Imagine If We Took Personal Ambition Out of Politics

Coming of age, Dr. Shirley Weber dreamt of becoming a good educator and making a difference in her community. Becoming California’s first Black secretary of State — and the path that led her there — was not part of what she calls “her life agenda.”

The daughter of sharecroppers from Arkansas, Weber grew up in Los Angeles in a home that valued the power of education and the right to vote. She became a professor at San Diego State University at the age of 23, completing her Ph.D. by the age of 26. By the time she retired, she had taught for more than 40 years in SDSU’s Africana studies department — one she helped create.

Teaching was as close to her heart as fighting to make education better in California. As she grew up, Weber saw her parents organizing the community. Her mother registered neighbors to vote, but at the time, there were no libraries or churches close enough that could be used as a polling place for their precinct. So she offered Weber’s childhood home in L.A.