For Educators: Women of the Congressional Black Caucus



Using primary and secondary sources, students will learn about the role of women in the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC). African-American Congresswomen play a major role in a broad range of domestic and international issues and influence legislation on such issues as civil rights, education and healthcare. Students will learn about their work as members of the CBC; the challenges and successes they experience as members of Congress; and their passion to improve the lives of all Americans.

Grade Level: 6-12

Essential Question: What legislative contributions have African-American women made to Congress on domestic and international social and political issues?

Learning Objectives

Using documents, images, and articles from the Avoice Web site, students will:

The students will respond to questions that require them to carefully study primary and secondary sources to gain greater understanding about the impact of current and historical events.
The students will engage in research, writing, and debate to compare the relevance of past historical events to today’s political and social climate.
The students will increase their knowledge of and appreciation of the political and social work of African-American women in Congress.
National Learning Standards

National U.S. History Standards

Era 9: Postwar United States (1945 to early 1970s)

Standard 4: The struggle for racial and gender equality and the extension of civil liberties.

Era 10: Contemporary United States (1968 to the present)

Standard 1: Recent development in foreign policy and domestic politics.

Standard 2: Economic, social, and cultural development in contemporary United States.

National Standards for Civics and Government
Content Standards — Grades 6-12

1. What are civic life, politics, and government?
• What is civic life? What is politics? What is government? Why are government and politics necessary? What purpose should government serve?

3. How does the government established by the Constitution embody the purposes, values and principles of American democracy?
• How does the American political system provide for choice and opportunities for participation?

5. What are the roles of citizens in American democracy?
• How can citizens take part in civic life?

National Visual Arts Standards
Content Standards 5: Analyzing contemporary and historic meaning in specific art works through cultural aesthetic inquiry.

Content Standards 6: Making connections between visual arts and other disciplines.

National Standards for Language Arts
NL.Eng.K-12.1: Reading for Perspective
Students read a wide range of print and non-print texts to build understanding of texts, themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world and to acquire new information.


Select an activity below to view full activity guidelines:

Documents, Resources and Worksheets Used in the Women of the Congressional Black Caucus

Optional Warm-Up Activity: Vocabulary Building

Activity 1: Women of the Congressional Black Caucus: Past and Present

Fact Gathering Worksheet (pdf)



Activity 2: Healthcare: Advocacy of the Women of the Congressional Black Caucus

K-W-L Worksheet (pdf)

Activity 3: Checklist for Planning School-Wide Health Awareness Program in your school

African-American Women in Congress

Throughout American history African-American women have played a major role advocating for freedom and justice for forgotten or underserved Americans. There is not a moment in our country’s history that an African-American woman did not touch to inspire and create greatness for all its citizens. To advocate for a more democratic society for women, children, and other underserved minorities, African-American women understood that changes needed to happen at the top levels of our government – federal and state. Unfortunately, it would take 181 years after the ratification of our Constitution in 1787, before we had the first African-American woman elected to Congress.

The first woman to ever be elected to Congress was Jeannette Rankin of Montana in 1916. Rankin was elected four years prior to women in the United States gaining the right to vote in national elections. Some western states like Montana and Wyoming had already given women the right to vote in local and state elections. The 19th Amendment was passed in 1920 giving all women the right to vote in local, state, and national elections. White and African-American women worked hard advocating for the passing of this amendment. The amendment helped to open the door for women to participate more aggressively in pushing for legislative social and political changes in Congress. However, African American women continued to face obstacles despite this amendment and others in the past that addressed civil rights and justice. By the 1960s legislative action was still needed to remove obstacles and state and local government tactics that prevented women and minorities from voting or being elected to Congress. Since Rankin’s election, followed by rapid major social and political changes, especially in the 1950s and 1960s, a total of 276 women in the U.S. House of Representatives and in the U.S. Senate.

The first African-American woman to serve in Congress was Shirley Chisholm of New York, who was elected in 1968. Three more African American women soon joined her in 1972: Yvonne Burke of California, Cardiss Collins of Illinois, and Barbara Jordan of Texas. These women legislated during an era of upheaval in America. Overlapping social and political movements during this period—the civil rights movement, protest against American intervention in the Vietnam War, the women’s liberation movement, the Watergate Scandal and efforts to reform Congress—provided valuable political experience as civil rights advocates. Though each had her own style of advocacy and her own public persona, the thread of modern feminism—assertively pursuing their agendas—connected these women.

