The first African-American woman to serve in a legislative body in the US

Posted by | January 10, 2017

On January 10, 1928 Minnie Buckingham Harper (R-McDowell) was appointed to succeed her late husband in the West Virginia House of Delegates, becoming the first African-American woman to serve in a legislative body in the United States. Harper was appointed by Governor Howard Gore to fill the vacancy caused by the death of her husband, E. Howard Harper.


Prior to her husband’s passing, Minnie Harper had been a housewife in Keystone. She did not run in the state legislative elections held later that year.

During the early part of the 20th century the southern half of the WV, and McDowell County in particular, attracted a relatively large number of African Americans from surrounding states who were looking for work in the coal mines.

Although the work was hazardous and hard, the pay was relatively good, especially given the limited career alternatives available to African-American men. By 1920, the state’s African-American population had increased to almost 86,000. McDowell County became known as a place where African-Americans could achieve considerable social mobility in an otherwise segregated society.

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