Human rights lawyer Tara Murray had hopes of somehow witnessing Kamala Harris’ vice-presidential oath in person.
But a raging pandemic and the January 6 violent siege on the US Capitol by a pro-Trump mob got in her way.
So on Wednesday, Murray — the founder of a pro-Harris group, Mamas for Momala — celebrated the inauguration just as she had volunteered during the course of the campaign: remotely. She pulled on a sweater representing the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority that she and Harris share, ate a special lunch of her mother’s gumbo and joined her fellow “Mamas” for a Facebook watch party.
All around the country this week, Black women followed suit — dressing up, toasting and exulting at home and online as the former US senator and California attorney general walked into history.
“I’m not going to allow the plans and the plots of these White supremacist terrorists to interfere with the joy that I have,” the 39-year-old Murray said from her home in the Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington. “This moment belongs to all of us who worked so hard.”
In office, Harris “will stand as one, but she will bring 10,000,” said Glynda Carr, the president and CEO of Higher Heights for America, paraphrasing the late poet Maya Angelou. “She’s a woman. She’s a woman of color. She’s a Black woman, a daughter of immigrants. She belongs to a historically Black Greek Letter organization. She went to a historically Black college.”
“As she governs, she brings those voices with her,” said Carr, whose organization focuses on building Black women’s political power.
Black women were crucial to the Biden-Harris victory, with 90% backing the ticket in November, CNN exit polls show. And in Georgia, a state that went blue in the presidential contest for the first time since 1992, Black women supported Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff by even wider margins — elevating them to the Senate in this month’s runoffs and giving their party control of the chamber.
Black women “show up consistently for this country,” said LaTosha Brown, co-founder of Black Voters Matter Fund, which mobilized voters in Georgia and in key battlegrounds to help secure Joe Biden’s victory. She also helped lead a high-profile campaign last summer by Black female activists to push Biden to add an African American woman to the ticket.
In lobbying then-candidate Biden, “I made a promise that, literally, if you select a Black woman vice president, Black women are going to deliver it to you,” Brown recounted Wednesday.
“And we delivered.”
But Brown’s work in the 2020 election came at an enormous price. She contracted Covid-19 in June while on the campaign trail and has endured death threats for her very public activism. And over the weekend, a long-time Georgia organizer with whom Brown worked died — another heartbreak in the parade of Americans lost to the pandemic.
Chucks and pearls
Brown said her emotions Wednesday swung between “extreme hope” and deep sadness over the injustice and racial divisions that still persist.
But she was determined to celebrate. She watched the inauguration on television from Atlanta — adorned in pearls, a “bedazzled” pair of Converse Chuck Taylor sneakers and an electric blue dress, gifted by a friend to thank Brown for her part in turning Georgia Democratic blue.
“At the end of the day, what Black women have become masters at is not allowing the world to steal our joy,” Brown said.
Around the country, women of all ages and races pulled out their glue guns to pay joyful tribute to Harris by decorating their Chuck Taylors, the brand she sported so often on the campaign trail.
Chucks and Pearls Day, a Facebook group started by Harris supporter Jeanette DeVaughn a little more than a month ago, had grown to more than 89,000 members by Wednesday morning. There, Harris supporters uploaded a steady stream of pictures of their Chucks, studded with pearls, rhinestones and even Swarovski crystals. Lace and satin ribbons often replaced shoestrings.
DeVaughn, an Austin, Texas, grandmother who works part-time at an Amazon distribution center, said women identify with Harris’ high-low style: “classy and sophisticated” pearls paired with ”really, really comfortable” shoes.
This month’s violent siege at the US Capitol saddened DeVaughn because, she said, it was “so disrespectful” of the history-making nature of Harris’ win. The pandemic and heavy security, she felt, had robbed Harris of the chance to enjoy her day as fully as her predecessors had.
But DeVaughn said nothing would deter her from celebrating this week, either. Her inaugural wardrobe: A silky black cocktail dress and pearl-covered purple Chucks.
For many, the party started days before Harris took her oath on Wednesday. At one online “Sip” Sunday sponsored by Higher Heights of America and Essence magazine, a who’s who of Black women in politics celebrated both Harris’ success and their role in it.
They also had fun.
Spinderella — the DJ known as part of the hip-hop group Salt-N-Pepa — entertained the virtual crowd. Samara Davis, of the Black Bourbon Society, walked participants through how to prepare The Kamala, a whiskey sour concoction whose muddled raspberries and mint garnish evoked the AKA sorority’s distinctive pink-and-green colors.
Higher Heights’ Carr and other activists also said they were readying themselves for the political battles that would begin as soon as this week. That includes building support for Biden’s Covid-19 recovery relief package, boosting the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour and helping elevate another Black woman to the US Senate to fill the void now that Harris has ascended to higher office.
A similar path
Murray canvassed for President Barack Obama’s barrier-breaking campaign more than a dozen years ago, but she felt compelled to do even more for the Biden-Harris ticket — given the parallels between her life and Harris’ story.
She, too, was raised in California by a single mom and traveled across the country to attend Howard University, one of the nation’s pre-eminent HBCUs. She pledged AKA in her sophomore year, graduated in 2003 and went on to earn her law degree at Harvard.
Last year, she joined forces with more than 5,000 women around the country to help make Wednesday’s history happen — calling, writing and texting voters in battleground states from Arizona to Florida in the run-up to Election Day. Among their efforts: sending texts to 200,000 Pennsylvania residents, encouraging them to register to vote. They also mailed 20,000 postcards to low-propensity voters in Georgia to encourage them to cast ballots both in the presidential election and in the state’s January 5 Senate runoffs.
Murray has three young children, but the group was open to any woman who “cared about the next generation,” she said. The Momala in the title reflects the nickname Harris’ stepchildren, Cole and Ella Emhoff, bestowed on her.
On Wednesday, Murray was as busy ever. She joined her group’s Facebook watch party. She monitored the inauguration on television with her husband and children. She texted almost constantly with her sorority sisters and other friends.
As she watched the ceremony unfold, Murray marveled at the “prophetic voice” of 22-year-old Amanda Gorman, the youngest inaugural poet in US history, who spoke of a “nation that isn’t broken, but simply unfinished.” She took comfort in Biden’s promise to confront White supremacy head on and work to the heal the country’s divides.
And when Harris, resplendent in a purple coat and dress, uttered the oath of office, Murray joined her two daughters, ages 5 and 2, in wild screaming.
“The best parts of American society were on display today — in contrast to what we saw two weeks ago,” Murray said. “It feels like a dark cloud has lifted.”