NEW YORK (AP) — When Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz stepped down as Democratic National Committee chair just as this week's convention was getting underway, there was no shortage of Democratic leaders ready to step in.
Veteran Democratic strategist and past DNC chair Donna Brazile immediately took the helm as interim chair. She joined Rep. Marcia Fudge of Ohio, chair of the Democratic National Convention, and Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who gaveled the convention open on Monday. All three are black women, along with convention CEO Rev. Leah Daughtry, who is overseeing the organization of a Democratic convention for the second time.
The symbolism of so many black women in high-profile leadership positions in a political party is profound, said Julia Jordan-Zachery, a political science professor at Providence College in Rhode Island.
She pointed to the 1964 Democratic convention, where the party refused to seat as voting delegates black civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer and members of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, which had been formed to challenge the all-white delegation from Mississippi.
Jordan-Zachery says the party has gone from one that refused to seat black women to one that is now relying on black women to "fix something that was broken."
It's also powerful given the fact that black women are a major part of the Democratic Party's base, and key to the coalition that put President Barack Obama in office, said Kelly Dittmar, a professor of political science at Rutgers University-Camden.
Exit polls conducted for The Associated Press and television networks by Edison Research showed that 96 percent of black women supported Obama in 2012 and in 2008. And census voting data shows about 7 in 10 eligible black women reported actually voting in both those elections, the highest participation rate of any group.
"It's important, I think, when you look at that from a voter perspective that black women's voices are also heard in the leadership of the party," Dittmar said.
Dittmar also raised another historical tie, that of the late Rep. Shirley Chisholm of New York, who was the first black woman elected to Congress. In 1972, Chisholm ran for the Democratic presidential nomination, the first black presidential candidate from a major party.
"It meant that simply by putting her name and face forward throughout the country as a real contender for the presidency, that she would challenge those long-held norms and expectations that presidents are white men," Dittmar said.
Follow Deepti Hajela at www.twitter.com/dhajela . Her work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/deepti-hajela .
Associated Press writer Emily Swanson in Washington contributed to this report.