Virginia state Sen. Jennifer McClellan made history by becoming the first Black woman to be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from the commonwealth. Virginians chose the veteran legislator to fill the seat left open after Rep. Donald McEachin, who had just been elected to a fourth term, died in November of colorectal cancer. Her opponent in the race, Republican Leon Benjamin, ran for the seat twice before. Both times, the Navy veteran lost to McEachin. McClellan won with more than 74 percent of the vote, according to state election commissions figures.
CBS News reported that a recent analysis of historical records by the Pew Research Center found that prior to Tuesday, only 22 states had ever elected a Black woman to Congress. McClellan pointed out that for her, the significance of breaking this barrier in Virginia is amplified by the fact that her family lived through segregation in the Jim Crow South.
McClellan, a native of central Virginia, said that her paternal grandfather had to take a literacy test and find three white people to vouch for him in order to register to vote. Her family paid poll taxes, and her mother, who is now 90 years old, didn't gain the right to vote until after the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed.
McClellan is widely recognized as a legislator who is particularly skilled as a consensus builder. She has widely been praised for her ability in debate with a refined, reserved style. She has sponsored many of the Democrats' top legislative priorities in recent years, such as bills that expanded voting access and abortion rights and legislation that set ambitious clean energy mandates.