Terri Sewell

Terri Sewell
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Alabama's 7th district
Assumed office
January 3, 2011
Preceded by Artur Davis
Personal details
Born Terrycina Andrea Sewell
(1965-01-01) January 1, 1965
Huntsville, Alabama, U.S.
Political party Democratic
Alma mater Princeton University
St Hilda's College, Oxford
Harvard Law School
Religion African Methodist Episcopal Church
Website House website

Terrycina Andrea "Terri" Sewell[1] (born January 1, 1965)[2] is an American politician, elected in 2010 as the U.S. Representative for Alabama's 7th congressional district. The 7th district includes most of the Black Belt, as well as most of the predominantly black portions of Birmingham, Tuscaloosa and Montgomery.

Sewell is a member of the Democratic Party and the first black woman elected to Congress from Alabama.[3] Sewell is the only Democrat in Alabama's seven-member congressional delegation. Sewell and Republican Martha Roby, also elected in 2010, are the first women elected to Congress from Alabama in regular elections.[4]

A native of Selma, Sewell is a graduate of Princeton University, Harvard Law School and Oxford University. She is a public finance attorney.

Early life and education

Terrycina Sewell, known as "Terri," was raised in Selma, Alabama. She is the daughter of Andrew A. Sewell, a former high school basketball coach, and Nancy Gardner Sewell, a retired high school librarian and former City Councilwoman in Selma. Her mother was the first black woman elected to the Selma City Council.[5] Both parents held careers in the Selma public school system.

Sewell was the first black valedictorian of Selma High School. Her mother's family was politically active, offering its homestead to activists who came for the 1965 Selma to Montgomery marches to gain voting rights. Sewell spent her childhood summers in Lowndes County, Alabama with her maternal grandparents. Her grandfather, a Primitive Baptist minister and a farmer, instilled in her a love for the land, an appreciation of hard work, and the importance of her faith. Her grandfather and the members of Beulah Primitive Baptist Church gave her a deep understanding of the Black Belt Region and its people.

Sewell graduated with honors from Princeton University and received a scholarship from U.S. News and World Report, among others. A lifelong Democrat, during the summers while in college, she worked on Capitol Hill for 7th congressional district congressman Richard Shelby, as well as for Senator Howell Heflin. She was a leader on the college campus, serving in various roles including class vice-president, class representative to the Student Union, and spearheading the admission office’s effort to set up a Minority Student Recruitment office to recruit more minority students to the university.[6]

Upon graduation from college, Sewell was featured on NBC’s Today Show as one of the “Top Collegian Women.” She was chosen as one of the “Top Ten College Women in America” by Glamour Magazine. She received the Afro-American Studies Thesis Prize for her senior thesis, Black Women in Politics: Our Time Has Come, which featured a personal interview with Shirley Chisholm, the first black U.S. Congresswoman.[7] Sewell continued her education, receiving a master's degree with first-class Honours from Oxford University with the support of a Marshall Scholarship. At the age of 25, she published her Masters’ thesis on the election of the first black members of British parliament as a book titled, Black Tribunes: Race and Representation in British Politics (1993).[8]

Sewell attended Harvard Law School with the help of an NAACP Legal Defense Fund scholarship, graduating in 1992. In law school, she served as an editor of the Civil Rights Civil Liberties Law Review.[9] She published an article titled “Selma, Lord, Selma,” about the legal struggles in Selma, in the Harvard Black Letter Journal, (vol. 8, Spring 1991).

After graduation, Sewell served as a judicial law clerk in Birmingham, Alabama to the Chief Judge U. W. Clemon,[10] United States District Court (AL-ND), who was the first black federal judge appointed in Alabama.

Sewell began her legal career in 1994 at the Wall Street law firm of Davis Polk & Wardwell. A securities lawyer for more than a decade, she gained experience in finance and the capital markets. Sewell provided free legal services to the homeless, mentored girls of color in NYC high schools through the program Dreams into Action, and served on the Alumni Advisory Board of Sponsors of Educational Opportunity (SEO), a not-for-profit organization providing education, leadership training and Wall Street internships to students of color. Through her involvement with SEO, she served as the co-chair of the Community Assistance Fund, which provided $300,000,000 of aid and assistance to organizations serving communities of color affected by the events of September 11, 2001.

Sewell returned to Alabama in 2004 to assist her mother in the care of her father. As the first black female partner in the Birmingham law firm of Maynard, Cooper, & Gale, P.C., Sewell has distinguished herself as one of the only black public finance lawyers in the State of Alabama. She served as a lawyer helping to raise money for public projects for some of the state’s most underserved public entities, many in Alabama's 7th congressional district, including the City of Selma, Dallas County Water Authority, and Lowndes County Board of Education. Sewell made educational finance a particular focus of her practice, representing the historically black colleges in Alabama, including Alabama State University, Tuskegee University, and Stillman College, as well as other higher education institutions such as Wallace State-Hanceville, Jefferson State Community College, Chattahoochee Valley Community College, and the State of Alabama’s Public Schools and University Authority.

