African Americans and the Vote: Firsts in Cook County Leadership
The Cook County Historic Archives and Records Office is honoring the following history-making leaders in celebration of Black History Month 2020. We encourage you to learn more about these inspirational pioneers in Cook County leadership.
John H. Stroger, Jr. President, Cook County Board of Commissioners, 1994–2006
John H. Stroger, Jr. was born in Helena, Arkansas. He served as Cook County Commissioner from 1970 to 2006, chosen as Finance Committee Chair in 1984, a position he would hold for 10 years. In 1994, in addition to becoming Board President, Stroger would become the first Commissioner from the newly created single member fourth district. He is one of four presidents to be elected to at least three terms. The John H. Stroger, Jr. Hospital of Cook County is named in his honor.
Toni Preckwinkle, President, Cook County Board of Commissioners, 2010–Present
Toni Preckwinkle was born in St. Paul, Minnesota. She is the first woman to be popularly elected President of the Cook County Board of Commissioners. Prior to her service as President, Preckwinkle would be elected Alderman of the fourth ward of the City of Chicago five times. As President, she has championed expansion of the health care system, reform of the criminal justice system and a more active role for Cook County in transportation and economic development issues.
Bobbie Steele, President, Cook County Board of Commissioners, 2006
Bobbie Steele was born in Cleveland, Mississippi. She is the first woman to ever serve as President of the Cook County Board of Commissioners. Prior to her service as President, Steele was elected County Board Commissioner five times before. During her service, Steele served as Chair of the Finance Committee of the Forest Preserve District of Cook County. Steele was elected President in August 2006, following the resignation of President John Stroger due to illness.
Karen A. Yarbrough, Cook County Clerk. 2018–Present
Karen A. Yarbrough was born in Washington, D.C. She is the first woman to ever serve as Cook County Clerk. From 2012–2018, Yarbrough would serve as Cook County Recorder of Deeds, successfully steering the office towards eventual merger with the County Clerk’s office. Prior to her service as Recorder, Clerk Yarbrough represented Chicago’s West-Side and western suburbs as State Representative and Assistant Majority Leader in the Illinois House of Representatives.
John Jones, Commissioner, Board of Commissioners, 1871–1875
John Jones was born in 1817 in Green City, NC to a German father and an African American mother. Born a free man, he taught himself to read and write. Jones started his own tailoring business and eventually became one of the wealthiest African Americans in the antebellum United States.
After moving to Chicago, Illinois in 1845, Jones used his house and his office, both located on Dearborn Street, as stops on the Underground Railroad through Chicago. His home was known as a meeting place for local and national abolitionist leaders including Frederick Douglass and John Brown. He also authored a number of influential anti-slavery pamphlets.
Although a dedicated abolitionist, John Jones also actively campaigned against racial discrimination as expressed in the Black Laws of Illinois. These laws denied voting rights to black men and banned them from testifying in court. Jones dedicated a considerable amount of his wealth to the effort to overturn these measures.
His efforts were successful in 1865 when the Illinois Legislature repealed the Black Laws restricting civil rights. Five years later, in 1870, after ratification of the 15th Amendment, Jones and other Illinois black men also voted for the first time. In 1871, in the aftermath of the Great Chicago Fire, Jones was elected to the Cook County Board of Commissioners on the Union Fire Proof ticket, becoming the first African American officeholder in the state’s history. While holding this post, he helped enact the law that abolished (local) segregated schools. Reelected to a full three-year term in 1872, Jones was defeated in his 1875 reelection bid.
Josephine B. Sneed, Commissioner, Board of Commissioners, 1964–1970
Josephine B. Sneed was born in Kentucky. She is the first African American woman to ever serve as a Cook County Commissioner. In 1964, Sneed was unanimously appointed Commissioner to succeed her late husband Edward M. Sneed by the Cook County Commissioners of the City of Chicago. Josephine won election in 1966 and served as Vice Chair of both the Oak Forest Hospital and the County Jail, Criminal Court and Court House Subcommittees of the Public Service Committee.
Wilson Frost, Board of Review (formerly Tax Appeals), 1987–1998
Wilson Frost was born in Cairo, Illinois. He is the first African American to ever serve as Commissioner of the Cook County Board of Review (formerly Tax Appeals). Prior to that position he served for two decades as a Chicago alderman, from 1967 until 1987. In his City Council tenure, Frost served as President Pro Tempore and later as Finance Committee chairman.
Cecil A. Partee, State’s Attorney, 1989–1990
Cecil A. Partee was born in Blytheville, Arkansas. He is the first African American to ever serve as Cook County State’s Attorney. After first serving as an Assistant State’s Attorney, he was elected as an Illinois State Representative in 1956, serving until 1966 when he was elected as a State Senator. In 1975, he became the first Black President of the Illinois Senate. In 1979, he was elected to his first of three terms as Chicago Treasurer.
Kimberly Foxx, State’s Attorney, 2016–Present
Kimberly Foxx was born in Chicago, Illinois. She is the first African American woman to serve as Cook County State’s Attorney. Foxx first served as an assistant public guardian in the Cook County Public Guardian’s Office before serving as an Assistant State's Attorney. In 2013, she was hired as deputy chief of staff for Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, focusing on criminal justice issues. She was later promoted to chief of staff for Preckwinkle and served in that role until 2016 when she was elected State’s Attorney.
Timothy C. Evans, Chief Judge, 2001–Present
Timothy C. Evans was born in Hot Springs, Arkansas. He is the first African American to serve as Chief Judge of the Cook County Circuit Court. In 1973, Evans was elected to the Chicago City Council where he served for over 17 years over the span of four mayors. Under Mayor Harold Washington, Evans served as Floor Leader and Chairman of the Finance Committee. In 1992, he was elected as a judge to Cook County Circuit, and where he has served as Chief Judge since 2001.
Carol Moseley Braun, Recorder of Deeds, 1988–1992
Carol Moseley Braun was born in Chicago, Illinois. She is the first African American to serve as Cook County Recorder of Deeds. Moseley Braun first served as a prosecutor in the United States Attorney's office in Chicago from 1973 to 1977 before being elected to the Illinois House of Representatives in 1978 where she became assistant majority leader. After her tenure as Recorder of Deeds, she was elected U.S. Senator in 1992, becoming the first female African American Senator, the first African American U.S. Senator for the Democratic Party, the first woman to defeat an incumbent U.S. Senator in an election, and the first female Senator from Illinois. In 1999, she was confirmed by the U.S. Senate as the Ambassador to New Zealand.
Jesse White, Recorder of Deeds, 1992–1998
Jesse White was born in Alton, Illinois. He is the first African American man to serve as Cook County Recorder of Deeds. White was elected to the Illinois House of Representatives in 1974 and served there for 20 years before becoming the Recorder of Deeds. Currently, he is serving his sixth term as Illinois Secretary of State, a position he has held since 1999. In a storied and varied career, White also served as a paratrooper in the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division, played minor league baseball for the Chicago Cubs, worked 33 years for Chicago Public Schools, and, in 1959, founded the Jesse White Tumbling Team.
Dorothy Brown, Clerk of the Circuit Court, 2000–Present
Dorothy Brown was born in Minden, Louisiana. She is the first African American to serve as Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County. After working for Arthur Andersen and Commonwealth Edison, she started a minority public accounting firm. From 1991 to 2000, Brown served as the General Auditor for the Chicago Transit Authority. In 2000, she was elected Clerk of the Circuit Court and is currently serving her fifth term.