Monday - Friday, 7:00 a.m. - 7:00 p.m.
February 6 - February 28, 2023
Governor's Reception Room, 2nd Floor
New York State Capitol
This exhibit highlights the first Black officials elected in the New York State legislature. These individuals broke new ground of legislative representation for the State. Their accomplishments and the legislation they advocated for sheds light on issues important to Black New Yorkers and demonstrate the progress made in New York State.
Although great strides and progress have taken place, voter suppression and disenfranchisement remain contentious issues in the United States. New York State is committed to ensuring that all New Yorkers have equal and fair access to voting.
Shortly after Motley’s tenure as Senator, Black and Puerto Rican legislators worked together to form a caucus in order to increase representation in the State Legislature. Deemed “The 1966 Midnight Walk,” Black and Puerto Rican legislators gathered in the early hours of the morning at the Speaker of the Assembly’s office to negotiate for a more balanced division of power and leadership for legislators of color. Their efforts were successful and for the first time, Black and Puerto Rican legislators held positions of leadership, such as committee chair or majority whip, in the New York State Legislature. 1975 was a particular turning point for the caucus when they successfully held up the passage of the New York State Budget until it more accurately reflected the diverse needs of all New Yorkers. In 2005, the caucus changed their name to the New York State Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic & Asian Legislative Caucus.
“Walk together, talk together, love together, worship together, live together and we'll win tomorrow.”
Adam Clayton Powell Jr. was the first Black person to represent the state of New York in the United States Congress. During his first term, he introduced legislation to outlaw lynching and the poll tax, and to end discrimination in the armed forces, housing, employment, and transportation. He attached an anti–discrimination clause to so many pieces of legislation, the rider became known as “The Powell Amendment.”
In December 2018, Assemblywoman Crystal D. Peoples-Stokes was appointed Majority Leader of the New York State Assembly, becoming the first woman and first Black person to serve in the role. She is a fearless fighter for diversity in our state and has accomplished ending 90 years of prohibition by legalizing and decriminalizing cannabis; championed community schools and a nurse in every school; and constructed the only monument in the U.S. for African American Veterans honoring and recognizing their impact in all 12 major U.S. conflicts.
"If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.”
Shirley Chisholm was first elected in the New York State Assembly in 1964 and four years later, became the first Black Congresswoman, serving seven terms in the United States House of Representatives. Chisholm represented the 12th Congressional District of New York centered in Brooklyn from 1969 to 1983 championing causes such as civil rights, women’s rights, and economic equality. She was the first Black candidate to seek a major party nomination for President.
In 2012, Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins was the first woman to lead a legislative conference and is the first woman, and Black woman to lead a legislative body when she was elected Temporary President and Senate Majority Leader. She has been widely recognized as a trailblazer in local and state government and as a champion for progressive action.
Speaker Carl E. Heastie is the first Black man to serve as Speaker of the New York State Assembly. Since becoming Speaker, the Assembly has passed historic legislation on causes such as criminal justice, voting registration, and women’s reproductive health.
As states across the United States consider legislation that affects voting rights, under the leadership of Speaker Heastie and Senator Stewart-Cousins, the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act of New York was signed into law in 2022. The law expands access to voting by prohibiting voter dilution, suppression, intimidation, deception or obstruction and requires jurisdictions with a history of civil or voting rights violations to seek preclearance for changes to important election policies and practices.
Equal Justice…Under Law: An Autobiography. Constance Baker Motley. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1998. Loan courtesy of the New York State Library.
Myron D. Hartman, “Assemblywoman Bessie Allison Buchanan biography”, The New York Red Book 71st ed., Albany, NY: Williams Press, Inc., 1962-1963. Loan courtesy of The New York State Legislative Library.
Senator Julius A. Archibald Individual Record of Senate Bills, New York State Legislative Record and Index: Covering Bills introduced in the Senate and the Assembly, a history of action taken...
Poll Tax Payment Certificate from the State of Alabama. Image courtesy of the Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Gift from the Family of...
“Archibald in Senate.” New York Amsterdam News, November 8, 1952.
Edward A. Johnson, “A School History of the Negro Race in American from 1619 to 1890.” Chicago: W. B. Conkey Company, 1895.
Governor Kathy Hochul and Representative Hakeem S. Jeffries at Jeffries’ Community Inauguration, January 29, 2023.