Realizing the strength of numbers to move legislature through Congress, Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm helped to form the Congressional Black Caucus for greater influence in Congress. The caucus quickly became a powerful platform for these women to advocate their causes.

Since 1969, thirty African-American Congresswomen have been elected to serve in Congress. Today African-American Congresswomen play a major role on a broad range of domestic and international issues including Civil Rights, Voting Rights, Education, Healthcare, Homeland Security and the current engagement in Iraq and Afghanistan. These women have made enormous contributions to the advancement of healthcare.

As a result of their hard work and dedication over the past four decades, some of these women have gained enough seniority to chair committees and subcommittees that allocate federal money, as well as serve among the Democratic Party and Congressional Black Caucus leadership.

Source: Avoice Online exhibit, Women of the Congressional Black Caucus and publication, Women in Congress by the U.S. House of Representatives Office of the Historian

Additional recommended readings for teachers and students:

Downing, David. Apartheid in South Africa (Witness to History). Heinemann: Chicago, 2004. (Non-Fiction)

Connolly, Sean. Apartheid in South Africa (Troubled World). Heinemann Library: Chicago, 2001. (Non-Fiction)

Activity 1A: Women of the Congressional Black Caucus: Past and Present

Activity 1B


For this activity the students will read and analyze documents and photographs about the work of African-American women in Congress and their advocacy for underserved Americans in the areas of economics, education, healthcare, and civil rights.

Class Time Needed: two or three class sessions for Activities 1 and 2. Activity 3 will need 2-4 weeks for implementation.


Optional Warm-up Activity: Vocabulary Building
To prepare students for the following learning activities, familiarize them with vocabulary words that they will encounter in the lesson unit. Allow them to use the Vocabulary Building worksheet to access their understanding of the meaning of key words.

Group Discussion:
To begin this activity:
• Ask the students if they can identify African-American women who have or are currently serving in Congress. List their responses on easel pad paper and display it on the wall for reference throughout the lesson.

• Ask the students if they can name the first African-American woman to be elected to Congress and some of her accomplishments. Add students’ responses to the displayed list.

Activity 1A — The First: Shirley Chisholm, Barbara Jordan, and Carol Moseley-Braun

Reading and Research

Distribute to each student three copies of the “Fact Gathering” worksheet.
Explain to the students that they will use the worksheets to record information they learn about Representatives Chisholm and Jordan, and Senator Moseley-Braun from the readings of short essays and viewing videos about them.
In addition to the worksheets, share a copy of the essays with each student.
Teacher Note: The essays and worksheets are available in PDF downloadable files.
Essay 1 – Shirley Chisholm: Fighter for Human Rights
Essay 2 – Barbara Jordan: Advocate of Justice for All
Essay 3 – Carol Moseley-Braun: Champion of Education

Allow the students 10-15 minutes to read the essays and record information on their worksheets by responding to the questions.

Following the reading of the essays, view the short videos about:
• Congresswoman Chisholm delivering her statement of Candidacy for the U.S. presidency.

• Congresswoman Jordan speaking before the Judiciary Committee

• “Running for the U.S. Senate” Carol Moseley-Braun’s interviewed with Julian Bond

Instructions: Click on the above link. Select the picture of Carol Moseley-Braun. Select the “Running for the U.S. Senate” link in the navigation panel on the left.

Analyzing Documents
Divide the class into six small groups of 4-5 students. Provide two groups with Chisholm documents, two groups with Jordan documents, and 2 groups with Moseley-Braun documents.

See list of documents below:

Shirley Chisolm

Barbara Jordan

Carol Moseley-Braun

Using their fact gathering worksheet, have the students carefully examine the documents and identify five major issues that were important to Congresswomen Chisholm and Jordan, and Senator Moseley-Braun. Then answer the following questions. Post the following questions on the board for each member of Congress.

Rep. Shirley Chisholm
• Why did Rep. Shirley Chisholm use the campaign slogan “Unbossed and Unbrought”?

• What were Rep. Chisholm’s concerns about education during her 1968 campaign for Congress that she continued to fight for throughout her political career and beyond?

