12/28/1992 at 01:00 AM EST
When Carol Moseley Braun visited Washington, D.C., recently for orientation, the freshman junior Senator from Illinois dropped by the Senate chambers to check out her freshman seat—a position once occupied by Abraham Lincoln's opponent Stephen A. Douglas. "In the days when Douglas sat there, someone like me was considered a nonperson," she says. By someone like her, Braun means, of course, a black woman—a first in the history of the U.S. Senate.
Chroniclers may note that Braun, 45 (who has a son, Matthew, 15, from an earlier marriage to lawyer Michael Braun), fired the first salvo in what might be called the Anita Hill Memorial Revolution of 1992. Harnessing public disgust over Hill's treatment by the white male Senate Judiciary Committee, she won the Democratic primary by beating an incumbent—and Clarence Thomas supporter—who hadn't lost an election in 42 years. And while Braun's November triumph may have been one of the sweetest in what has been called the Year of the Woman (four women newly elected, bringing the Senate's total to six), her victory was composed of large numbers of white votes as well. Which may mean that in the foreseeable future, thanks to Braun, a former Illinois state legislator who grew up on Chicago's South Side, color and gender-based labels will be rendered meaningless.
But that's the future. Some things take a while to change. When Braun went to pick up her new photo ID from the Senate clerk's office, she was handed a card that read SPOUSE. ("Try again," she said politely.) Braun has come a long way. But, baby, has the Senate got a long way to go.