With William ‘Mo’ Cowan’s Appointment, Number of Black Senators Doubles to Two
The number of black senators just doubled, if only temporarily. Even after the historic election of the country’s first black president, two black senators have never served at the same time. That is, until now.
This week, Gov. Deval Patrick (D-Mass.) announced that William “Mo” Cowan will fill Sen. John Kerry’s empty seat. Kerry was recently confirmed as Secretary of State. In picking Cowan, Patrick overlooked Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), who also campaigned for Kerry’s open seat.
Daniella Gibbs Léger, the vice president for American Values and New Communities at the Center American Progress, said she sees Cowan's appointment as a good thing, but suggested that both parties should be doing more to increase diversity in leadership positions. "While it is just temporary, any time that you can add diverse voices to the Senate, it is a good thing. That said, both parties need to do a better job of cultivating people of color to be leaders. The fact that there are only two black Senators, and that they both came via appointments, is not something to be super excited about," she told Campus Progress.
Cowan joined Rep. Tim Scott (R-S.C), who was picked by South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R-S.C.) to replace Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.). Together, Cowan and Scott bring the number of black senators to a historic two. Once Cowan is sworn in, he will become the eighth black member of the U.S. Senate.
Raised in deeply segregated Yadkinville, North Carolina, Cowan earned his undergraduate degree from Duke University and law degree from Northeastern University. According to the Boston Globe, Cowan “watched the Ku Klux Klan burn a cross in town, march on his high school, and hand out literature on Main Street.” After meeting Patrick in the 90s, Cowan became his chief counsel and later his chief of staff. A longtime mentor of black professionals, Cowan helped Mitt Romney identify lawyers of color who would make good judges after the Governor faced criticism for the lack of diversity in his judicial picks.
Cowan’s appointment marked the third African American who has been appointed by a governor to fill an open Senate seat since Obama’s election in 2008. This includes Roland W. Burris, who was tapped by then Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich (D-Ill) to fill Obama’s seat in 2008.
While historic, Cowan’s appointment is only temporary; a special election to fill the seat will be held this summer.
Bridget Todd is a reporter for Campus Progress. Follow her on Twitter @BridgetMarie.