• In her 1961 report to her constituents, what did Rep. Chisholm discuss about her testimony before the House Subcommittees on Postsecondary Education and Education and Labor?

Rep. Barbara Jordan
• In her speech, Rep. Barbara Jordan described the division of the legislative branches (House and Senate) roles in the impeachment process. What is the House assigned to do? What is the Senate assigned to do? Why did the writers of the Constitution specify the separation of these roles?

• What key points did Rep. Jordan outline as reasons for impeaching a president?

• Why do you think it was important for Rep. Jordan to explain the Article of Impeachment found in the Constitution?

Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun
• Senator Moseley-Braun was concerned about charitable health facilities and staff being hindered by potential lawsuits when providing volunteer care. What did she propose in her bill to protect health professionals? Why would this be important in an underserved community?

• Senator Moseley-Braun sponsored the bill titled Education Infrastructure Act of 1994 that became law allocating funds for repairing crumbling schools. What impact do you think a well maintained school building has on student moral and learning?

Allow the students 10-15 minutes to review and discuss the documents in their group. Have each group to share with the class the outcome of their discussions and what new information they may have learned about the members of Congress. Please note: If you do not have enough time during class for the students to complete their analysis of the documents, you may want to consider it as a homework assignment.

Have the students prepare a one-page speech with a slogan highlighting issues that would concern Reps. Chisholm and Jordan, and Moseley-Braun if they were running for the presidency or Congress today.

Extended Optional Activity

Online Research: Have the students visit Avoice: African Americans in Congress website to review Chisholm Timelime and the Jordan Timeline to learn more about their Congressional activities.

Art Activity: Have the students create a campaign poster to accompany their speech.

Activity 1B: Women of the Congressional Black Caucus: Past and Present

Activity 1A


For this activity the students will read and analyze documents and photographs about the work of African-American women in Congress and their advocacy for underserved Americans in the areas of economics, education, healthcare, and civil rights.

Class Time Needed: two or three class sessions for Activities 1 and 2. Activity 3 will need 2-4 weeks for implementation.


Optional Warm-up Activity: Vocabulary Building
To prepare students for the following learning activities, familiarize them with vocabulary words that they will encounter in the lesson unit. Allow them to use the Vocabulary Building worksheet to access their understanding of the meaning of key words.

Group Discussion:
To begin this activity:
• Ask the students if they can identify African-American women who have or are currently serving in Congress. List their responses on easel pad paper and display it on the wall for reference throughout the lesson.

• Ask the students if they can name the first African-American woman to be elected to Congress and some of her accomplishments. Add students’ responses to the displayed list.

Activity 1B — Who is serving today? Design a classroom display of today’s African American women in Congress.

Currently, 15 African-American women serve in Congress. This activity engages in online research to learn about the work of these women. Below are the names of the current members. Assign each student a member of Congress to research. Instruct students to explore two websites to find information about their assigned member.

• Avoice Exhibit: Women of the Congressional Black Caucus
Students will find general biographical descriptions.

• Each member has her own Congressional web site where students will find additional biographical information, legislative activities in Congress, and photographs.

African-American Women of the 112th Congress (2010-2012):
Eleanor Holmes Norton of the District of Columbia (1991-present)
Maxine Waters of California (1991-present)
Eddie Bernice Johnson of Texas (1993-present)
Corrine Brown of Florida (1993-present)
Sheila Jackson-Lee of Texas (1995-present)
Donna M. Christian-Christensen of the Virgin Islands (1997-present)
Barbara Lee of California (1998-present)
Gwen Moore of Wisconsin (2005-present)
Laura Richardson of California (2007-present)
Yvette D. Clarke of New York (2007-present)
Donna Edwards of Maryland (2008-present)
Marcia Fudge of Ohio (2008-present)
Karen Bass of California (2011-present)
Terri Sewell of Alabama (2011-present)
Frederica Wilson of Florida (2011-present)

After the students have gathered information about their assigned member, have them prepare a one-page label that identifies the Congresswoman and what she is currently advocating in Congress. This label will accompany her image for the classroom display (See label format to share with students).

Before putting the students work on display, allow them to present to the class who they researched and what they learned about this person’s work in Congress.

Optional Activity: Send a Greeting

Have the students correspond with their assigned member of the CBC (via email or send a letter) about their research project and what they have learned about her leadership and work in Congress. Members of Congress like to hear from their young constituents.

Activity 2: Healthcare: Advocacy of the Women of the Congressional Black Caucus


This activity engages student in analyzing legislative documents to learn what the current issues are in healthcare and what impact it has on minorities, especially children.

Below is an excerpt from the online exhibit that gives an overview of the concerns of the CBC women and what they hope to accomplish for the poor and underrepresented groups.

“One of the goals of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) has been to ensure that minority and other underrepresented groups have access to comprehensive healthcare and services. For this reason CBC members have placed healthcare among their top priorities. Throughout the history of the CBC, members have worked together and in conjunction with other groups in Congress to pass important healthcare legislation related to minorities, including the recent Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit and Discount Act and the Minority Health Bill. However, these pieces of legislation do not bear witness to the tireless efforts of the CBC or the work of African American congresswomen surrounding health issues.

The women of the CBC have worked to advance the quality of healthcare for poor and underrepresented groups. One of the ways they have pursued this goal is to enhance and amend existing healthcare legislation. During the 1970’s and 1980’s African American congresswomen proposed and cosponsored a number of bills to amend such legislation as the Social Security Act and the Public Health Service Act. They wanted to ensure that the medically underserved had access to basic health services. They introduced legislation that would enable medical institutions to better meet the needs of low-income clients. They, along with other members of the CBC, advocated for comprehensive healthcare coverage for all Americans.”

Read the excerpt to your students. Distribute the K-W-L worksheet to each student. Give them 10 minutes to respond.

Group Discussion

Lead the class in a discussion about what they know and understand about healthcare by asking them the following questions:

• What do you know and understand about current healthcare issues?
• Are you aware of any major healthcare issues in your community?
• How is your community affected by some of the healthcare issues that you are aware of?

Analyze Documents

Divide the students into five groups. Give each group a document to analyze (see below). Ask them to answer the following questions based on the information they gather from the documents.

The questions:
• What is the document?
• What healthcare issue is highlighted in the document?
• Who prepared it?
• Why was it important to present this concern before Congress?

Document Analysis
• H.R. 2743: Medically Underserved Access to Care Act 2001
• H.R. 3000: Establish a U.S. Health Service to provide high quality healthcare for all Americans
• H.R. 4630: To provide the health, education, and welfare of children under 6 years of age
• H.R. 2728: Good Health Protection Act of 2001
• H.R. 4792: New United States Global HIV Prevention Strategy to Address the Needs of Women and Girls Act of 2004

Group Discussion

Bring the class together and allow each group to present the following information:
• What is their document?
• Who created it and for what purpose?
• What health issues were highlighted in the document?

As the students give their presentations, list on the board the major healthcare issues they learned about.

Research and Presentation

Using the list generated by the class discussions, instruct the students to read their local newspapers and identify similar healthcare issues in their community. Ask them to bring in the article to share with their class and be prepared to discuss how they think it will impact their community.

Encourage students to explore their local or state Department of Health web site for additional information about what major health issues are concerning their public officials.

Conclude the activity with the students referring back to their K-W-L worksheet and reflecting on what they have learned and how healthcare affects them.

Activity 3: Advocacy/Action: What can you do to help?

Student Action/Leadership

Encourage students to raise awareness of their concerns about healthcare issues in their community or school by planning a school-wide “National Awareness Month” in their school. Students can use this event to engage their classmates in discussions, debates, volunteering for, and inviting community leaders to speak about community needs and actions for improving healthcare for all citizens. To organize their event, the students can use the program- planning checklist to plan and implement their health awareness month activities.

To begin, lead the students in a discussion to select a theme for their program: Nutrition and Diet, Fitness and Wellness, Mental Health, HIV/AIDS, Diabetes, Hypertension, and Cancer. The students may consider the following activities:

• Involve their classmates in a Poster Contest
• Sponsor a Spoken Word Contest about justice and equity
• Visit websites like Avoice or First Lady Obama’s “Let’s Move” Program to gather ideas for a National Awareness Program
• Produce a theatrical program about the importance of good health

Don’t forget to share with the women of the Congressional Black Caucus what you are doing to support their efforts to improve healthcare in your community.


Advocacy: The act or process of advocating or supporting a cause or proposal.

