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Burke, Yvonne Braithwaite (1932- )

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Born Perle Yvonne Watson on October 5, 1932 in Los Angeles, California, Yvonne Burke became the first black woman elected to the California legislature (1966), the first black woman elected to Congress from California (1972), and the first black woman to serve as Chair of the Los Angeles County Supervisors (1993).

Educated in Los Angeles public schools, Burke received her B.A. degree from the University of California, Los Angeles in 1953. Three years later, Burke received a J.D. from the University of Southern California School of Law.  Soon afterwards she entered private practice.

Before her election to the state Assembly in 1966, Burke was a hearing officer for the Los Angeles Police Commission and Deputy Corporation Commissioner for the City of Los Angeles.  She served as an attorney for the McCone Commission which investigated the Watts Riots.   

In 1972, California Assemblywoman and Congressional Candidate Yvonne Burke was selected to address the Democratic National Convention meeting in Miami Beach, Florida in 1972.  With such prominent national exposure she easily won her Congressional Seat for California’s 28th District.  Burke served in Congress until 1979. In 1978 she ran for California Attorney General, losing to Republican George Deukmejian in the first political defeat of her career.  Following the defeat, Burke was appointed to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors in 1979, a post she held until 1980.

Burke left politics for twelve years and reemerged in 1992 when she was elected for the first time to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors representing the Second District.  She served as Chair of the Board in 1993-94, 1997-98, and 2003-04.  Because she ran unopposed for reelection in 2000, Burke donated her campaign funds to establish the Second District Education and Policy Foundation which awarded $240,000 in scholarships to students in her district.

Burke also served as Chair of the Los Angeles Federal Reserve Bank, Vice Chairman of the Olympics Organizing Committee in 1984, and was a member of the Board of Directors of the Nestle Tollhouse Company.  Currently, Yvonne Burke, who is married to William A. Burke, a Los Angeles businessman, resides in Los Angeles, California and still sits as a Supervisor for the Second District of Los Angeles County. 

Yvonne Bynol, Stand and Deliver: Political Activism, Leadership and Hip Hop Culture (Soft Skull Press, 2004); Pamela Lee Gray, “Yvonne Braithwaite Burke: The Congressional Career of California’s First Black Congresswoman, 1972-1978” (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Southern California, 1987).


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