By Marc H. Morial
President and CEO of National Urban League
“I just sat with that for a minute. I just sat there. And then I found, out of nowhere, just tears coming down — like they are now. I thought about Betty Shabazz. I thought about Coretta Scott King. I thought about Maya Angelou. I thought about Dorothy Height. And I thought about everything that they have poured into us. … It took Joe Biden to say, ‘It’s time to come out from the shadows.’ To say, ‘I see you.’ He saw her. He saw her qualifications despite all the negative stuff that was being thrown at her. He made history, but I think he will never know how much history he has made.” —Political strategist Minyon Moore.
The selection of Senator Kamala Harris to be the Democratic Vice Presidential nominee represents many “firsts”: The first Black woman to be nominated on a major party ticket. The first person of South Asian descent. The first HBCU grad. More importantly, though, her candidacy is emblematic of this unprecedented moment of racial reckoning in America, and the outsized role that Black women are playing in leading the nation through this period of crisis.
It’s no surprise that Black women have emerged among the nation’s strongest and most competent leaders. The formidable challenges that women, particularly women of color, must overcome to achieve positions of prominence, are like the fire that tempers steel. The National Urban League has had a strong relationship with Senator Harris for many years. We honored her as one of the first recipients of our “Woman of Power” awards in 2004, just after she was elected District Attorney of San Francisco. In 2017, when she assumed office as California’s third female U.S. Senator, and the first of Jamaican or Indian ancestry, we honored her with the Hiram Revels Award for Achievement, named for the first African American to serve in the U.S. Congress.
While we’ve worked closely with her since her election to the Senate, her fierce advocacy for underserved communities since the onset of the pandemic has been invaluable. She, along with Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, was a prime sponsor of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act in the Senate. We recently joined her and other members of Congress to announce legislation that would allow those at risk of eviction to access legal representation, and help protect their credit. As a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, she famously held Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and Attorney General Nominee William Barr to account during their confirmation hearings.
Her groundbreaking selection to the position of the vice-presidential nominee has drawn comparison to the legendary Shirley Chisholm, whom she often cites as a source of inspiration. In 1968, Chisholm became the first Black woman to serve as a member of Congress and in 1972 became the first Black woman to seek the nomination of a major party for President. When she launched her presidential campaign, Harris chose a red and yellow design for her logo that resembles Chisholm’s campaign buttons. Chisholm faced abhorrent racial harassment on her campaign, and nearly half a century later, the racist attacks not only have not subsided – they’re amplified through social media.
But it’s not just crude slurs hurled on Twitter by anonymous trolls — Within hours of the announcement that she had been selected as Joe Biden’s running mate, a major magazine amplified a racist “birther” conspiracy theory about her. Chisholm was realistic about the obstacles her candidacy faced. “I just want to show it can be done,” she often said. Harris was a child when Chisholm ran for President, just to show it could be done, and now she stands a realistic chance of being the first woman to hold the second-highest office in the land. As Joe Biden said the day after announcing his choice, “This morning, all across the nation, little girls woke up, especially little black and brown girls, who so often feel overlooked and undervalued in their communities, but today, today just maybe, they’re seeing themselves for the first time in a new way, as the stuff of presidents and vice presidents.”