Civil Rights: The nonpolitical rights of a citizen; the rights of personal liberty guaranteed to United States citizens by the 13th and 14th amendments to the Constitution and by acts of Congress.

Congress: The legislative branch of the United States made up of the Senate and the House of Representatives.

Congressional Black Caucus: The caucus is an organization comprised of African-American members of the United States Congress. It was founded during the 92nd Congress (1971-1973). Shirley Chisholm was the only women among the founding members. The caucus advocates for the equity of people of African descent in domestic and international political, economic, and social policies, services, and programs.

Congressional District: A territorial division of a state from which a member of the United States House of Representatives is elected.

Constituent: A citizen within the district of an elected Congressional member.

Equal Rights Amendment: A 1972 proposed amendment to the United States Constitution calling for the end under law of denied or abridged equality of rights based on sex. If passed, this law would have given the federal government the power to enforce equal treatment (economic, political, and social) among men and women.

Feminism: The theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes.

Healthcare: The maintaining and restoration of health by the treatment and prevention of disease especially by trained and licensed professionals (as medicine, dentistry, clinical psychology, and public health).

Legislation: The action of making laws that are enforced by an official body like the United States Congress or a state or local government.

United States House of Representative: One of two bodies of the legislative branch in which a state’s population determines its number of representatives.

United States Senate: One of the two bodies of the legislative branch in which each state has two senators, ensuring equal representation among the states.

Women’s Rights: Freedoms and entitlements claimed for women and girls of all ages in many national and international societies. These rights vary from place to place and are subject to laws, behavior, or local custom that may deny these entitlements to females. Women’s Rights movements are continuous in all countries and societies to guard and fight for equal treatment of women and girls.

Unit Resources

Avoice Exhibit

Visit the Avoice exhibit about the Women of the Congressional Black Caucus


Women of the Congressional Black Caucus Timeline

Shirley Chisholm Timeline

Barbara C. Jordan Timeline


for Teachers
Black Americans in Congress 1870-2007. United States House of Representatives, Office of the Clerk, Office of History and Preservation, Washington, D.C., 2008

Women in Congress 1917-2006. United States House of Representatives, Committee on House Administration, Office of the Clerk, Washington, D.C., 2006

Please note: The above books can be obtained for free by ordering online at the Office of the House Historian web site.

for Students
Johnson, Linda. Barbara Jordan: Congresswoman (Library of Famous Women), Gale Cengage Learning, Inc., Farmingham, MI, 1994.

Pinkney, Andrea Davis. Let It Shine: Stories of Black Women Freedom Fighters. Harcourt Children’s Books Publisher, New York City, NY, 2000.

Raatma, Lucia. Shirley Chisholm (Leading Women Series), Benchmark Education Company, Pelham, NY, 2010.

Web Resources

African American Members of the United States Congress 1870-2011
Congressional Research Service Report for Congress, April 8, 2011

Avoice: African-American Voices in Congress

United States House of Representatives

United States Senate


Chisholm ’72: Unbrought and Unbossed (2004) 76 minutes.
A documentary on Brooklyn-based Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm’s 1972 presidential bid.
(Director: Shola Lynch)

Barbara Jordan: Keynote Speech at the 1976 Democratic National Convention (DNC)
(Note to educators: Share the first 3 minutes and 34 seconds of this video with students.)
Film footage of Representative Jordan’s keynote speech. She was the first African-American woman to speak at the conventions.
(Archival Source: The University of Texas at Austin)

Explorations in Black Leadership: Carol Moseley-Braun (2005) 60 minutes.
Julian Bond, professor of history at the University of Virginia, sits down with Carol Moseley Braun, former Illinois Senator and to date the only African-American woman elected to the Senate, in a conversation about race relations, her career and the role of everyday people in achieving a just society.
(Producer: Institute of Public History, University of Virginia)


The Women of the Congressional Black Caucus lesson unit was created through the combined efforts of:

Adrena Ifill, Project Director, Avoice, CBCF Virtual Library Project
Enchanta Jackson, Project Coordinator, Avoice, CBCF Virtual Library Project
R. Maria Marable-Bunch, Education Consultant

This project was made possible by the generous support of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, Dell Inc. and The University of Texas at Austin.

Thank you for visiting the Avoice online project. This website is being continuously updated with new exhibits, multimedia, and much more.