Louisiana's three largest cities have elected black women to be their mayors: Shreveport in 2014, Baton Rouge in 2016, and New Orleans just last month. But on the whole, that demographic remains underrepresented in politics and government, according to organizers of a prayer breakfast and awards ceremony held Saturday.
Of the roughly 41,000 elected officials in the United States, only 872 — about 2 percent — are black women, said Lue Russell, chairwoman of the Baton Rouge chapter of the National Congress of Black Women, which organized the event.
"We're 9 percent of the population," she said. "We're underrepresented for sure."
Saturday's event, held at Baton Rouge's Catholic Life Center, honored 18 black women who are mayors of Louisiana villages, towns and cities. Russell said 300 people registered to attend.
The National Congress of Black Women encourages black women to seek public office, helps people register to vote and supports candidates with get-out-the-vote drives. It was founded by Shirley Chisholm, who was the first black woman to be elected to Congress and to run for president.
Electing more black women matters for a variety of reasons, said E. Faye Williams, who has been president of the nonprofit organization since 2005. Not only do they help bring issues that affect women and minorities to the forefront of the political arena, she said, but they also set a positive example that can inspire people to vote or even run for office themselves.
"It's important for young black women and women of color to know that there's something they can do, that they can be mayors," Williams said. "Hopefully pretty soon, they can be president. We haven't seen that yet. It raises those glass ceilings and cracks them, breaks them loose."
Williams, who grew up in Alexandria and unsuccessfully ran for Louisiana's former 8th congressional district seat in 1986, said it's no small feat that the state now has 18 black female mayors. There will be 19 once LaToya Cantrell is sworn into office as mayor of New Orleans.
"When I ran, probably the highest elected office a black woman had was in the state legislature," Williams said. "Now we can see that they can actually run cities."
Another theme of Saturday's event was urging people to take part in elections and fight against voter apathy. Ernest Johnson, state NAACP president, said turnout among registered black voters in Louisiana is low, about 20 percent.
"Because politicians often disappoint black people, they don't see a reason ... to go back and vote again," Williams said. "But we're showing them now, that when we vote, and the more people we have out there who look like us or at least support our issues, the better chance we have of getting the resources our communities need."
Several speakers at the ceremony pointed to the pivotal role black women played in defeating Republican Roy Moore, whom several women have accused of sexual misconduct, in Alabama's recent Senate election.
"If you want to know what black women are capable of doing, call Doug Jones," said local attorney Joyce Plummer, adding that about 98 percent of black women voted for Jones, who is a Democrat.
Others talked about the symbolic importance of the gathering of mayors, who came from across the state. Michelle E. Vinson, a fifth-grade science and social studies teacher at Park Forest Elementary, brought 14 students to the event.
"I wanted my girls to see positive African-American women in leadership," she said, adding that it's important to counter the negative portrayals that abound on television and elsewhere.
"I wanted them to feel good about themselves," Vinson said. "Many of them want to be leaders."
The honorees recognized on Saturday are Lori Ann Bell, of Clinton; Marilyn Broadway, of Wilson; Sharon Weston Broome, of Baton Rouge; April Foulard, of Jeanerette; Irma Gordon, of Kentwood; Rose Humphrey, of Natchez; Shaterral Johnson, of Grand Coteau; Donna Lewis Lancelin, of Baldwin; Erana Mayes, of Melville; Wanda McCoy, of Roseland; Alma Moore, of Boyce; Trashica Keysha Robinson, of Tangipahoa; Dorothy Satcher, of Saline; Johnnie Taylor, of Powhatan; Ollie Tyler, of Shreveport; Jennifer Vidrine, of Ville Platte; Demi Vorise, of Maringouin; and Josephine Taylor-Washington, of Clayton.
Also recognized at Saturday's event was Cantrell, the mayor-elect of New Orleans, and the late Dessie Lee Patterson, who became Louisiana's first black female mayor when she took that office in South Mansfield in 1971.