Yvonne Brathwaite Burke

Yvonne Pearl Burke (née Watson, later Brathwaite; born October 5, 1932) is an American politician and lawyer from California.[1][2] She was the first African-American woman to represent the West Coast in Congress. She served in the U.S. Congress from 1973-1979. She represented the 2nd District on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors from 1992–2008.[3] She served as Chair of Los Angeles County four times (1993–94, 1997–98, 2002–03, 2007-08) and served as chair pro tem three times (1996–97, 2001–02, 2006–07). Her husband is William Burke, a prominent philanthropist and creator of the Los Angeles Marathon.[4]

Yvonne Burke
Yvonne burke.jpg
Member of the Amtrak Board of Directors
Assumed office
January 1, 2013
PresidentBarack Obama
Donald Trump
Joe Biden
Member of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors
In office
December 8, 1992 – December 1, 2008
Preceded byKenneth Hahn
Succeeded byMark Ridley-Thomas
Constituency2nd district
In office
January 3, 1979 – December 2, 1980
Preceded byJames A. Hayes
Succeeded byDeane Dana
Constituency4th district
Member of the
U.S. House of Representatives
from California
In office
January 3, 1973 – January 3, 1979
Preceded byNew constituency (Redistricting)
Succeeded byJulian Dixon
Constituency37th district (1973–1975)
28th district (1975–1979)
Member of the California State Assembly
from the 63rd district
In office
January 2, 1967 – January 3, 1973
Preceded byDon Allen
Succeeded byJulian Dixon
Personal details
Perle Yvonne Watson

(1932-10-05) October 5, 1932 (age 90)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
Louis Brathwaite
(m. 1957; div. 1964)

William Burke
(m. 1972)
ChildrenAutumn, and one step daughter
EducationUniversity of California, Berkeley
University of California, Los Angeles (BA)
University of Southern California (JD)

In 1973, she became the first member of the U.S. Congress to give birth while in office, and she was the first person to be granted maternity leave by the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.

She serves on the Board of Directors of Amtrak, having been appointed to the position by President Barack Obama in 2012.

Early life and careerEdit

Yvonne Brathwaite Burke in 1950

Perle Yvonne Watson was born on October 5, 1932, in Los Angeles as the only child of James A. Watson and the former Lola Moore.[5][6]

After first attending a public school, she was sent to a model school for exceptional children.[1] At Manual Arts High School she was a member of the debate team and served as vice president of the Latin Club her junior year and girls' vice president in her senior year.[7]

Burke attended the University of California, Berkeley from c. 1949 to 1951 before receiving a bachelor's degree in political science from the University of California, Los Angeles in 1953.[8] She subsequently earned a J.D. degree from the University of Southern California Law School in 1956.[9] Burke is one of the first black women to be admitted to the University of Southern California Law School.[1]

Her first entry into the world of politics was when she worked as a volunteer for the reelection of President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964.[10] She was elected to the California State Assembly in 1966, representing Los Angeles' 63rd District (1966–1972).[11] Many of her early legislative efforts centered around juvenile issues and limiting garnishment of wages.

She served as vice-chairperson of the 1972 Democratic National Convention.[12] She was the first African American and the first woman of color to hold that position, and presided for about fourteen hours when the chair left the convention on its last day.[13][14]

That same year, she was elected to the first of three terms in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Tenure in U.S. CongressEdit

Yvonne Brathwaite Burke, c. 1975

During her tenure in Congress, she served on the House Select Committee on Assassinations, House Beauty Shop Committee, and the House Committee on Appropriations; during her tenure on the Appropriations Committee, she fought for increased funding to aid local jurisdictions to comply with desegregation mandates [12]

In 1973, with the birth of her daughter Autumn, Burke became the first member of Congress to give birth while in office and the first to be granted maternity leave by the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives.[1][12]

She did not seek re-election to Congress in 1978, but instead ran for Attorney General of California. She lost to Republican George Deukmejian.[15]

Later political careerEdit

In 1979, shortly after leaving Congress, Governor Jerry Brown appointed Burke to the Board of Regents of the University of California; but she resigned later that year when Governor Brown appointed her to fill a vacancy in the District 4 seat on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. Burke was the first female and first African-American supervisor. Her district, however, was largely made up of affluent, conservative white areas on the coast. In 1980, Burke was defeated in her bid for a full term in the seat by Republican Deane Dana. In 1982, Brown again appointed her to the Regents.

In 1992, Burke ran for the District 2 seat on the L.A. County Board of Supervisors. The primary election was held in June, 1992, just weeks after the 1992 Los Angeles Riots.[16] After a hard-fought campaign that often turned negative, Burke narrowly defeated State Senator Diane Watson.

