Carrie Cunningham

Author of Meaning Train: Essays on Religion and Politics

Good sisters: African American women and the rise of Kamala Harris

Black women believe in fundamental fairness. We know the difference between right and wrong. That is a way of finding our way.

--Elaine Jones

Kamala Harris, the nominee for vice president of the United States, is a good fighter for her African American people.

Throughout her commendable rise as an African American woman prosecutor, San Francisco District Attorney, California Attorney General and a United States Senator, she has advocated for African American social and economic justice.

Harris’s achievements reflect the American Dream. She is the daughter of a Jamaican father and Indian mother. Harris accompanied her parents at civil rights protests as a youth, and she gives credit to her mother for raising her as a fervent African American woman.

Harris matriculated at the African American Howard University as a young woman. With her parents as a model, she contributed to social justice matters, including opposing South African apartheid and staging a sit-in at an administration building to protest the elimination of a newspaper editor, according to the Washington Post.

She believes Howard gave her confidence.

“Every signal told students that we could be anything—we were young, gifted and black,” she said of her alma mater in her memoir

For her job tenure in California, Harris she has been criticized for being a tough cop, a moniker she rejects. Rather she was actually quite progressive, promulgating good ideas such as job and education programs for minimal offenders.

She has become more progressive as a senator. She has urged for more coronavirus relief money for African Americans, who are disproportionally affected by the disease. Moreover, in the wake of the George Floyd murder, she has participated in protests and has supported legislation with New Jersey Senator Cory Booker that forbids police chokeholds, racial profiling and no-knock warrants, according to Politico and the New York Times.

Harris’s ascent is in part a result of the giant women who preceded her. Think of politician Shirley Chisholm and humane talk show host and media celebrity Oprah Winfrey. Contemplate aviator Bessie Coleman and writer Zora Neale Hurston.

All these women worked on behalf of African Americans and for the human race as a whole.

One woman deserves particular attention: Congresswoman Barbara Jordan.

In their book, “The African American Century,” Cornel West and Henry Louis Gates limn a beautiful portrait of Jordan.

Jordan was a State senator and U.S Congresswoman representing Texas. She is known as a centrist advocating for social justice for African Americans and Constitutional mores.

Jordan was reared in Texas. She was a vigorous debater at Texas State University where she graduated magna cum laude. She went on to law school at Boston University.

Jordan came of age at the beginning of the civil rights movement. The Montgomery bus boycott and marches and demonstrations captivated her. In 1960, she worked on John F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign. She loved politics and wanted to run for political office herself.  While she lost runs for the Texas State Senate a couple of times, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 motivated her to make another run. She ran and won the race with 60 percent of the vote, becoming the first African American woman and first African American since Reconstruction to be elected.

Jones had a productive tenure as a state senator. She worked in a good way on fair employment practices and against restrictive voting registration laws. Moreover, President Lyndon Johnson consulted her for her views about race for his fair housing initiative.

Jordan was elected to the House of Representatives in 1972. In 1974, she was reelected with 80 percent of the vote. She was the first black woman to be elected from the South.

West and Gates applauded Jordan for being, like the late John Lewis and Thurgood Marshall, a source of conscience in national politics. She was a vital member of the Congressional Black Caucus. She morally led with a combination of “the eloquence of the black preaching tradition” and “the prudence of the American political system,” they said. Jordan has been criticized for her political moderation, but her centrism allowed her to pass social justice legislation for African Americans, minorities and women.

Jordan stood up for her people as a Congresswoman. She authored a civil rights amendment to a bill for law enforcement funding, and she opposed Gerald Ford’s nominee for vice president because of his paltry civil rights record, according to the U.S. House’s History, Art & Archives website.

Her big-hearted and good beliefs extended to other marginalized groups. For instance, she helped pass a good extension of the Voting Rights Act to Latinos and Native Americans, the website said.

Harris, with her grit and determination and welcoming nature and good ideas, will surely flourish if elected. Looking back and looking forward, she will meet the challenge of working for change that her forebearers accomplished. We should be grateful for African American female leaders. Humanity should see their decency and value. They are good.