Harris’s Speech Placed Her In The Long Legacy Of Black Women Who Built AmericaRoundup
tags: slavery, African American history, political history, voting rights, womens history, Kamala Harris, black womens history
Kellie Carter Jackson is an assistant professor in the department of Africana studies at Wellesley College and author of Force and Freedom: Black Abolitionists and the Politics of Violence.
On Wednesday, Kamala D. Harris delivered her first official address as the Democratic vice-presidential candidate. Her speech began by evoking the names of formidable Black women: Mary Church Terrell, Fannie Lou Hamer, Constance Motley, Shirley Chisholm and others. She was linking her candidacy to a long, rich history of Black women who have pushed the country toward its democratic ideals.
Harris is the first Black woman to be selected for the second-in-command slot and could be the first Black female vice president, and eventually the first-ever Black female president. To be clear, she is not the Black woman who happens to be a vice-presidential candidate. She is a Black woman vice-presidential candidate. Her identity matters deeply. Historically, Black women have been at the forefront of political, economic and social change and being part of this lineage is how Harris ended up on the Democratic ticket.
It was Black women who made this country. During slavery, Black women toiled in fields and were preyed upon in the house. Black women’s wombs served as the engines of American slavery, reproducing lives and labor. Black women were the original housekeepers and homemakers who lived through the irony of being slandered as unfit mothers and while being perfectly capable of nursing and raising White children for success.
Enslaved Black women resisted their oppression and fought to end the institution of slavery. In fact, abolitionist Frederick Douglass was adamant that “when the true history of the anti-slavery cause shall be written, woman will occupy a large space in its pages; for the cause of the slavery has been peculiarly woman’s cause.” Historians have written painstakingly about Black women bearing the brunt of violence, enduring sexual assault, the theft of their children and a more difficult path to escape slavery’s grip.
It was Black women who channeled grief with inequality into demands for equality. It was a Black woman, Elizabeth Freedman, who was the first African American woman to successfully file a lawsuit for freedom in Massachusetts in 1781 and win her freedom. She challenged the hypocrisy of the Founders, who cried for liberty while owning enslaved people. These women changed the course of history, created precedents and enabled Americans to reimagine what was possible in the face of insurmountable odds.
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