In 2007, Burke announced that she would retire when her term expired in 2008. On July 27, 2007, the Los Angeles Times published a front-page story revealing that she was not living in the mostly low-income district she represented, but rather in the wealthy Brentwood neighborhood, an apparent violation of state law.[17] Burke responded that she was living at her Brentwood mansion because the townhouse she listed in official political filings was being remodeled.[18]

On March 29, 2012, she was nominated by President Barack Obama to serve on the Amtrak Board of Directors. Confirmed by the U.S. Senate, she has held a seat on that board ever since.[19][20]

Personal lifeEdit

In 1957 she married Louis Brathwaite, divorcing in 1964.[1] She married William A. Burke in Los Angeles on June 14, 1972, just days after she won a Congressional primary against Billy Mills, a Los Angeles City Council member for whom William Burke had worked. Their daughter Autumn Burke was born on November 23, 1973.[5][6][21] Yvonne and Autumn are the first mother-and-daughter to both serve in the California Assembly.[22]


Burke is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority.[15]

Burke is a Fellow of the National Academy of Public Administration.[23]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d e "BURKE, Yvonne Brathwaite | US House of Representatives: History, Art & Archives". history.house.gov. Retrieved May 4, 2016.
  2. ^ "New Arenas of Black Influence: Yvonne Brathwaite Burke". Calisphere. 1982. Retrieved October 28, 2020.
  3. ^ "Yvonne Brathwaite Burke | Bedrosian Center | USC". bedrosian.usc.edu. Retrieved May 4, 2016.
  4. ^ "Dr. William A. Burke". www.aqmd.gov. Retrieved May 4, 2016.
  5. ^ a b Phelps, Shirelle, ed. (1998). Who's Who Among African Americans (11th ed.). Detroit, Michigan, London: Gale Research. p. 178. ISBN 0-7876-2469-1.
  6. ^ a b "California Birth Index 1905-1995 [database on-line]". United States: The Generations Network. 2005. Retrieved August 4, 2009.
  7. ^ "W '50 Artisan "Yvonne Watson" (Manual Arts High School, Los Angeles)". Ancestry.com. Generations Network. 1950. p. 21. Retrieved May 17, 2020.
  8. ^ "Yvonne Brathwaite Burke '53". UCLA Alumni. May 28, 2015.
  9. ^ "BURKE, Yvonne Brathwaite - Biographical Information". bioguide.congress.gov. Retrieved May 4, 2016.
  10. ^ "Burke, Yvonne Brathwaite." Current Biography 1975. The H.W. Wilson Company. 1975.p.61
  11. ^ Beverly Hills Television (November 14, 2014). "Beverly Hills View - Yvonne Burke". Vimeo. Retrieved September 3, 2021.
  12. ^ a b c "Women in Government: A Slim Past, But a Strong Future". Ebony: 89–92, 96–98. August 1977.
  13. ^ "Yvonne Burke - National Visionary". NVLP: African American History. Archived from the original on January 21, 2021. Retrieved September 3, 2021.
  14. ^ Terkel, Amanda (August 14, 2017). "The Long, Hard Fight To Finally Get A Woman At The Top Of The Ticket | HuffPost". Huffingtonpost.com. Retrieved August 29, 2018.
  15. ^ a b "Yvonne Braithwaite Burke (1932– )". BlackPast. April 8, 2007. Retrieved July 1, 2019.
  16. ^ Beverly Hills Television (April 28, 2017). "Beverly Hills View - Yvonne Burke & Zev Yaroslavsky". Vimeo. Retrieved September 3, 2021.
  17. ^ Leonard, Jack, and Lait, Matt. "Burke has residence far removed from her constituency"[dead link]. Los Angeles Times, July 27, 2007.
  18. ^ Prince, Richard. L.A. Times Stakes Out Politician's Digs. Richard Prince's Journal-isms, July 27, 2007.
  19. ^ "President Obama Announces More Key Administration Posts". whitehouse.gov. March 29, 2012 – via National Archives.
  20. ^ Merl, Jean (March 29, 2012). "Obama Nominates Yvonne Burke to Amtrak Post". Los Angeles Times.
  21. ^ "California Marriage Index 1960-1985 [database on-line]". United States: The Generations Network. 2005. Retrieved August 4, 2009.
  22. ^ "Yvonne Brathwaite Burke". JoinCalifornia. Retrieved September 3, 2021.
  23. ^ Incorporated, Prime. "National Academy of Public Administration". National Academy of Public Administration. Retrieved February 7, 2023.

Further readingEdit

  • "Yvonne Brathwaite Burke", Africana: The Encyclopedia.
  • Ebony (September 1967). "Women Who Make State Laws": pp. 27–34.
  • Gray, Pamela Lee. "Yvonne Brathwaite Burke: The Congressional Career of California's First Black Congresswoman, 1972–1978." Ph.D. diss., University of Southern California, 1987.

External linksEdit

California Assembly
Preceded by Member of the California Assembly
from 63rd District

Succeeded by
U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from California's 37th congressional district

Succeeded by
Preceded by Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from California's 28th congressional district

Succeeded by
Preceded by Chair of the House Beauty Shop Committee
Position abolished
Preceded by Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus
Succeeded by
Political offices
Preceded by Member of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors
from the 4th district

Succeeded by
Preceded by Member of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors
from the 2nd district

Succeeded by
Preceded by Los Angeles County Board Chair
Succeeded by
Preceded by Succeeded by
Preceded by Los Angeles County Board Chair Pro Tem
Succeeded by
Preceded by Succeeded by
U.S. order of precedence (ceremonial)
Preceded byas Former US Representative Order of precedence of the United States
as Former US Representative
Succeeded byas Former US Representative