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The Rise Of Kamala Harris: Silver Lining For African American Emancipation?

By Omonu Nelson 

Towards the end of the Cold War, specifically in 1989, a pro western theorist, Francis Fukuyama wrote a thesis, “The End of History and the Last Man.” He argued that, with the collapse of the Soviet Union and by extension, Berlin Wall, and the triumph of western liberal democracy, mankind has come to the end of the evolution of human history. According to him, no other event in human history will surpass the collapse of the Berlin Wall.

The foregoing depicts the emergence of President Barack Obama as United States president in 2008. His inauguration on 20 January 2008, signalled the triumph of human resilience and the victory of jugstice over injustice.

The inauguration of Senator Kamala Harris as the first woman of any race type to occupy the office of the vice president of the United States can be likened to the collapse of Berlin Wall, as there is no important office in the US that African-Americans have not occupied. What the inauguration of Senator Harris means invariably is that the hitherto curtain that separates the Blacks from whites have been dymistified. Though, it is still a long walk to economic justice, analysts believes “The African Americans may not be where there want to be, certainly, they are no longer where they were, when on August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “I have a Dream” speech on the steps of Lincoln Memorial in Washington D. C., before crowd of more than 250,000 people, who demanding for freedom and jobs.

The slow but steady rise of the political fortune of African-Americans in the last half a century have received another tremendous boost, as  Senator Harris is set to be sworn in on Wednesday, 20 January, 2021. Senator Harris had on Monday, 18 January, tendered her resignation as a member of US senate, representing California since 2017. Before becoming a senator, Harris was the attorney general of California from 2011 to 2017.

Following her choice as running mate to Senator Joe Biden for the November 3, presidential election, Ms Harris broke the record as the first woman (both black and white) to be so nominated, after former First Lady, Hilary Clinton emerged and ran for president as Democratic Candidate in 2016.

Until the election of Senator Harris, the highest any black woman have ever attained in US political space was when Condoleezza Rice was appointed by President George Walker Bush as the first woman and 20th US National Security Adviser (2001-2005) and 66th US Secretary of State (2005-2009. Condoleezza “Condi” Rice is an American diplomat, political scientist, civil servant, and professor who is the current director of the Hoover Institute at Stanford University. Before her, Gen Colin Powel had served under President Bill Clinton as the Secretary of State. 

Kamala Harris is the daughter of Donald Harris, who is Jamaican-American. Donald Harris, emigrated to the United States from Jamaica in 1964 to pursue a doctorate degree in economics at the University of California (UC), Berkeley. 

Jamaica’s population mostly consists of those descended from enslaved Africans, brought by the British to work the island’s sugar estates, particularly during the 18th century. As of 2012, 90% of Jamaicans were of African origin. 

Senator Harris has long identified as both Black. She recognizes her black heritage as part of her identity and her senate bio reads that she is “the second African-American woman senator in history.

In her memoir, she described how she and her younger sister Maya were raised with a strong awareness (they) were growing into confident, proud black women.”

Six years later, when she was elected senator, the Times referred to her as “the first black woman elected to represent the state in the United States Senate. 

Meanwhile, at both the US congress in Washington D. C., and state and local legislature, blacks have continued to rise to the Occassion. For instance, Rep Lauren Underwood, D-Ill., and other freshman House members leave Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s Capitol office on January 15. As of this year, 52 House members are black, up from just six in 1965. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Ten years ago, Barack Obama took office as the first black president of the United States – a proud moment for many Americans. Obama’s election represented another advance in the slow but steady progress blacks have made in recent decades in gaining a greater foothold in political leadership, particularly in the U.S. House of Representatives and in the Cabinets of recent presidents. But they have lagged in the Senate and in governorships.

Many blacks view political representation as a potential catalyst for increased racial equality, according to a 2016 Pew Research Center survey. Roughly four-in-ten black adults (38%) said that working to get more black people elected to office would be a very effective tactic for groups striving to help blacks achieve equality. Whites were less likely to view this as an effective way to bring about increased racial equality (24% said it would be very effective).

Data from the past 50 years reveal the upward yet uneven trajectory of black political leadership in America. In 1965, there were no blacks in the U.S. Senate, nor were there any black governors. And only six members of the House of Representatives were black. As of 2019, there is greater representation in some areas – 52 House members are black, putting the share of black House members (12%) on par with the share of blacks in the U.S. population overall for the first time in history. But in other areas, there has been little change (there are three black senators and no black governors).

The share of blacks serving in a presidential Cabinet was at or above parity with the population during the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations. But there was only one black Cabinet secretary during Obama’s first term, and the same is true so far in Donald Trump’s administration.

The first black U.S. senator, Hiram R. Revels, a Republican from Mississippi, was chosen by his state’s Legislature to fill an empty seat. He served for a year, from 1870 to 1871. Since then, nine black Americans have served in the Senate, including Edward W. Brooke of Massachusetts (1967-79), Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois (1993-99), and Obama. But until 2013, no two black senators had been in office at the same time. That year, Tim Scott, R-S.C., and Cory Booker, D-N.J., took office, making it the first time more than one black senator has served. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., joined their ranks in 2017.

Carol Moseley Braun (D-IL), a Black woman, was the first woman of color elected to the U.S. Senate, serving from 1993-1999. 

U.S. House of Representatives

The first Black woman elected to the House was Shirley Chisholm (D-NY), who served from 1969-83. The first Middle Eastern/North African woman elected to the House was Mary Rose Oakar (D-OH) who served from 1977-1993.  A total of 83 women of color have served in the U.S. House of Representatives. In addition to the women currently serving. 

Statewide Elective Executive Offices
One woman of color currently serves as governor. Four women of color currently serve as lieutenant governor in addition to the seven who have already served. 

Black – 16 (11D, 5R)
Velvalea “Vel” Phillips (D-WI)
Pamela Carter (D-IN)
Vikki Buckley (R-CO)
Denise Nappier (D-CT)
Karen Freeman-Wilson (D-IN)
Jennette Bradley (R-OH)
Jennette Bradley (R-OH)
Velda Jones Potter (D-DE)
Sandra D. Kennedy (D-AZ)
Jennifer Carroll (R-FL)
Jenean Hampton (R-KY)
Sheila Oliver (D-NJ)
Tish James (D-NY)
Juliana Stratton (D-IL)
Sandra Kennedy (D-AZ)
Carolyn Stanford Taylor (D-)

Karen Bass (D-CA) was the first woman of color and first Black woman to serve as a House speaker, leading California’s Assembly from 2008-2010. 

Black women of color who have served as mayors in the nation’s 100 largest cities are: Lottie Shackleford, Carrie Saxon Perry, Sharon Pratt Kelly, Sharon Sayles Belton 

Shirley Franklin, Sheila Dixon      
Yvonne Johnson, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake 
Muriel Bowser, Paula Hicks-Hudson
Ivy Taylor, Catherine Pugh
Sharon Weston Broome
London Breed (acting)
Vi Alexander Lyles, Keisha Lance Bottoms
LaToya Cantrell, London Breed
Lori Lightfoot. 

If the current tempo is sustained, it is only a matter of time the African Americans  will say ‘it is now uhuru.’

Omonu Nelson is a Nigerian based journalist, Columnist and Researcher. 

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