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Virginians elect Jennifer McClellan, Virginia's first Black congresswoman

Jennifer McClellan, Virginia's newest Congresswoman, hugs her daughter during an election night party.
Mallory Noe-Payne
Jennifer McClellan, Virginia's newest Congresswoman, hugs her daughter during an election night party.

For the first time ever, Virginians elected a Black woman to represent the state in Congress.

Jennifer McClellan will be Virginia’s newest congressional representative, winning Virginia’s 4th Congressional District in central Virginia during a special election Tuesday.

In 1901 Jennifer McClellan’sgreat-grandfather was forced to take a literacy test before he could register to vote in Alabama. In 1947 her father had to pay a poll tax in Tennessee. Now she will represent Virginia in Congress.

“And there are moments I realize that I’m fighting the same fights as my parents, my grandparents, and my great grandparents,” said McClellan Tuesday night. “But you know what keeps me going? I fight those fights… so that my children and your children don’t have to.”

Enthusiastic Democrats turned out by the tens of thousands for the special election. The central Virginia district had been represented by Donald McEachin, who died from cancer late last year. McClellan won easily over Republican Leon Benjamin.

“This district over a hundred years ago sent John Mercer Langston to Congress as the first African-American Virginian,” said McClellan. “This city helped send the second, Bobby Scott. Then we sent Donald McEachin. That is quite a legacy. And I look forward to building on that legacy.”

McClellan has served in the statehouse for more than 15 years. During her tenure she’s helped shepherd a long list of progressive bills successfully through the hazardous maze of becoming laws – including the Virginia Voting Rights Act, the Reproductive Health Act, the Virginia Clean Economy Act, and the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights.

She’s known among her colleagues in the statehouse as an effective lawmaker and bipartisan dealmaker, a toolset she’ll have to call on to get anything done in the current D.C. climate.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Mallory Noe-Payne is a Radio IQ reporter based in Richmond.