Ronald Reagan, 1981)
First Latino/a - Sonia Sotomayor (Appointed by President Barack Obama, 2009)

Congressional Barrier Breakers:
First Jew in the House of Representatives - Lewis C. Levin (Know-Nothing from Pennsylvania, 1844)
First Jew in the Senate - Judah Benjamin (Whig from Louisiana, 1852)
First African-American in the House of Representatives - Joseph Rainey (Republican from South Carolina, 1870)
First African-American in the Senate - Hiram R. Revels (Republican from Mississippi, 1870)
First Latino/a in the House of Representatives - Romualdo Pacheco (Republican from California, 1876)
First Woman in the House of Representatives - Jeannette Rankin (Republican from Montana, 1916)
First Latino/a in the Senate - Octaviano A. Larrazolo (Republican from New Mexico, 1928)
First Woman in the Senate - Hattie Caraway (Democrat from Arkansas, 1931)

Gubernatorial (Governor) Barrier Breakers (Only Elected):
First Jewish Governor - Moses Alexander (Democrat from Idaho, 1914)
First Latino/a Governor - Ezequiel Cabeza de Baca (Democrat from New Mexico, 1916)
First Female Governor - Nellie T. Ross (Democrat from Wyoming, 1924)
First Black Governor - Douglas Wilder (Democrat from Virginia, 1989)

Presidential & Vice Presidential Barrier Breakers
First Quaker (P-Elected) - Herbert Hoover (Republican Party, 1928)
First Catholic (P-Nominated) - Alfred Smith (Democratic Party, 1928)
First Native American (VP-Elected) - Charles Curtis (selected by Herbert Hoover, Republican Party, 1928)
First Catholic (P-Elected) - John Kennedy (Democratic Party, 1960)
First Greek-American (VP-Elected) - Spiro Agnew (selected by Richard Nixon, Republican Party, 1968)
First Polish-American (VP-Nominated) - Edmund Muskie (selected by Hubert Humphrey, Democratic Party, 1968)
First Woman (VP-Nominated) - Geraldine Ferraro (selected by Walter Mondale, Democratic Party, 1984)
First Italian-American (VP-Nominated) - Geraldine Ferraro (selected by Walter Mondale, Democratic Party, 1984)
First Greek-American (P-Nominated) - Michael Dukakis (Democratic Party, 1988)
First Jew (VP-Nominated) - Joseph Lieberman (selected by Albert Gore, Democratic Party, 2000)
First African-American (P-Elected) - Barack Obama (Democratic Party, 2008)

* - I have not included politicians whose tenures were so short that their appointments were clearly symbolic and without real significance. In addition, I have not included Jews who were of partial or entire Jewish descent but did not associate with the Jewish people (such as David Yulee Levy and Barry Goldwater).

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