U.S. REP. SUMMER LEE, CENTER, WITH HER MOTHER, SHELDA LEE, AND COMMON PLEAS JUDGE NICOLA HENRY-TAYLOR.
She’s the first Black Congresswoman in Pennsylvania history
Yes, U.S. Rep. Summer Lee already took the Oath of Office in becoming the first Black congresswoman in Pennsylvania history back in January.
But the congresswoman decided to hold a ceremonial swearing-in ceremony, at the place where it all started—Pittsburgh.
It all took place at the famed Kelly Strayhorn Theater, in East Liberty, on Sunday, Feb. 19. More than 250 people packed the theater to watch Court of Common Pleas Judge Nicola Henry-Taylor perform the swearing-in ceremony, as Rep. Lee held up her right hand, left hand on the Bible, the Bible held by Rep. Lee’s mother, Shelda Lee.
While there were the usual affirmations for Rep. Lee by certain speakers, the crowd cheered as elected official after elected official offered their congratulations to Rep. Lee via video. Names like newly-minted Pa. Governor Josh Shapiro, Senator Bob Casey, Democratic National Committee Chairman Jaime Harrison, State Rep. Joanna McClinton (who also serves as Democratic leader of the Pa. House of Representatives), U.S. Rep. Ayanna Presley (D-Mass.), U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), and Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).
CONGRESSWOMAN SUMMER LEE, AT THE KELLY STRAYHORN THEATER IN EAST LIBERTY, FEB. 19.
“We have lived experiences that bring us to Congress that help us move at the urgency that you all deserve,” Rep. Tlaib said of her and Rep. Lee. “You all did something pretty incredible (in Allegheny and Westmoreland counties). You really pushed back against all the rhetoric,” and chose to elect Rep. Lee, someone who “speaks truth to power.”
Senator Casey remarked that Rep. Lee has “labored to advance the cause of justice” for families of marginalized communities, “economic justice, social justice and so much more. And I have no doubt you’ll be a tireless advocate and champion in Washington.”
Mayor Ed Gainey made it to the event; his presence had Rep. Lee stopping her speech to acknowledge all the support that Pittsburgh’s first Black mayor showed her over the years. Before Rep. Lee became an elected official, Mayor Gainey was a fixture in the Pa. House, as a representative for the 24th District, which included many East End neighborhoods. With Gainey’s support and Rep. Lee’s unwavering confidence in herself, Rep. Lee ran for state representative in the 34th District, which included Braddock, North Braddock, Swissvale and other neighboring Mon Valley communities.
She won the primary in May 2018, and officially took office in January 2019. When U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, the longtime congressman, announced he was retiring from his seat in the 18th District, Rep. Lee made the announcement that she would be running for Congress. However, a redrawing of the Pennsylvania congressional map split the 18th District into two districts, the 12th and 17th. Representative Lee ran for the 12th District seat, and won a hotly contested Democratic primary in May 2022. The race was so hot that super PACs (Political Action Committees) spent millions on media advertising to degrade Rep. Lee. Still, she prevailed over her primary Democratic challenger, Steve Irwin.
PENNSYLVANIA LT. GOV. AUSTIN DAVIS
“This is a historic moment,” voiced Pennsylvania’s first Black Lieutenant Governor, Austin Davis, at the podium. “In 2023, we’re still reaching new heights and making new Black history. This moment is a symbol of how far we’ve come as a people, but it’s a reminder of how far we still have to go.”
In one setting, on this one day, there was Black history everywhere. Ed Gainey, the city’s first Black mayor, Summer Lee, the state’s first Black congresswoman, and Austin Davis, the state’s first Black Lieutenant Governor…literally within yards of each other, in East Liberty, where much has been made about the neighborhood becoming gentrified; more Whites moving in, as more Blacks seemingly are forced to move out.
“I’ve had the privilege of serving with Summer in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives for nearly five years,” voiced the lieutenant governor, “I got to see up close and personal her fight, and I’m here to tell you she is a fighter, a voice for the voiceless, and a fighter for working class and marginalized folks.”
Lt. Gov. Davis added: “She’s always grounded her service in a single saying—those people closest to the pain should be closest to the power. I cannot wait to see the great things she will do on behalf of the people in Pennsylvania and in America.”
DARRIN KELLY, PRESIDENT OF THE ALLEGHENY/FAYETTE CENTRAL LABOR COUNCIL.
Darrin Kelly, the president of the 100,000 member Allegheny/Fayette Central Labor Council, was candid about his early interactions with the Woodland Hills High School graduate.
“Not too long ago, Summer Lee and I didn’t always see eye to eye, and the first time that we spoke, it was very, very, very clear that we let each other know how we felt, and she let me know very early she was not afraid of me; and I let her know that I was not afraid of her,” the fiery Kelly said.
But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit the U.S., and specifically the Pittsburgh region, Kelly recalled how it hit the Pittsburgh region hard. People were left without jobs, oftentimes without food…but, “the very first phone call that I received from an elected official was from Summer Lee,” Kelly said. “Did not have a conversation with her for almost a year. But she reached out to me and said, ‘listen, I understand, the working men and women, over 80 percent were laid off in Allegheny County,’ and she just wanted to offer her assistance. I said, ‘you know what, that’s really something.’”
Kelly, with the crowd hanging on to every word, then revealed that the relationship between him and Rep. Lee began to grow.
“Was Summer different, or was she making us different? Was she opening up eyes? And I thought to myself, there is something happening here. It’s not politics…the narrative was changing. Summer was changing the narrative of politics in Allegheny County that allowed leaders to step up and say, ‘you know what, this woman does have something to offer.’ This was more than a congressional race; this was about somebody changing the narrative for generations to come.”