The Significance Of The 1870 Pin At The State Of The Union

In what was not the first instance of members of Congress using what they wore to the president's annual State of the Union address to express their stance on a number of issues, members of the Congressional Black Caucus wore "1870" pins as President Joe Biden delivered his second State of the Union speech given on Feb. 7, 2023, as Axios reports. Other politicians wore lapel pins in the shape of crayons to show their support for federally-funded child care, while other legislators wore blue and yellow ribbons in solidarity with Ukraine as the Russian occupation of the country entered its second year.

As far as the "1870" pins worn by some Democratic politicians such as Minnesota Representative Ilhan Omar, as well as others from both within and outside the Congressional Black Caucus, that number reportedly referenced a concern at the forefront of many people's minds, both in Congress and elsewhere around the country, as Biden made his appearance: the ongoing issue of police brutality in the U.S. perpetrated on Black civilians, as Axios writes.

The pins were distributed by Representative Bonnie Watson Coleman

As USA Today reports, the black pins with the white numbers reading "1870," which were worn at President Biden's 2023 State of the Union speech, were distributed by Representative Bonnie Watson Coleman (pictured), a Democrat from New Jersey. In a video posted on Twitter before the event, Watson Coleman explained her motivation (via tweet) for doing so: "Today, my @TheBlackCaucus ... colleagues and I are standing united against police brutality," she said. "Police reform cannot wait any longer. Our communities deserve better," she continued.

The number on the pins stands for the year 1870 when Philadelphia police officers shot and killed an unarmed free Black man named Henry Truman, in what was the first known instance in America of police brutality towards a free and unarmed Black person, as The Washington Post reports. Per The Post, each pin had a note attached which read, " ... history has repeated itself once again," referring to the death of Tyre Nichols at the hands of Memphis police on Jan. 7, 2023, and for which five police officers were charged with murder (via CBS News). "153 years later, nothing has changed," Watson Coleman's note continued. Reportedly, 30 pins were distributed.

The 15th Amendment also passed in 1870

Based on Axios' reporting, 1870 also holds significance in the history of racial justice in the U.S. as that was also the year the Federal Government passed the 15th Amendment, granting Black men the right to vote (via The National Archives). Black women, as it was with all women, were denied the right to vote until the 19th Amendment was passed in 1920 (per the U.S. Congress). In his 2023 State of the Union address, President Biden urged Congress to pass the "George Floyd Justice in Policing Act," legislation supported by the Congressional Black Caucus, to help address racial bias in policing, as The Washington Post writes.

For his speech, Biden also invited a number of family members of Black individuals killed by the police, including the mother and stepfather of 29-year-old Tyre Nichols. Speaking with the Post, Representative Watson Coleman said she hoped the pins would start a conversation, and on the prospect of meaningful police reform, she called herself hopeful. Per a 2022 report from NBC News, in 2021, Black Americans, who account for 13% of the population, make up 27% of all those killed by law enforcement. According to a 2023 article from The Washington Post, more people died in 2022 at the hands of police violence than in any other year on record.