At the time, the black political gains of the 1970s seemed nothing short of miraculous. African-Americans across the country celebrated in 1973 when Coleman Young won the mayor's office in Detroit, Maynard Jackson in Atlanta, and Tom Bradley in Los Angeles.
Those gains multiplied during the one-term presidency of Jimmy Carter, after he appointed blacks to key positions within his Cabinet. These appointments included: Andrew Young as United Nations ambassador; Patricia Roberts Harris as HUD secretary, and later as secretary of Health, Education and Welfare; and J. Bruce Llewellyn as head of the Overseas Private Investment Corp.
During the '80s, blacks became even more involved in the political mainstream. Jesse Jackson ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic presidential nomination in '84 and '88, but those runs helped Ronald H. Brown--who had served as Jackson's campaign manager--to be elected chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Rep. William H. Gray III (D-Pa.) became one of the most powerful members of Congress, serving as chairman of the House Budget Committee and later as House majority whip, before resigning to become president of the United Negro College Fund.
But even with the '70s and the '80s as a backdrop, no one could have expected the gains that occurred during the early years of the next decade. An African-American, L. Douglas Wilder, was elected governor of Virginia in 1990. Two years later, Carol Moseley Braun became the first black woman to serve...