Friday, October 5, 2012

Yvonne Burke

Born this day in 1932: Yvonne (Watson) Braithwaite Burke (b. 1932), U.S. Representative (D-California) 1973–1979, trailblazer and champion of minorities, women, and the poor.

Yyvonne Watson was among the first African American women admitted to the University of Southern California School of Law. She passed the California bar in 1956. Unable to find a law firm willing to hire an African American woman, she went into private practice.  In 1966, she became the first African American woman elected to the California State Assembly.
In 1972 Burke sought federal office, winning a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. When the Trans-Alaska Pipeline project got underway in the early 1970s, Burke passed an amendment requiring affirmative action in the awarding of construction contracts. She pushed for similar requirements in other federally funded projects as well. Today, affirmative action is required of all federal contractors and subcontractors, a provision now known as the Burke Amendment. 
Burke supported most feminist causes, including the economic plight of displaced homemakers. In 1978 she sponsored legislation to provide services and job training to newly widowed and divorced women and other women re-entering the workforce after a long absence. As a working woman herself, Burke caused a stir when she became the first member of Congress to give birth while in office.
Burke served three terms in office, then decided to return to California. She ran, unsuccessfully, for state attorney general. Between 1979 and 2008 she served for 16 years on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, including serving as its first woman chair and first minority chair. She also resumed her private practice.
Currently Burke sits on the board of the Office of Congressional Ethics as well as on the California Transportation Commission. President Obama nominated her to serve on the Amtrak board of directors in early 2012.

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