The number of African-Americans elected to Congress has steadily increased in the 50 years since Martin Luther King Jr., gave his famed "I have a Dream Speech," but an analysis by the University of Minnesota reveals half of the states in the U.S. still have yet to elect a black man or woman to Congress.
Even more striking, only Illinois, Massachusetts and Mississippi have elected a black senator.
Eric Ostermeier, the author of the analysis, says that while African-Americans represent 13 percent of the U.S. population, they make up only 10 percent of the representation in the House of Representatives. And in the Senate, blacks make up 1 percent — Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., alone carries that torch.
The numbers reveal just how far political campaign committees and party bosses have to go to recruit more black candidates and perhaps how far the American electorate has to go before it elects members to congress that proportionately represent the diverse population at large.
"Some of it is about race," says David Bositis, a senior political analyst at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, which advocates for policies that benefit minorities. "Eleven of the 25 states that have black people are in the old confederacy, and those are the states that are the most racially polarized. They almost certainly wouldn't elect a black candidate for Senate."
Take Arkansas, for example. The state has a 16 percent African-American population, three points higher than the national average, but has never elected a black member to the House or Senate.
But the other 25 states that have never elected a black man or woman to Congress may not be shirking diversity, but don't have the population to elect a black leader.
States like Montana, Vermont, Utah, and West Virginia have never elected a black man or woman to Congress, but blacks also make up fewer than 4 percent of their population.
"There are 25 states with virtually no black people. So why would you expect a state with no black people to elect a black member of the House or a black Senator," Bositis says.
There are some states, however, where black politicians have a strong history.
In Illinois, for example, the home of the country's first black President Barack Obama, African-Americans have won more than 5 percent of the House races since 1870. Maryland tops the list, with blacks winning the largest percentage of House races in that state at 7.2 percent.