Kamala Harris’ rise is the legacy of other black women, some of whom may surprise you, experts say

Election 2020
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NEW YORK — Sen. Kamala Harris’s vice presidential nomination is the latest, most prominent chapter in a long narrative of political struggle, and political achievement, by American women of color.

That’s the analysis of a number of civic leaders, scholars, and other political leaders of color, as they watched the California senator join the top of the Democratic Party ticket.

For her part, Harris has for years acknowledged that her place in political history is due to other women of color coming before her. Last year, then presidential candidate-Harris specifically singled out a Black, female New Yorker as paving the way: Shirley Chisholm, the congresswoman from Brooklyn, as an influence.

On Wednesday, another pioneering black, female New York political leader — New York State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins — agreed that Chisholm is in a pantheon of women of color who paved the way forward.

“The fact that she would look to a Shirley Chisholm, whom we all admire,” Stewart-Cousins said in a Zoom interview, “could you believe the audacity of Chisholm that she could be president?”

Chisholm ran for president in 1972.

Forth-three years later, in 2015, it was Loretta Lynch who broke barriers as a Black female New Yorker that became U.S. attorney general.

Her rise was a milestone, cited Wednesday by the leader of one of the country’s oldest and most storied social institutions for women of color: the sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha, or AKA.

AKA, of which Harris is a member, has more than 300,000 members, and is part of a consortium of African American service organizations that are openly supportive of Harris’s success.

“There was so much excitement,” said Dr. Glenda Glover, the international president of AKA, as she compared Harris’s ascendancy to Lynch’s in an interview with PIX11 News.

Harris joined AKA during her time at Howard University, a historically Black school in Washington, D.C.

In addition to her role at AKA, Glover is also president of Tennessee State University, also an HBCU.

“Here’s a person that we have trained,” Glover said, adding that she wants to see her succeed.

It’s worth pointing out that while Harris is the first woman of color to be selected as vice presidential nominee for a major political party, she is not the first black woman nominated to be VP on any party’s slate.

Charlotta Bass was the Progressive Party’s vice presidential candidate in 1952, and Angela Davis ran as the VP pick on the Communist Party ticket in 1980 and 1984.

While both parties were long shots, some observers point out that all politically active Black women have been vital to the narrative that’s led to Harris’s rise.

Dr. Martha Jones, a historian at Johns Hopkins University, argues in her book “Vanguard: How Black Women Broke Barriers, Won the Vote, and Insisted on Equality for All,” that having American women of color be politically active for a very long time — even when they were disenfranchised — has led to this moment.

“For 200 years,” Jones told PIX11 News, “Black women were the first to critique how racism and sexism distorted, [and] perverted American democracy.”

Their critiques, Jones said, have improved the American political system, even though it is not a perfect union.

“Kamala Harris’s nomination,” Jones concluded, “is in a sense the embodiment, the endorsement of that vision.”

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