For Black Politicians, A Rocky Road But a Steady Climb

It is fitting that Illinois has produced the country's first black presidential nominee. The history of African American participation in U.S. politics is closely tied to the state: fellow Illinoisan Abraham Lincoln led the Union to victory in the Civil War and abolished slavery, paving the way for African Americans to vote. Illinois voters have sent more black politicians to Congress than any other state. African Americans elected to legislative offices have helped weave the fabric of American history for some time. Gains made after the Civil War slipped away Reconstruction, only to return in the middle of the Twentieth century. Should Barack Obama win in November, his presidency would write this history into the most powerful office in the land.

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Out of Proportion

Although the numbers of African Americans in Congress have grown, the totals fall short of reflecting the black population of the country.

Percentage of Americans who are black: 13%

Out of Proportion: Map

An Uncertain Outcome

Despite the gains made by blacks in public office, it remains to be seen whether Americans are ready for a black president. Exit polls from the Democratic primaries indicate that Obama's support is strongest among blacks and younger whites.

Democratic Primary Results

PHOTO CREDITS: Courtsey of the Library of Congress
GRAPHIC: Reporting by Karen Yourish; Graphic by Laura Stanton, The Washington Post - August 22, 2008

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