Lois McClellan grew up in the segregated South in a family of domestic workers and laborers during the Great Depression. She became the first in her family to go beyond eighth grade and went on to work as a food service worker, childcare provider and trainer and college counselor. While her husband paid a poll tax for the opportunity to vote at age 22, Lois did not vote until well into her 30s, after the Voting Rights Act of 1965 passed.
Last month, at the age of 90, Lois had the opportunity to cast a vote for her daughter to become the first Black woman elected to Congress in Virginia history. And I was proud to stand with my mother as she cast her ballot for me.
My family’s story reflects the lived experiences of so many Black families across the South, persevering through difficult times and discrimination and working to bend the arc of the moral universe towards justice.
I am honored to stand on the shoulders of the women and men who have fought for equality as I move forward as the Democratic nominee for the 4th District of Virginia.
In 1890 – over 100 years after Virginia achieved statehood – John Mercer Langston became the first Black member of Congress from Virginia, representing the 4th District. It would take another 102 years for Virginia to elect its next Black member of Congress, Rep. Bobby Scott, and its first Congresswoman, Rep. Leslie Byrne.
Throughout Virginia’s over 400-year history, there still remains an unshattered glass ceiling — we have never elected a Black woman to Congress. If I win my special election on February 21, we will shatter that glass ceiling together.
My campaign is about bringing more perspectives to the table and continuing Rep. Donald McEachin’s legacy of making sure government works for all Virginians. That’s what I’ve done for the past 17 years in the state legislature, and it’s what I’ll do if given the opportunity to serve Virginians in Congress.
My family’s experience – and my experience as a Black woman – have helped shape the policy achievements that I’ve delivered in Virginia, and they will shape my agenda as a member of Congress. As the daughter and granddaughter of domestic workers, I led the passage of the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights in Virginia. I will work to advance similar federal legislation originally championed by then-Senator Kamala Harris. As the first pregnant member of the Virginia House of Delegates, I passed the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, and I will work in Congress to build on the recently passed federal law and to reduce Black maternal mortality. And, as the daughter of parents who faced discriminatory obstacles to voting, I passed the Voting Rights Act of Virginia and will work to do the same in Congress.
This election isn’t just about my lived experiences, it’s about elevating the experiences of so many whose voices have not been heard in our government. As a member of the Virginia General Assembly, I was able to share the stories of women who faced pregnancy complications to help defeat Republican attempts to restrict abortion rights. At a time when abortion rights are under attack, we must lift up these personal stories as we fight to pass a federal law codifying Roe v. Wade.
In the state legislature, I was able to stand up for communities disproportionately impacted by pollution and climate change to pass the Virginia Clean Economy Act that moved our Commonwealth towards a 100% clean electricity standard. In Congress, I will continue Rep. McEachin’s leadership on climate action and environmental justice.
We are slowly making progress towards having a Congress that looks more like America. This year, 149 women — the most ever — were elected to Congress. Women of color also increased representation in the U.S. House of Representatives, with a record 27 Black women who took office this month.
But despite the significant strides we’ve made in representation, women make up just one quarter of Congress. It’s time for us to continue to break that glass ceiling and to ensure that our government truly represents every Virginian and every American.
My mother’s experience in her 90 years shows how much progress we are capable of. But progress is not guaranteed. We have to fight for it, and that’s exactly what I’ll do in Congress.