Can Virginia Be the First State in History to Elect a Black Woman Governor?

May 21, 2021

Essence: Can Virginia Be the First State in History to Elect a Black Woman Governor?
By: Donna Owens

Three Black women— Jennifer Carroll Foy, Jennifer McClellan, and Princess Blanding— are up for election in VA's gubernatorial race.

While eight women currently serve as governors in the mainland United States (plus one in the territory of Guam), there’s never been a Black woman governor, ever, in the country. 

In Virginia, three Black women are seeking to ascend to the Commonwealth’s highest office and potentially make history. Two candidates— Jennifer Carroll Foy and Jennifer McClellan— are preparing for the June 8th Democratic Primary. Liberation Party candidate Princess Blanding is preparing for the general election on November 2.

They are joined by Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax, the state’s first Black man in that role; Terry McAuliffe, a former Democratic National Committee chair who served as Governor from 2014 to 2018; and Republican Glenn Youngkin, who has been endorsed by former president Donald Trump. 

ESSENCE spoke with the three Black women candidates. Read on to get to know them better:

Jennifer Carroll Foy‘s life has been an example of hard work, true grit and lifting others as she’s climbed. 

“I’m from Petersburg, Virginia, an African American community of proud, resilient and resourceful people,” said Carroll Foy, who was raised by her late grandmother. 
The first in her family to attend college, she enrolled at the historically all-male Virginia Military Institute in just the third class of women cadets. She later matriculated at the Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego. 

The lawyer and former public defender successfully ran for Virginia’s 2nd District in the House of Delegates in 2017. She stepped down to focus on the gubernatorial race.  Today, she juggles roles as a wife and mother of twin boys who are toddlers. She’s also been a foster care mother. “It’s time we had a working mom in office,” she told ESSENCE.

Carroll Foy is running on a platform to lift up all Virginians, including raising the minimum wage to $15/hour; making healthcare and housing more affordable; police reform; and environmental stewardship. Her educational initiatives include implementing full-day preschool and seeking affordable child care solutions.

During her tenure as a Delegate, she introduced legislation to ensure paid family leave and passed legislation to ensure that foster kids stay in their networks as much as possible. Carroll Foy played a key role in Virginia’s ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment in 2020. 

“I’ll work every day to ensure working families have an opportunity to not just survive, but to thrive.” – JENNIFER CARROLL FOY

Carroll Foy has been a consistent advocate for those who often go unheard, her supporters say, be it uplifting youth, the impoverished, those battling addiction, homelessness and mental illness. Such issues informed her decision to run. “I can negotiate [as a legislator] or I can lead as a governor to set the tone, tenure, and agenda for Virginians,” she told ESSENCE.

Carroll Foy has garnered multiple major endorsements. Emily Cain, executive director of EMILYs List, which backs Democratic, pro-choice women candidates, said in a statement: “It is long past time to elect a Black woman governor who will dedicate herself to bettering the lives of Virginia’s working families and communities of color, as we know Jennifer will.”

Higher Heights for America, the national organization dedicated to mobilizing and electing more Black women to public office, hosted a recent virtual forum with both McClellan and Carroll Foy, and later endorsed the latter. The group noted her “deep commitment to ending the status quo that has left painful inequities for too many families and working people in Virginia.” 

“Having experienced and witnessed firsthand hardships with poverty, affordable health care, gun violence and education, Carroll Foy is the future we all need, ready to advance the rights and well-being of Virginia’s next generation,” said Glynda Carr, President/CEO of Higher Heights.

“Virginians are looking for someone who inspires them,” said Carroll Foy. “I’ve dedicated and committed my life to service. I’ll work every day to ensure working families have an opportunity to not just survive, but to thrive.”

Jennifer McClellan grew up in Petersburg, Virginia, the daughter of a father who was a pastor and an educator, and a mother who was an educator, too. Her parents’ roots in the segregated South during the Depression informed their community service.

McClellan sees herself in that familial tradition of servant leadership. It’s why she’s running for governor. McClellan believes “government can either be a force for progressive change to solve problems or a force of oppression that benefits a select few.” 

“We’re at a crossroads…a place to address health, economic equity, racial injustice and other issues,” she told ESSENCE. “They’re bigger and more urgent than ever.

Married with a young son and daughter, McClellan was educated at the University of Richmond and the University of Virginia School of Law. The attorney has served some 15 years in the Virginia General Assembly, 11 of them as a Delegate and since 2017 as a State Senator.

“[G]overnment can either be a force for progressive change to solve problems or a force of oppression that benefits a select few.” – JENNIFER MCCLELLAN

Her involvement has run the gamut from chairing Virginia’s Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Commission, to a multifaceted legislative record. Her efforts include leading the passage of landmark laws to invest in education, grow small businesses, ban discrimination and inequity, and safeguard workers’ rights and voting rights. She’s also fought for a woman’s right to choose, criminal justice reform, and protecting the planet from climate change. Her gubernatorial platform builds on her work to date. 

“I recognize the intersectionality on so many issues,” she said, noting health care, education, economy and justice reform.

McClellan has generated endorsements from organizations such as the Women of Color Coalition and Care in Action, a national nonprofit dedicated to fighting for the dignity and rights of domestic workers. 

If elected governor, she vows to finish the work that her parents, grandparents and ancestors began. “I can’t leave this to my children.”

Some candidates run for office with a passion to serve. For Princess Blanding, seeking the highest office in Virginia also stems from a desire to never forget. Blanding became a tireless activist after a Richmond police officer fatally shot her brother, Marcus-David Peters, in 2018. The 24-year-old was unarmed and experiencing a behavioral health crisis at the time. 

“The spark to run was my brother,” Blanding told ESSENCE, who is running as a candidate with the new Liberation Party.

She vows to “fight to elevate the voices and concerns of every day, working-class Virginians.” And noting what she calls “failures” of the traditional two-party system, she’s pushing for increased “accountability from our local and state elected officials to address the inequities in our Black and most marginalized communities.” 

“I’m not a career politician. I don’t have corporate donors. I’m tired of [politicians] throwing us crumbs. I want the full meal.” – PRINCESS BLANDING

“We want a system that ensures equity and humanity,” she said. Blanding was raised in Newburgh, New York and has been a resident of Virginia since 2004. Her upbringing instilled the importance of family, education, and a strong work ethic. An educator and administrator for more than 13 years in the Commonwealth, she is also a grassroots activist.

In 2020, Blanding worked closely with prominent members of the Virginia State Senate and House of Delegates in proposing legislation designed to put community care and safety first. Her tireless efforts helped lead to passage of the MARCUS Alert bill, named for her late brother. It enables teams of mental health experts to accompany police officers when responding to calls involving people in crisis. Governor Ralph Northam signed the legislation in 2020. 

Based in the Middle Peninsula region of Virginia, she describes herself as a proud single LGBTQIA+ mother of three daughters. Just as she fearlessly advocated for her brother, Blanding says if elected she will prioritize the needs of everyday people. “I’m not a career politician. I don’t have corporate donors. I’m tired of [politicians] throwing us crumbs. I want the full meal.