U.S. House of Representatives



After four-term Democratic incumbent Artur Davis gave up the seat to run for governor, Sewell entered the Democratic primary—the real contest in this majority Democratic, majority-black district. She finished first in the four-way primary with 36.8 percent of the vote.[11] In the runoff, she defeated Jefferson County commissioner Sheila Smoot with 55 percent of the vote.[12][13]

In the general election, Sewell defeated Republican opponent Don Chamberlain in a landslide, taking 72.4 percent of the vote to become the first black woman elected to Congress from Alabama. The 7th is so strongly Democratic that Sewell essentially clinched her seat by winning the primary.[14]


Sewell was the only candidate to file for the Democratic nomination in 2012, and won the general election over Chamberlain as in 2010.[15][16]


Sewell was challenged in the Democratic primary by Tamara Harris Johnson, a former Birmingham City Attorney. No Republican even filed, so for all intents and purposes the Democratic primary was the general election. Sewell defeated Johnson with 83.9% of the primary vote, effectively clinching a third term.


Since being elected, Sewell has voted with her party 91% of the time, and she has been noted as a strong supporter of President Obama's policies.[17][18] Sewell has established herself as a liberal with a focus on job creation.[19] Sewell is a member of the Congressional Black Caucus.


Sewell supported President Obama's plan to extend tax cuts for low- and middle-income Americans, but declined to discuss her stance on taxation for high-income Americans.[17] In response to Obama's Framework for Business Tax Reform, Sewell said: "I applaud the President for outlining a bold framework for reforming the U.S. business tax system."[20]

In 2012 Sewell criticized Republican Presidential nominee Mitt Romney's tax returns and effective tax rates, saying "it should be about shared responsibility. I think that something is fundamentally wrong if a person of his great wealth is only paying 13.9 percent effective tax rate and most of Americans are paying 28, 30 percent and they make far less.”[21]

Foreign policy

Sewell supported Obama's decisions regarding Afghanistan, citing "trust" for his policies.[17] She was part of a bi-partisan delegation to accompany Nancy Pelosi on a 2-day trip to Afghanistan in May 2012. While there, they spent time "with American service-members and meeting local officials to discuss security and women’s issues."[22]

Committee assignments

Representative Sewell currently serves on the following House committees:[23]

Personal life

Terri Sewell served as co-chair of the Women’s Fund “Voices Against Violence” inaugural campaign, which promoted women helping women to overcome domestic violence. The campaign raised more than $70,000 in four months to fight domestic violence in Birmingham, providing funds to establish the first Domestic Violence Court in Birmingham Municipal Court.[24] Sewell led the effort to have Teach for America select Alabama’s Black Belt region as a new site in 2010.

Sewell has served on numerous boards, including St. Vincent’s Foundation (elected Treasurer of the Board and Chair of its Finance Committee); Girl Scouts of Cahaba Council; the Alabama Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society; the Community Advisory Board for the UAB Minority Health and Research Center; the Governing Board of the Alabama Council on Economic Education; and she is a member of the Corporate Partners Council for Birmingham Art Museum.

Sewell was listed in the magazine Alabama Super Lawyers[8] for 2008 and 2009. She was honored with the 2007 Minority Business “Rising Star” award by the Birmingham Business Journal (BBJ).[24] She was selected by the BBJ as one of the “Top Birmingham Women” in 2005. She was a member of the class of 2006-2007 Leadership Birmingham, and a member of the YWCA’s Women Leadership MOMENTUM class of 2007-2008. She is a member of the class of 2008-2009 Leadership Alabama. In 2015, Sewell was named a Woman of Influence in Alabama Today's "Women of Influence" [25] series.

Sewell is a lifetime member of Brown Chapel AME Church in Selma.[26] She currently worships at Sixth Avenue Baptist Church in Birmingham. She was selected to participate on the panel, "From Lincoln to Obama," for the Congressional Black Caucus' Annual Legislative Forum to discuss Southern politics.

She is an active member of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority and The Links, Incorporated.

