Soon after Democrat Terri Sewell was elected in 2010, The Washington Post lauded her as “the breakout star” of the Congressional Black Caucus. Sewell has a lifelong knack for making friends who become powerful political allies.
Sewell was born in Huntsville and raised in Selma, a hotbed of activity for the civil rights movement. She grew up near the famed Edmund Pettus Bridge, site of the “Bloody Sunday” clash between protest marchers and state troopers. Sewell’s family offered shelter for wayward travelers making the march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965. Hailing from such a place, “you appreciate the significance of your elders’ fight for voting rights and civil rights,” said Sewell, who was two months old at the time of the march. Her mother, Nancy Sewell, was the first African-American woman elected to the Selma City Council.
Sewell earned her undergraduate degree from Princeton University. During that time, she took part in a Big Sister program and drew inspiration from the mentor assigned to her, Michelle Robinson, later first lady Michelle Obama. While Sewell was writing her senior thesis at Princeton, she met former Democratic Rep. Shirley Chisholm of New York, the first African-American woman elected to Congress and a 1972 candidate for president, who was retired by then and teaching at Mount Holyoke College. “I don’t know if anybody could ever follow in Shirley Chisholm’s footsteps, but I can tell you that I was inspired by her whole life story,” Sewell said.