Terri Sewell Terri Sewell (1965- ) is the first African American woman to represent Alabama in the U.S. Congress. Sewell was elected as a Democrat from the Seventh Congressional District in 2010 to take the seat left open by Artur Davis. Her district includes Choctaw, Dallas, Greene, Hale, Lowndes, Marengo, Pickens, Sumter, and Wilcox Counties and parts of Clarke, Jefferson, Montgomery, and Tuscaloosa Counties and parts of cities of Birmingham and Tuscaloosa.
Terri Sewell was born Terrycina Andrea Sewell on January 1, 1965, in Huntsville, Madison County, to Andrew A. Sewell, a math teacher and basketball coach, and Nancy Gardner Sewell, a high-school librarian. Nancy Sewell was the first African American woman elected to the Selma City Council. Terri has twin brothers. Sewell was raised in Selma, Dallas County, and was the first African American valedictorian of Selma High School. She earned a degree in finance in 1986, with honors, from Princeton University in Princeton, New Jersey. While at Princeton, Sewell was mentored by fellow student and the future wife of Pres. Barack Obama, Michelle Robinson, in a program the school had established to help guide minority freshman. Sewell interned for several summers in Washington, D.C., for then-Rep. Richard Shelby, at the time a Democrat representing Alabama’s Seventh District (and later a U.S. senator). She also worked with Sen. Howell Heflin. Additionally, Sewell served Princeton as class vice president, and she was the class representative of the Student Union.
After graduating from Princeton, Sewell earned the Marshall/Commonwealth Scholarship to attend St. Hilda’s College at Oxford University in Oxford, England. She graduated from there in 1988 with honors and a master’s degree. Her master’s thesis was published in 1993 as a book, Black Tribunes: Race and Representation in British Politics. At St. Hilda’s, Sewell met and befriended Susan Rice, who would serve as Pres. Barack Obama’s National Security Adviser for much of his second term. Sewell then earned a law degree in 1992 from Harvard Law School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. While in law school, she served as the editor of the Civil Rights Civil Liberties Law Review, and also befriended Barack Obama. She served later as a law clerk in Birmingham, Jefferson County, to Chief Judge U. W. Clemon of the U.S. District Court and the first African American judge appointed in Alabama. From 1994 to 2004, Sewell worked as a securities lawyer in New York for the firm of Davis Polk & Wardwell. In 1998, she married Huntsville native and Tuskegee University graduate Theodore Chester Dixie Jr. at the Brown Chapel AME Church in Selma. In 2004, Sewell returned to Alabama and joined the Birmingham law office of Maynard, Cooper & Gale, P.C., acting as a fundraiser for a series of public projects in central Alabama, as well as representing Alabama schools and colleges.
In 2010, Sewell entered the Democratic Party primary for the Seventh Congressional District when the incumbent, Rep. Artur Davis, gave up the seat for an unsuccessful run in Alabama’s gubernatorial contest. She finished ahead of three other candidates, including state representative Earl Hilliard Jr., whose father held the seat until 2002, and won the runoff election. In the general election, Sewell overwhelmingly defeated her Republican opponent, getting more than 70 percent of the vote. She faced little opposition in 2012, 2014, and 2016, and also in the 2018 election, which saw Democrats retake the House of Representatives. She had virtually no opposition in 2020 and in 2022 and easily bested her Republican challenger, who strongly identified with the so-called MAGA firebrands.
Sewell was named the Freshman Class President for the 112th Congress and served on the Agriculture Committee, the Subcommittee on Rural Development, and committees dealing with Research, Biotechnology, and Foreign Agriculture. She also worked with the Subcommittee on General Farm Commodities and Risk Management. She sat on the Science, Space, and Technology Committees, and served on the Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics and the Subcommittee on Research and Science Education. In the 113th Congress, Sewell was appointed to the House Committee on Financial Services due to her background in finance. She was also named to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and handled matters of national security. She was the ranking member on the Subcommittee on the Department of Defense Intelligence and Overhead Architecture. For the 114th Congress, Sewell took on several leadership positions within the Democratic Party, including Chief Deputy Whip and a seat on the House Democratic Caucus. She is a member of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), the New Democratic Coalition, and the Congressional Voting Rights Caucus. Sewell sits on the powerful Ways and Means Committee and three subcommittees and served on the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence in the 115th and 116th Congresses.
Considered a loyal Democratic Party member, she was a strong proponent of Pres. Obama’s Affordable Care Act and voted to prevent its repeal. In 2015, she voted for Obama’s Iran Nuclear Agreement. She is a firm supporter of abortion rights and has opposed photo voter identification laws in Alabama. Sewell has been a consistent supporter of Pres. Joe Biden and his agenda, voting to improve infrastructure, provide better health care for veterans and seniors, fight climate change, protect woman’s access to reproductive health care, and curb gun violence. She was also a leading House advocate for strengthening the 1965 Voting Rights Act through the 2021 John Lewis Voting Rights Act, but the effort failed in the Senate. Most of Sewell’s legislative activities have centered on job-creation initiatives, programs to enhance job skills, and worker training efforts in her district. In several congressional sessions, Sewell has promoted apprenticeship programs, small business assistance, affordable childcare, and equal pay for women. She developed Project R.E.A.D.Y. (“Realizing Everyone’s Ability to Develop Yourself”) program, which has brought together workforce professionals to provide career advice to constituents and hosts an annual job fair in her district.
Honoring civil-rights-era participants is another of Sewell’s passions. Her first successful legislative bill, Public Law 113-11, awarded the Congressional Gold Medal posthumously to the four victims of the September 15, 1963, bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham. She co-sponsored a similar bill, Public Law 114-5, that honors participants of the Selma to Montgomery March of March 1965 with a Congressional Gold Medal. Sewell also spearheaded efforts that led to the establishment of the Birmingham Civil Rights National Historic Park in Birmingham in January 2017. She also worked through the National Park Service to provide funding in 2017 for the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, and Brown Chapel Church in Selma. In January 2023, she introduced legislation to make December 1 Rosa Parks Day, a federal holiday in honor of the civil rights icon who was arrested that day in 1955.