She was married in 1998 to Theodore Dixie of Huntsville, Alabama. They were later divorced.[27]

Electoral history

Alabama's 7th Congressional District Democratic Primary Election, 2010
Party Candidate Votes %
Democratic Terri Sewell 31,531 36.80
Democratic Sheila Smoot 24,490 28.59
Democratic Earl Hilliard, Jr. 22,981 26.82
Democratic Martha Bozeman 6,672 7.79
Alabama's 7th Congressional District Democratic Primary Runoff Election, 2010
Party Candidate Votes %
Democratic Terri Sewell 32,366 55.00
Democratic Sheila Smoot 26,481 45.00
Alabama's 7th Congressional District Election, 2010
Party Candidate Votes %
Democratic Terri Sewell 136,696 72.43
Republican Don Chamberlain 51,890 27.50
Write-ins Write-ins 138 0.07
Alabama's 7th Congressional District Election, 2012
Party Candidate Votes %
Democratic Terri Sewell (inc.) 232,520 75.85
Republican Don Chamberlain 73,835 24.09
Write-ins Write-ins 203 0.07
Alabama's 7th Congressional District Democratic Primary Election, 2014
Party Candidate Votes %
Democratic Terri Sewell (inc.) 74,953 83.91
Democratic Tamara Harris Johnson 14,374 16.09
Alabama's 7th Congressional District Election, 2014
Party Candidate Votes %
Democratic Terri Sewell (inc.) 133,687 98.37
Write-ins Write-ins 2,212 1.63


  1. "Terrycina Andrea Sewell - $1,802,819 raised, '10 election cycle, Alabama (AL), Democrat Party, Congress". Campaignmoney.com. Retrieved 2012-08-29.
  2. "New Members 2010 - Alabama - The Hill - covering Congress, Politics, Political Campaigns and Capitol Hill". TheHill.com. Retrieved 2012-08-29.
  3. "Black Lawmakers Break New Ground, Suffer Losses | Madame Noire | Black Women's Lifestyle Guide | Black Hair | Black Love". Atlantapost.com. 2010-11-03. Retrieved 2012-08-29.
  4. Elizabeth B. Andrews was elected to fill an unexpired term in the House, while Senators Dixie Bibb Graves and Maryon Pittman Allen were appointed and never elected.
  5. Thompson, Krissah (March 1, 2015). "Rep. Terri Sewell, a daughter of Selma, rues her city's lost promise". Washington Post.
  6. Che, Erica (April 8, 2009). "Sewell '86 launches historic campaign for Congress". The Daily Princetonian. Retrieved 22 August 2010.
  7. Olopade, Dayo (March 10, 2010). "Tomorrow's Crop of Black Women Leaders". The Root. Retrieved August 22, 2010.
  8. 1 2 Gulden, Erin (May 2008). "Selma Bound". Alabama Super Lawyers. Retrieved 22 August 2010.
  9. "Harvard CRCL Has Moved!". Law.harvard.edu. Retrieved 2010-07-11.
  10. "U. W. Clemon". Encyclopedia of Alabama. Retrieved 2010-08-22.
  11. "AL - District 07 - D Primary Race - Jun 01, 2010". Our Campaigns. Retrieved 2012-08-29.
  12. "AL District 07 - D Runoff Race - Jul 13, 2010". Our Campaigns. Retrieved 2012-08-29.
  13. Sonmez, Felicia (July 13, 2010). "Robert Bentley clinches Republican nod for governor in Alabama". The Washington Post. Retrieved 22 August 2010.
  14. "AL - District 07 Race - Nov 02, 2010". Our Campaigns. Retrieved 2012-08-29.
  15. Dean, Charles J. (January 13, 2012). "U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell uncontested in Democratic primary". The Birmingham News. Retrieved January 16, 2012.
  16. Alabama Secretary of State "Official Election Results, 2012 General Election"
  17. 1 2 3 "On The Issues". Who Runs Gov. The Washington Post. Retrieved 18 July 2012.
  18. "Voting History". Open Congress. OpenCongress. Retrieved 26 June 2012.
  19. "Terri A. Sewell (D-Ala.)". Who Runs Gov. The Washington Post. Retrieved 26 June 2012.
  20. "Statement From Congresswoman Terri A. Sewell on President Obama's Framework for Business Tax Reform". House Press Release. Retrieved 18 July 2012.
  21. "Rep. Sewell (D-AL) criticizes Romney tax rate; Rep. West (R-FL) says we need reform". CNN. 24 January 2012. Retrieved 18 July 2012.
  22. Mali, Meghashyam (13 May 2012). "Pelosi leads delegation on Afghanistan visit". The Hill's Global Affairs. Retrieved 18 July 2012.
  23. "Committees & Caucuses". U.S. Congress. Retrieved 2016-04-16.
  24. 1 2 Pier, Ashley (August 17, 2007). "Sewell has answered the call since returning home". Birmingham Business Journal. Retrieved 22 August 2010.
  25. Apryl Marie Fogel. "Women of Influence: U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell". Alabama Today.
  26. Thompson, Krissah; Harris, Hamil R. (2015-06-20). "What's the right reaction when a white stranger walks into a black church?". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2016-04-28.
  27. "Theodore Dixie Jr., Terrycina Sewell". The New York Times. 21 June 1998.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Terri Sewell.
United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Artur Davis
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Alabama's 7th congressional district

United States order of precedence (ceremonial)
Preceded by
Austin Scott
United States Representatives by seniority
Succeeded by
Steve Stivers
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