On Tuesday presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden announced his running mate – Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA). In doing so, Sen. Harris has become the first Black woman and first South Asian American woman to be the vice-presidential nominee of a major political party. If elected, Sen. Harris would become the first female, first Black, and first Asian American vice president in the history of the United States. Sen. Harris stands on the shoulders of many groundbreaking women who came before her including Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman elected to Congress and the first Black woman to seek the presidential nomination from a major political party, and Charlotta Bass, the first Black woman to run for vice president.
Sen. Harris grew up in Oakland, California as the daughter of an Indian cancer researcher and a Jamaican economics professor. Growing up, she embraced both sides of her heritage – attending both a Hindu temple and a Black Baptist church. As a first grader, Sen. Harris was bussed from her majority-Black neighborhood to a majority-white elementary school during its second year of integration. After attending middle and high school in Montreal, Harris attended Howard University – the prestigious historically Black university in Washington, D.C. – because her hero, Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, had attended. Following graduation, she attended law school at the University of California, Hastings.
Her historic role as a vice presidential candidate continues Sen. Harris’ long career of breaking down barriers. After working in both the Alameda County prosecutor’s office and the San Francisco district attorney’s office, she ran for District Attorney of San Francisco in 2003. When she won, Sen. Harris became the first black female district attorney in California. In 2010, Harris ran for California Attorney General and won by 0.8%, becoming the first female, first Black, and first Asian-American attorney general in California’s history. In achieving this victory she also became the first South Asian American attorney general in the United States.
As attorney general, Sen. Harris negotiated a $25 billion settlement deal with the 5 largest mortgage companies in the United States. The settlement came after Sen. Harris turned down a smaller settlement deal, arguing that it was not big enough. This decision was initially widely criticized, but her gamble paid off- affording Californians $18.4 billion in mortgage relief.
In 2016, Sen. Harris was elected to the U.S. Senate; becoming only the second black female senator, and the first South-Asian-American senator, in the US’s history. It was also the first time California had elected a black female senator. In 2020 Sen. Harris ran for president but dropped out during the Democratic primary due to funding shortages. Sen. Harris’ career is full of accomplishments, and the announcement on Tuesday further solidifies her role as a trailblazer for women, especially women of color.
Sources: New York Times 8/11/20; National Women’s History Museum 2015; Washington Post 8/12/20; CNN 8/12/20; New York Times 8/12/20; Politico 8/11/20; Politico Magazine 1/24/19; Vox 6/16/17; CNN 8/11/20