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Finding Aid for the Yvonne Brathwaite Burke papers: California State Assembly, U.S. Congress, Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, and California Attorney General Campaign 0218.1
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Biographical note
  • Organization
  • Access
  • Related Materials
  • Conditions Governing Use
  • Preferred Citation
  • Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements
  • Scope and Contents
  • Acquisition

  • Title: Yvonne Brathwaite Burke papers: California State Assembly, U.S. Congress, Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, and California Attorney General campaign
    Collection number: 0218.1
    Contributing Institution: USC Libraries Special Collections
    Language of Material: English
    Physical Description: 417.0 linear ft. 417 boxes
    Date (bulk): Bulk, 1966-1980
    Date (inclusive): 1959-1980
    Abstract: The Yvonne Brathwaite Burke papers contain the records of the political activities of Yvonne Brathwaite Burke, University of Southern California Gould Law School alumna, state and federal legislator, and county official. Included are records from Burke's tenure in the California Assembly (1966-1972), U.S. Congress (1973-1978), and the Los Angeles Angeles County Board of Supervisor (1979-1980). Records also include her campaign for California State Attorney General (1978).
    Language of Materials: English
    creator: Burke, Yvonne Brathwaite

    Biographical note

    Yvonne Brathwaite Burke, named Perle Yvonne Watson by her parents James T. and Lola Moor Watson, was born on October 5, 1932 in Los Angeles, California. After graduating from Manual Arts High School in Los Angeles in 1947, she earned her BA in political science from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), and her JD from the University of Southern California (USC) School of Law in 1956. She was the first African American woman admitted to the USC Law School since 1927. Burke was admitted to the California bar in 1956 and began private practice in Los Angeles. During her legal career, she focused on real estate, civil, and probate law.
    Burke interspersed her private law practice with public service. First, in 1964, she was appointed by Gov. Edmund G. Brown, Sr., to a state-level position as a Corporation Commissioner, responsible for investigating and approving business licenses. The next year, in 1965, Gov. Brown selected her to the five-member McCone Commission which he established to investigate the causes of the 1965 Watts Riots in Los Angeles, making her the first African American woman on the commission. In 1966, she ran for and was elected to the California State Assembly representing Assembly District 64 in Los Angeles and was the first African American woman elected to that legislative body. During her tenure in the Assembly, which ended in 1972, Burke served on the Finance and Insurance Committee and the Health and Criminal Justice Committee, and chaired the Urban Development and Housing Committee. She introduced over 70 bills and resolutions, and saw 31 of them enacted. In 1972, Burke achieved another first when she became the first African American woman to be selected as Vice Chair of the Democratic National Convention, which duties included presiding over the convention proceedings in the absence of the chair.
    In 1972, Burke decided to run for the U.S. Congress, and was elected to represent the 37th Congressional District in Los Angeles County, a district which had been created the year before by the California State Legislature. In turn in 1973, the California State Supreme Court geographically altered the district and renumbered it the 28th District, which she represented for the remainder of her time in Congress through the end of 1978. Shortly after she began her congressional service, Burke became the first member to give birth while in Congress, and asked for and was granted maternity leave, another first, by the Speaker of the House. During her term in Congress, she served first on the Public Works Committee and the Interior and Insular Affairs Committee, and subsequently on the important Appropriations Committee. She also served on the Select Committee on Assassinations, and chaired the Select Committee on the House Beauty Parlor during her Congressional tenure. While a member, she was a member of and elected to a term as chair of the Congressional Black Caucus (1975). She also was a charter member of the Congressional Women's Caucus, serving as its first treasurer (1977).
    After almost six years in Congress, Burke decided she wanted to return to California. Rather than run for re-election in 1978, she chose instead to run for California Attorney General. Although she won the Democratic Party primary, she lost in the general election to Republican George Deukmejian, a State Senator who later was elected Governor.
    After her defeat, Burke completed her third term in Washington, and then moved back permanently to California to practice law. After a few months, Governor Jerry Brown appointed Burke to fill an unexpired term on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors in June 1979. Again Burke achieved another first, this time she became the first African American to serve on the Board of Supervisors. She served in this position until December 1980. Although she sought election to stay on the Board, she lost in the general election.
    In the 1980's, Burke practiced law in Los Angeles. But she did not stay completely out of public view. For example, she was the vice chair of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics Organizing Committee.
    But her time out of public office came to an end in 1992 when she was elected to the first of several terms on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. With this election, she became the first African American to win election to the Board, and served until December 2008, completing four four-year terms. During her terms on the Board, Burke was involved in several major activities: instrumental in establishing child care centers that provide supervision, learning enrichment, and meals; established the Second District Education and Policy Foundation; advanced economic development in the Second District by promoting the establishment of businesses in previously underserved areas; championed parkland improvements in her district; and led the effort to establish a County archives system.
    In addition to her private law practice and her public service political career, Burke received several prestigious appointments during her career. She served on both the University of Southern California Board of Trustees (the first African American to do so) and the University of California Board of Regents. She is past chair of the Los Angeles Federal Reserve Bank, and has been a member of several corporate boards.
    Shortly after her retirement from the Board of Supervisors, Burke became a mediator with the Alternative Resolution Centers.
    Burke currently lives in Los Angeles.


    The collection is organized into six series:
    1. Artifacts
    2. California State Assembly
    3. U.S. Congress
    4. California State Attorney General campaign
    5. Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors
    6. Printed material


    COLLECTION STORED OFF-SITE. Advance notice required for access. The collection is open for research. There are files that contain confidential information, and, therefore, access to these files is restricted.

    Related Materials

    Yvonne Brathwaite Burke Exhibit, USC Libraries Digital Library, 2003.
    Yvonne Brathwaite Burke papers: Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, Collection 0218.2, Regional History Collection, Special Collections, USC.
    Pamela Lee Gray, "Yvonne Brathwaite Burke: the congressional career of California's first balck congresswoman, 1972-1978," Ph.D. dissertation, University of Southern California, 1987.

    Conditions Governing Use

    All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the Regional History Librarian. Permission for publication is given on behalf of Special Collections as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which must also be obtained.

    Preferred Citation

    [Box/folder# or item name], Yvonne Brathwaite Burke papers Collection no. 0218.1, Regional History Collections, Special Collections, USC Libraries, University of Southern California.

    Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

    The collection contains audio tapes (cassette and reel-to-reel) and video tapes (cassette). Appropriate equipment is required to listen to them.

    Scope and Contents

    These papers document the activities of Yvonne Brathwaite Burke during her tenure as an elected member of the California State Assembly (1966-1972) and the U.S. Congress (1973-1978), and an appointed member of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors (1979-1980). In addition, they document her unsuccessful campaign for California Attorney General (1978). The papers contain correspondence and memorandums, campaign materials, clippings, ephemera, financial documents, moving images, notes, photographs, public opinion polls, schedules, sound recordings. speeches and statements, and artifacts.
    For papers documenting Ms. Burke's later tenure on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors (1992-2008), see the Yvonne Brathwaite Burke Papers, Collection 0218.2, Regional History Collection, Special Collections, USC.


    Gift of Yvonne Brathwaite Burke, 1985.

    Subjects and Indexing Terms

    Brown, Jerry, 1938- -- Archives
    Burke, Yvonne Brathwaite -- Archives
    California. Legislature. Assembly. -- Archives
    Congressional Black Caucus. -- Archives
    Kennedy, Robert F., 1925-1968 -- Assassination
    King, Martin Luther, Jr., 1929-1968 -- Assassination
    Los Angeles County (Calif.). Board of Supervisors. -- Archives
    Nixon, Richard M., (Richard Milhous), 1913-1994 -- Impeachment
    United States. Congress. -- Archives
    United States. Congress. -- Committees
    African American women lawyers
    African American women legislators
    African American women--20th century--Archival resources
    African Americans--History--20th century--Archival resources
    Agendas (administrative records)
    Annual reports
    Appointment books
    Democratic National Convention (1972 : Miami Beach, Fla.)
    Elections--California--Archival resources
    Financial records
    Legislation--California--Archival resources
    Legislation--United States--Archival resources
    Political campaigns--California--Archival resources
    Political campaigns--United States--Archival resources
    Press releases
    Printed ephemera
    Programs (documents)
    Public opinion polls
    Receipts (financial records)
    Women politicians--United States--Archival resources