Kamala Harris is the last person highlighted for Black History Month, but also the first for Women’s History Month.
Emma Rothberg, NWHM Fellow I 2020-2022
On January 20, 2021, Kamala D. Harris became the first woman, the first African American woman, the first Indian-American, the first person of Asian-American descent, and the first graduate of an HBCU to be sworn in as the Vice President of the United States of America. As she said in her election acceptance speech, she “may be the first, but [she] will not be the last.” Kamala Harris has spent her life breaking glass ceilings.
Born on October 20, 1964 in Oakland, California, Harris is the daughter of immigrants. Her father was born in Jamaica and her mother was born in India. After her parents divorced, Harris and her younger sister Maya were raised by their mother, Shyamala Gopalan Harris, a single parent. Harris recalls she “had a stroller-eye view of the Civil Rights movement” as she went with her mother to marches. These early experiences inspired her to make it her life’s work to fight against injustice.
While growing up in Oakland, she was immersed in both Indian and African American culture. Her mother took Harris to spend time with her grandparents in India during the summer but also made sure her girls were connected to their African American roots. Harris noted in her autobiography, “My mother understood very well that she was raising two black daughters…She knew that her adopted homeland would see Maya and me as black girls and she was determined to make sure we would grow into confident, proud black women.”
After high school, Harris matriculated to Howard University, a HBCU in Washington, D.C. She then received her law degree from the University of California Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco and began her career in the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office. In 2003, Harris was elected as the District Attorney of the City and County of San Francisco.
As a lawyer, Harris immediately began breaking glass ceilings. In 2010, Harris was elected as the first African American and first woman to serve as California’s Attorney General. While Attorney General, she married lawyer Doug Emhoff and became stepmother to his two children. She proudly became “Momala” as well as Attorney General. In 2016, she was elected as a Senator for California, becoming only the second African American woman to ever be elected to the Senate in U.S. history. When speaking to The Washington Post in 2019, Harris spoke about how politicians should not have to fit into boxes because of the color of their skin or their background, saying, “My point was: I am who I am. I’m good with it. You might need to figure it out, but I’m fine with it.”
While in the Senate, Harris served on two powerful committees: the Intelligence Committee and the Judiciary Committee. As the committees dealt with important issues—such as the investigation into Russian influence and meddling in the 2016 election and judicial appointments to the Supreme Court—Harris became known as a sharp, aggressive questioner who could unnerve opposing witnesses.
In 2019, Harris launched her campaign for President of the United States. While she did not win the Democratic primary, she proved that she was capable of taking on an even larger leadership role in the United States. Because of her commitment to fighting injustice, her eloquence, and capabilities for leadership and governance, President-Elect Joseph R. Biden chose Harris as his running mate. This pick made Harris the fourth woman on a major party’s national ticket and the second African American on a presidential ticket.
On the evening of November 7, 2020, standing on an outdoor stage in Wilmington, Delaware, Harris—wearing a suit in suffrage white—spoke to a crowd of cheering Americans about the work women have done, and continue to do, in the United States. She said,
“When [my mother] came here from India at the age of 19, maybe she didn’t quite imagine this moment. But she believed so deeply in an America where a moment like this is possible. So, I’m thinking about her and about the generations of women — Black Women. Asian, White, Latina, and Native American women throughout our nation’s history who have paved the way for this moment tonight. Women who fought and sacrificed so much for equality, liberty, and justice for all, including the Black women, who are too often overlooked, but so often Prove that they are the backbone of our democracy…. But while I may be the first woman in this office, I won’t be the last. Because every little girl watching tonight sees that this is a country of possibilities.
And to the children of our country, regardless of your gender, our country has sent you a clear message: Dream with ambition, lead with conviction, and see yourself in a way that others might not see you, simply because they’ve never seen it before.”Share: