Over the course of American history, a black woman has never served as governor of a state. There have been nearly 9,000 opportunities for a black woman to have been the governor of a state in a year — 232 in Delaware, 60 in Hawaii, etc. — but of those, all but 331 have gone to white men. About 200 have gone to white women and 121 have gone to nonwhite men. For only 15 of those opportunities — both for stretches within the past decade — have states been led by nonwhite women. Those are New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez (R) and former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley (R).

Neither of them is black.


Although it may look as though a large number of women and nonwhite people have served as governor recently, that may be deceptive. Since 1998, there have been 1,050 opportunities for someone to serve as governor of a state for a year. More than 850 of those opportunities — 81.1 percent — have gone to white men.

Georgia and Mississippi are the only two states in the Deep South never to have had a woman or a nonwhite person as governor. (In this article, “nonwhite” refers to governors who are black, Hispanic or members of other ethnic minority groups.) Seventeen states have never had a woman or a nonwhite person as governor. Only one state has had a nonwhite person or a woman as governor for the majority of its existence: Hawaii.


On Tuesday night, Georgia took a big step toward reversing that trend. Stacey Abrams easily defeated her opponent in the Democratic primary for governor in that state, moving on to face the winner of a runoff election on the Republican side. Georgia backed Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election and hasn’t had a Democratic governor in 15 years, but it’s also a red state that has been trending more blue in recent elections relative to the country as a whole.


Because it’s not clear whom Abrams will face in November, it’s also hard to predict how likely she is to become the state’s first female governor and first nonwhite governor, as well as the first black woman ever to lead a state. By winning her primary, though, that’s now at least a possibility.

In 2019, there will have been 9,015 opportunities for a governor to lead a state during a year. If Abrams wins, only 9,014 of those opportunities would have gone to someone who wasn’t a black woman.