10:37pm March 6, 2013

Bush, Clinton Still Lead President Obama in Black Cabinet Picks


fter a flurry of recent cabinet and “cabinet level” selections by President Obama and two more major picks to go, former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton continue to lead the nation’s first Black President in African American cabinet picks.  The current totals for cabinet selections for the last three Presidents are:

George W. Bush (8 years):  4 — Powell, Rice, Paige, Jackson
Bill Clinton (8 years): 7 — Espy, J. Brown, O’Leary, R. Brown, Herman, Slater, West
Barack Obama (4 years, 2 months): 1 — Holder

The President recently selected former Sen. Chuck Hagel to be Secretary of Defense, former Sen. John Kerry to be Secretary of State and John Brennan to be Director of the CIA. On Monday, President Obama announced he is selecting Gina McCarthy to be head of the EPA, Ernest Moniz to be head of the Department of Energy and Walmart Foundation head Sylvia Burwell to head the Office of Management and Budget.

Those who have been critical of President Obama on diversity regarding gender may have been quieted by the number of women who have been recently selected. With almost four years to go and five female picks so far, President Obama may end up with more women in his cabinet than any other President in history. By appointing six women over eight years, President George W. Bush has selected more women than any President in history.

But President Obama has selected only one African American to his cabinet so far, the lowest number of any President in 38 years.

Robert Weaver was selected as the first African-American to hold a Cabinet position after President Johnson appointed him to be Secretary of Housing and Urban Development in 1966.  The first African American to serve in a Republican cabinet was William Coleman, Jr. after President Gerald Ford picked him to serve as Transportation Secretary.  President Jimmy Carter selected the first African American female to serve in a cabinet with his selection of Patricia Harris to be Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.

Presidents John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon had no African Americans in their cabinet. Presidents George H.W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford appointed only one.  But President Obama’s two immediate predecessors, both of whom served two full terms — Clinton and Bush — appointed 12 African Americans in total to their cabinets.

President Clinton selected seven African Americans, the most of any president in history, to serve in his cabinet.  President Bush selected four over eight years.

President Bush appointed the first African American Secretary of State (Colin Powell) and the first African American Secretary of Education (Rod Paige). President Bush also appointed a second Black person to be Secretary of State (Condi Rice) in addition to selecting Alphonso Jackson to be Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.

President Clinton appointed the first African American Secretary of Agriculture (Mike Espy), the first African American Secretary of Commerce (Ron Brown), the first African American Secretary of Energy (Hazel O’Leary), and the first African American Secretary of Labor (Alexis Herman) in addition to appointing Togo West to Secretary of Veterans Affairs and Rodney Slater to be Secretary of Transportation.

President Obama has selected one African American cabinet official to date, a selection that is also a historic first, by picking Eric Holder to be the first African American Attorney General in history.  The selection of Holder has proven to be important as Holder has made voting rights and reforms on drug policy a priority.

President Obama has selected two African Americans to important “cabinet level” positions by choosing Lisa Jackson to head Environmental Protection Agency and Ron Kirk as U.S. Trade Representative.

Though he has not selected any African Americans for recent vacancies, with two cabinet vacancies to fill at Commerce and Transportation, President Obama may have many more selections to make with four years to go as commander-in-chief.

About the Author

Lauren Victoria Burke
Lauren Victoria Burke
Lauren Victoria Burke is an opinion journalist, comms expert and political analyst focused on justice reform policy. She created Crewof42.com, a blog that covers the work of Black members of Congress, in 2009. Ms. Burke was a staffer for the Senate Democratic Policy Committee and Director of Communications for Rep. Andre Carson (D-IN). She has had a very diverse career in politics and media and appears regularly on NewsOneNow with Roland Martin, Hardball and Up on MSNBC, WVON in Chicago, WURD in Philadelphia and WOL and WHUR in Washington, D.C. She is currently the Managing Editor of Politic365 and a contributing writer for TheRoot and NBC Black where she writes opinion and analysis. Additionally, Ms. Burke has been a contract photographer for Associated Press since 2004. She has authored three books of photography including two on President Obama's 2008 campaign for the presidency and one with Marvel Comics publisher Stan Lee. Ms. Burke was born in the Bronx, New York and grew up on Long Island. She holds a B.A. in History from The American University. Here e-mail is: LBurke007@gmail.com. Twitter: @LVBurke. Instagram: LVB325.



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  1. [...] With close to four years left, President Obama is currently behind Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush regarding the numbers of African Americans and Hispanic Americans in his cabinet. President Clinton selected six African Americans (the most in history) and two Hispanic Americans to top cabinet positions over eight years.  President Bush selected four African Americans and three Hispanic Americans over eight years. [...]

  2. But Clinton really screwed the pooch with his racist social policies, I am sorry to say. He laid the foundation for expanding the privatization of prisons, the 3 strike law and so much more that needs to be challenged now.

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