Women and the Assembly
New York County
the first African-American woman to be elected to the Legislature,
became active in politics while working on Governor Herbert
A. Lehman's campaign. Before that, she was a performer in a
drama and musical comedy.
As an Assemblywoman,
Buchanan was assigned to the Cities, Institutions, Printing,
and Social Welfare. She also served on the Joint Legislative
Committee on the Problems of the Aging and was designated by
Governor Rockefeller as a State Delegate to the White House
Conference on the Aged.
Buchanan was active
in promoting civil rights legislation and legislation to end
discrimination in private housing, and in the assignment of
police officers to their specific duties. Buchanan even composed
a song and pushed for its adoption as the State anthem; she
was unsuccessful in her effort.
In 1962, Buchanan
chose not to run for reelection, but crossed party lines, endorsing
Republicans Rockefeller and Senator Jacob Javits in their reelection
bids. Also in 1962, she was appointed by Rockefeller as a Commissioner
of the Human Rights Division. After five years in this position,
Buchanan resigned, remaining active in local volunteer organizations.
Bessie Buchanan died in 1980 at the age of 78.