WASHINGTON — Vice President Kamala Harris broke the barrier that has kept men at the top ranks of American power for more than two centuries when she took the oath yesterday to hold the nation’s second-highest office.
Harris was sworn in as the first female US vice president — and the first Black woman and person of South Asian descent to hold the position — in front of the US Capitol by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Later, she presided as Senate president for the first time to swear in three new Democratic senators, including her replacement.
The moment was steeped in history and significance in more ways than one. She was escorted to the podium by Capitol Police Officer Eugene Goodman, the officer who single-handedly took on a mob of Trump supporters as they tried to breach the Senate floor during the Capitol insurrection that sought to overturn the election results. Harris was wearing clothes from two young, emerging Black designers — a deep purple dress and coat.
After taking the oath of office, a beaming Harris hugged her husband, Douglas Emhoff and gave President Joe Biden a fist bump.
Her rise is historic in any context, another moment when a stubborn boundary falls away, expanding the idea of what’s possible in American politics. But it’s particularly meaningful because Harris is taking office at a moment when Americans are grappling over institutional racism and confronting a pandemic that has disproportionately devastated Black and brown communities.
Those close to Harris say she’ll bring an important — and often missing — perspective to the debates on how to overcome the many hurdles facing the new administration.
“In many folks’ lifetimes, we experienced a segregated United States,” said Lateefah Simon, a civil rights advocate and longtime Harris friend and mentee.
“You will now have a Black woman who will walk into the White House not as a guest but as a second in command of the free world.”
Harris — the child of immigrants, a stepmother of two and the wife of a Jewish man — “carries an intersectional story of so many Americans who are never seen and heard.”
Her family joined her on stage as she took the oath and later during her procession to her new office building near the White House. She was led by her alma mater Howard University’s marching band and walked while holding the hand of her grandniece and alongside her husband, stepchildren, sister, brother-in-law and nieces.
People who want to understand Harris and connect with her will have to learn what it means to graduate from a historically Black college and university rather than an Ivy League school. They will have to understand Harris’ traditions, like the Hindu celebration of Divali, Jones said.
“Folks are going to have to adapt to her rather than her adapting to them,” Jones said.