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As we wrap up this week of commemorating the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, it’s important to recognize the strides we’ve made in the areas of racial equality. But it’s also important to reflect on the areas that we still need to improve. One of them is in government representation.

Calling it a “glass ceiling,” MSNBC notes that while we’ve seen a number of African Americans rise to the House of Representatives, far fewer make it to the Senate. And, of course, to go from an Illinois state senator to a US Senator to President the way Barack Obama has is unheard of.

Among the facts the site notes:

  • In 1963, there were just five black members of Congress, according to the House historian. Currently there are 41 voting members in the House of Representatives.
  • Half of the states have never elected an African-American member of Congress. Only 25 have ever sent a black representative to the House.
  • Briefly this year, there were two sitting African-American senators for the first time in history, with Republican Tim Scott of South Carolina and Democrat Mo Cowan of Massachusetts. Scott was appointed to the Senate to fill the seat vacated by Jim DeMint’s resignation, and will run for — and is favored to win — a full term in 2014, which would make him the first African-American to popularly win a Senate seat in the South. Cowan temporarily filled John Kerry’s vacated seat before Democrat Ed Markey was elected in a June special election.

The site also takes into account the black politicians who were voted in. If Newark Mayor Cory Booker wins his bid for a Senate seat, he’ll only be the fourth black Senator to do so.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 is given a lot of credit for increasing black representation in government. But an obstacle is building a broad coalition, says Maryland Rep. Donna Edwards.

As African Americans continue to make strides in government — and in other areas of life — we are going to see those coalitions grow. President Obama was one of the few African Americans to be elected to the Senate and the first to be popularly elected by a cross-section of the US population for the White House, but he won’t be the last.

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