This week California Senator Kamala Harris, the daughter of two immigrant parents, made history by becoming the first Black woman to join the ticket of a major party and seize the nomination for vice president of the United States. Senator Harris is a proud graduate of Howard University, one of many Historic Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU’s) throughout the country and is only the second Black woman elected to the Senate. Senator Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois being the first. Senator Harris stands on the shoulders of Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, who ran for President in 1972 and countless other black women leaders whose political power continues to shape our government and influence society.
We cannot overstate the importance of Black women in democratic politics. Six months ago, in February of 2020, Vice President Joe Biden’s presidential campaign was on life support. After poor showings in Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada primaries, Vice President Biden’s campaign was losing ground. Supporters were losing hope, and the media spoke of him as an also-ran candidate whose time had passed.
Then came the African American vote in South Carolina. On February 29, Vice President Joe Biden captured nearly two-thirds of the African American vote. Black women, in particular, provided the majority stamp of approval for Vice President Joe Biden and gave his campaign a definitive victory that would carry him through Super Tuesday. By the Ides of March, it became clear that Vice President Joe Biden would be the Democratic nominee for President of the United States.
The impact that Black Women have had on national politics is long and distinguished. In 1896, in Boston, Black reformers like Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin and Charlotte Forten Grimke founded the National Association of Colored Women (NACW). During their meetings at the Charles Street Meeting House, members discussed ways of attaining civil rights and women’s suffrage. The NACW’s motto, “Lifting as we climb,” reflected the organization’s goal to “uplift” the status of Black women. In 1913, Ida B. Wells founded the Alpha Suffrage Club of Chicago, the nation’s first Black women’s club explicitly focused on suffrage.
After the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920, Black women voted in elections and held political offices. Many states, however, passed laws that discriminated against African Americans and limited our freedoms. Nevertheless, Black women continued to fight for our rights. Educator and political advisor Mary McLeod Bethune formed the National Council of Negro Women in 1935 to pursue civil rights. Following her lead, tens of thousands of African Americans worked over several decades to secure suffrage, which did not occur until Congress finally passed the Voting Rights Act in 1965. This Act represents more than a century of work by Black women to make voting more accessible and more equitable for all Americans.
In the elections of 2008 and 2012, Black women had the highest turnout rate among all racial, ethnic, and gender groups. Election after election, African Americans vote more consistently and are more loyal to their chosen candidates than any other significant demographic. In many cases, Black women serve as the foundations of their families and pillars in their communities, influencing candidates, and insisting on the adoption of policies that are intended to improve their children’s lives and positively impact their communities.
The Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP) at Rutgers University recently announced that a record number of African American women are running for elected office in 2020. At least 130 Black women are major-party congressional candidates in 2020, including 117 Black women candidates for the U.S. House and 13 Black women candidates for the U.S. Senate – the majority of whom are Democratic candidates.
As Black women continue to shape Democratic politics, we must recognize the power of all our votes and the strength in our collective voices. This November, our Vote should embody the American values to which we all aspire. We must elect the candidates who best reflect the morals we teach our children to say aloud when they recite the “Pledge of Allegiance”–We must become “One Nation, Under God, with Liberty and Justice FOR ALL.”
Make Black Count this election and Vote!