First Black Woman to Serve in Vermont Legislature Has Died | News | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice


First Black Woman to Serve in Vermont Legislature Has Died


Published September 8, 2023 at 8:52 a.m.

Louvenia Dorsey Bright - COURTESY
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  • Louvenia Dorsey Bright
Louvenia Dorsey Bright, the first Black woman to serve in the Vermont legislature, died in July at her home in Park Forest, Ill. She was 81.

Bright died of natural causes, according to her son, Bill Bright of Alexandria, Va.

A longtime teacher at Colchester and Burlington high schools, Bright represented South Burlington in the Vermont House of Representatives from 1989 to 1994.

When she was elected, there was only one other Black lawmaker in the 180-member state legislature, Francis Brooks of Montpelier.

“She was very aware of the fact that she was a pioneer,” her son told Seven Days on Thursday. “She would never tell you that, but she understood that.”

Sen. Kesha Ram Hinsdale (D-Chittenden-Southeast) said Bright “paved the way with humility, grace and intention” for her and other women of color — including Diana Gonzalez and Kiah Morris — to serve in the legislature.

“Hers was a life of purpose, and I will always be grateful that she walked the halls of the Statehouse before me so I could feel a greater sense of belonging,” Ram Hinsdale said.

Ram Hinsdale was likely the first Vermonter to learn of Bright’s passing. She contacted Bill Bright on July 30 on behalf of Emerge Vermont, which trains Democratic women to run for office, and told him that the group was giving Bright a lifetime achievement award at the group’s 10th anniversary celebration. He told Ram Hinsdale that his mom had died the previous day, but he would be grateful to accept it on her behalf posthumously.
While Bright was many things — devoted teacher, mother of two, advocate for racial equity — serving as a Vermont lawmaker was one of her proudest achievements.

“She loved it. She threw herself into it wholeheartedly,” Bill Bright said. “To me, it was probably the pinnacle of her professional life.”

Bright moved to Vermont from Detroit in 1971 when her husband, William Bright Sr., was hired as a professor of education at the University of Vermont. She taught business education; raised two children, Bill and his sister Rebecca; and advocated for racial and gender equity. She was a member of the Vermont State Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and a member of the Burlington NAACP.

“She was actually more of an activist than a politician,” her son said.

She didn't think she'd win her first campaign, but her years of community involvement and a catchy slogan (“The Time is Right for Bright”) helped her secure a seat she held for three terms.
Being a lawmaker was mostly a positive experience, her son said, especially when she could make a difference by helping pass the state's first parental and family leave bill, for instance. But the job also “came with some baggage” that eventually took its toll, he added.

“You had your supporters, but you also had people who were waiting in the wings for you to make a mistake so they could say something about it,” Bill Bright said.

Louvenia Bright and her husband retired and in 1995 chose to follow their children out of state, first to Virginia and later to Illinois.

In honor of her legacy, local NAACP chapters established the Bright Leadership Institute in 2021 to train Vermonters of color who want to run for public office.

Emerge Vermont will honor Bright with its Kunin Achievement Award, named for Vermont's only female governor, Madeleine Kunin, at its anniversary celebration on September 23. Kunin, who founded the local Emerge chapter, will turn 90 years old just a few days after the event.

Kiah Morris, who was the second Black woman to serve in the legislature, and Rep. Saudia LaMont (D-Morrisville), the third, will present the award to Bright's family. A’shanti Gholar, president of the national Emerge organization, will also attend, according to the group.

That night, Emerge plans to kick off a fundraising effort to commission a portrait of Bright to be displayed at the Statehouse, according to the local chapter's executive director, Elaine Haney.

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