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Yvonne Brathwaite Burke papers: Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors

Identifier: 0218-2

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Scope and Content

These papers document the activities of Yvonne Brathwaite Burke during her tenure as an elected member of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors (1992-2008). A majority of the files were created by members of her staff and these files are listed under the individual staff member's name. The General Files were either identified specifically on the boxes or were placed there because they did not have a discernable specific creator. The papers contain correspondence and memorandums, campaign materials, clippings, ephemera, financial documents, moving images, notes, photographs, public opinion polls, schedules, sound recordings, speeches, and artifacts.

For papers documenting Ms. Burke's tenure in the California State Assembly, U.S. Congress, earlier time on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors (1979-1980), and campaign for California Attorney General, see the Yvonne Brathwaite Burke Papers, Collection 0218.1, Regional History Collection, Special Collections, USC.


  • Creation: 1968 - 2008
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1991 - 2008



COLLECTION STORED OFF-SITE. Advance notice required for access. The collection is open for research. There are files that contain confidential information, and therefore access is restricted. Constituent files are closed until 2029.

Conditions Governing Use

All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the Regional History Librarian. Permission for publication is given on behalf of Special Collections as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which must also be obtained.

Biographical note

Yvonne Brathwaite Burke, named Perle Yvonne Watson by her parents James T. and Lola Moor Watson, was born on October 5, 1932 in Los Angeles, California. After graduating from Manual Arts High School in Los Angeles in 1947, she earned her BA in political science from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), and her JD from the University of Southern California (USC) School of Law in 1956. She was the first African American woman admitted to the USC Law School since 1927. Burke was admitted to the California bar in 1956 and began private practice in Los Angeles. During her legal career, she focused on real estate, civil, and probate law.

Burke interspersed her private law practice with public service. First, in 1964, she was appointed by Gov. Edmund G. Brown, Sr., to a state-level position as a Corporation Commissioner, responsible for investigating and approving business licenses. The next year, in 1965, Gov. Brown selected her to the five-member McCone Commission which he established to investigate the causes of the 1965 Watts Riots in Los Angeles, making her the first African American woman on the commission. In 1966, she ran for and was elected to the California State Assembly representing Assembly District 64 in Los Angeles and was the first African-American woman elected to that legislative body. During her tenure in the Assembly, which ended in 1972, Burke served on the Finance and Insurance Committee and the Health and Criminal Justice Committee, and chaired the Urban Development and Housing Committee. She introduced over 70 bills and resolutions, and saw 31 of them enacted. In 1972, Burke achieved another first when she became the first African American woman to be selected as Vice Chair of the Democratic National Convention, which duties included presiding over the convention proceedings in the absence of the chair.

In 1972, Burke decided to run for the U.S. Congress, and was elected to represent the 37th Congressional District in Los Angeles County, a district which had been created the year before by the California State Legislature. In turn in 1973, the California State Supreme Court geographically altered the district and renumbered it the 28th District, which she represented for the remainder of her time in Congress until the end of 1978. Shortly after she began her congressional service, Burke became the first member to give birth while in Congress, and asked for and was granted maternity leave, another first, by the Speaker of the House. During her term in Congress, she served first on the Public Works Committee and the Interior and Insular Affairs Committee, and subsequently on the important Appropriations Committee. She also served on the Select Committee on Assassinations, and chaired the Select Committee on the House Beauty Parlor during her Congressional tenure. While a member, she was a member of and elected to a term as chair of the Congressional Black Caucus (1975). She also was a charter member of the Congressional Women’s Caucus, serving as its first treasurer (1977).

After almost six years in Congress, Burke decided she wanted to return to California. Rather than run for re-election in 1978, she chose instead to run for California Attorney General. Although she won the Democratic Party primary, she lost in the general election to Republican George Deukmejian, a State Senator who later was elected Governor.

After her defeat, Burke completed her third term in Washington, and then moved back permanently to California to practice law. After a few months, Governor Jerry Brown appointed Burke to fill an unexpired term on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors in June 1979. Again Burke achieved another first, this time she became the first African American to serve on the Board of Supervisors. She served in this position until December 1980. Although she sought election to stay on the Board, she lost in the general election.

In the 1980's, Burke practiced law in Los Angeles. But she did not stay completely out of public view. For example, she was the vice chair of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics Organizing Committee.

But her time out of public office came to an end in 1992 when she was elected to the first of several terms to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. With this election, she became the first African American to win election to the Board, and served until December 2008, completing four four-year terms. During her terms on the Board, Burke was involved in several major activities: instrumental in establishing child care centers that provide supervision, learning enrichment, and meals; established the Second District Education and Policy Foundation; advanced economic development in the Second District by promoting the establishment of businesses in previously underserved areas; championed parkland improvements in her district; and led the effort to establish a County archives system.

In addition to her private law practice and her public service political career, Burke received several prestigious appointments during her career. She served on both the University of Southern California Board of Trustees (the first African-American to do so) and the University of California Board of Regents. She is past chair of the Los Angeles Federal Reserve Bank, and has been a member of several corporate boards.

Shortly after her retirement from the Board of Supervisors, Burke became a mediator with the Alternative Resolution Centers.

Burke currently lives in Los Angeles.


474 Linear Feet (461 boxes)

Language of Materials



The Yvonne Brathwaite Burke papers contain the records of the political activities of Yvonne Brathwaite Burke, University of Southern California Gould Law School alumna, state and federal legislator, and county official. Included in this collection are the records from Burke's second tenure on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors (1992-2008).


The collection is organized into eleven series:

1. Artifacts, certificates, commendations, plaques, and memorabilia

2. Board of Supervisors meetings

3. Campaign/elections

4. Correspondence

5. General files

6. Invitations

7. Photographs, slides, and videos

8. Press files

9. Schedules

10. Speeches

11. Staff files

Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

The collection contains audio tapes (cassette), and video tapes (cassette), and compact disks (CD's). Appropriate equipment is required to listen to them.


Gift of Yvonne Brathwaite Burke, 2008.

Related Materials


Yvonne Brathwaite Burke Exhibit, USC Libraries Digital Library, 2003.

Yvonne Brathwaite Burke papers: California State Assembly, U.S. Congress, Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, and California Attorney General campaign Collection 0218.1, Regional History Collection, Special Collections, USC.

Pamela Lee Gray, "Yvonne Brathwaite Burke: the congressional career of California's first black congresswoman, 1972-1978," Ph.D. dissertation, University of Southern California, 1987.

Finding Aid for the Yvonne Brathwaite Burke papers: Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors
Michael Q. Hooks
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
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Edition statement
First Edition

Revision Statements

  • 2020 September: Finding aid updated by Bo Doub: edited container locations and created new container records using Backstage Library Works spreadsheets from a 2019-2020 collections move.

Repository Details

Part of the USC Libraries Special Collections Repository

Doheny Memorial Library 206
3550 Trousdale Parkway
Los Angeles California 90089-0189 United States