On August 11th, 2020, Joe Biden announced his much-anticipated Vice Presidential Candidate as Kamala Harris. Just glancing at social media, one could feel the excitement throughout the Democratic Party. These supporters did not laud their presidential candidate’s choice because he was their candidate, but rather because of the historical choice he made. Kamala Harris is the first African/Asian American woman to be nominated to the second-highest position in D.C.
However, there are higher historical implications than Harris being the first African/Asian American Vice Presidential Candidate. Her candidacy implies that our country’s society is moving at a faster rate towards societal change than in any previous time period. It implies the coming of the African American woman. To truly grasp how important her candidacy as an African American woman is, one must analyze our history.
The Civil War
Following the end of The Civil War, the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments were passed. The13th amendment freed African American slaves, the 14th amendment protected African Americans from having their rights abridged, and the 15th amendment protected African American’s right to vote. However, these amendments (pre-Jim-Crow) gave rights and equal access to African American men. African American women were enfranchised as American citizens but their access to equality was severely abridged. And, when given the opportunity to fight for their rights, they took it.
The Progressive Era
As the 19th century turned to the 20th century, the severe inequalities between the poor and the wealthy, the naturalized citizen and the immigrant, and the woman and the man were too extreme to ignore. These extremities lead to the eruption of protests throughout the country. The poor fought for better working conditions; immigrants fought for improved housing and safety; women fought for alcohol abstinence and the right to vote. African American women played their part in many of these societal protests. They were told that by protesting alongside the white woman to improve the white woman’s life, they would gain the backing of the white coalition in their endeavors. Yet, when they needed help to prevent de jure segregation in voting, after the 19th amendment was passed, white women left them behind. Without the support of one of the largest protest groups in the Progressive era, African American women were once again left behind. But, in their hearts, they still held their fighting resolve.
The Civil Rights Movement
In the 1950s and 1960s, the Civil Rights Movement came to the forefront of American social policy, wherein, women were crucial to its success. Starting in Montgomery, Alabama, the now-famous planned bus sit-in by Rosa Parks sparked the Civil Rights Movement. Two years later, the Little Rock Nine was lead by Elizabeth Eckford and followed by 5 brave young women and 3 brave young men. In 1960, Ruby Bridges, a six-year-old girl singlehandedly desegregated a school in New Orleans. Women were so prevalent in the Civil Rights Movement, that one could argue that without their aid, the movement could have crashed and burned. Through combined efforts with the NAACP, SNCC, and CORE, African American men and women were able to lobby and pass The Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. However, women’s rights were not properly addressed and the female African American coalition believed after fighting alongside their brothers, they would fight together once again, but for women. Sadly, this was not the case. Be it due to the Vietnam war, economic strife, or simply male dominance, African American women had to fight, once again, alone.
As time went on, African American women, were able to establish equality through the women’s rights movement. Be it title IX, which banned sex discrimination in education programs. Be it Roe V. Wade, and other birth control cases, which gave women control over their bodies. Or even, the transition into the workforce through the pressure of the women coalition. Slowly but surely, women also came into the highest positions in America. In 1981, Sandra O’Connor became the first female Supreme Court Justice. In 1997, Madeleine Jana Korbel Albright became the first female Secretary of State. And now, after years of struggle, the African American woman, in the form of Kamala Harris, has taken center stage with Joe Biden as the Democratic Vice Presidential Candidate.
By Jan Gloor with contributions from Paul Jackson