Conditions Governing Use
Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements
Scope and Contents
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
USC Libraries Special Collections
Language of Material:
417.0 linear ft.
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
Burke, Yvonne Brathwaite
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:
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.
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
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.
[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)
Democratic National Convention (1972 : Miami Beach, Fla.)
Legislation--United States--Archival resources
Political campaigns--California--Archival resources
Political campaigns--United States--Archival resources
Public opinion polls
Receipts (financial records)
Women politicians--United States--Archival resources