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Kamala Harris reflects on women who 'paved the way' for historic inauguration

Kamala Harris (L) is sworn in as vice president by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor as her husband Doug Emhoff holds the Bible at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday morning. Pool Photo by Andrew Harnik/UPI
Kamala Harris (L) is sworn in as vice president by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor as her husband Doug Emhoff holds the Bible at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday morning. Pool Photo by Andrew Harnik/UPI | License Photo

Jan. 20 (UPI) -- Kamala Harris marked her historic inauguration Wednesday as the first woman, first Black and South Asian American vice president with a tribute to her mother and the women who have fought for women's equality for the past 100 years.

In a video posted to Twitter, Harris says they paved the way for this moment: "I stand on their shoulders."

"I'm thinking about the women ... who have paved the way for this moment -- women who have fought and sacrificed so much for equality and liberty and justice for all, including the Black women, who are often -- too often -- overlooked but so often prove that they are the backbone of our democracy. All the women who have worked to secure and protect the right to vote for over a century ...

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"I reflect on their struggle, their determination and the strength of their vision to see what can be unburdened by what has been."

In her journey to Inauguration Day, Harris, 56, has broken other glass ceilings along the way. She was the first Black woman to serve as California's attorney general. In 2016, she became only the second Black woman in the U.S. Senate.

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"This moment, where a woman will have an elected seat at the most powerful table in the world, is important both substantively and symbolically," Center for American Women and Politics director Debbie Walsh told USA Today. "Those young girls of color can see themselves in her, which opens up a world of possibilities about what they can aspire to do."

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Harris will be sworn in with her hand on two Bibles: Her family Bible, which belonged to Regina Shelton, a family friend who took care of her and her sister, Maya, when their single mother worked late, and taught them to pursue their dreams. The other will be a Bible used by the late Thurgood Marshall, the first Black U.S. Supreme Court justice.

Harris will be sworn in by the first Latinx woman to be appointed to the Supreme Court, Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

A daughter of Indian and Jamaican immigrants, Harris graduated from Howard University in Washington, D.C., where she was a member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, a close-knit network of Black women. She went on to the University of California, Hastings College of Law.

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As a lawyer, she prosecuted domestic violence and child exploitation cases.

Excitement over her historic election has been tempered in the days leading up to inauguration after a mob supporting outgoing President Donald Trump stormed the U.S Capitol, erecting a noose and carrying Confederate flags. Five people were killed.

Alexandra Trahan, a junior at Howard University and vice president of the school's College Democrats, told USA Today she hasn't let herself feel the excitement yet, but hopes she will upon her inauguration.

"As a Black woman -- I know it's incredibly hard for people who look like me to achieve what Kamala has," Trahan said. "Those change-making feelings, I guess you could call them, I won't feel those until inauguration, until I see it happening in real time, until I know it's set in stone."

Harris ran for president in the 2020 Democratic primary and later joined Joe Biden's ticket.

She has attributed her inspiration to Shirley Chisolm, the first Black woman to mount a national campaign for president whom she heard speak in 1971 at a Black cultural center in Berkeley.

Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif, who got involved in politics through Chisholm's presidential campaign, told The New York Times in November that Harris' election to the vice presidency was a dream come true.

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"Here you have now this remarkable, brilliant, prepared African-American woman, South Asian woman, ready to fulfill the dreams and aspirations of Shirley Chisholm and myself and so many women of color," Lee said. "This is exciting and is finally a breakthrough that so many of us have been waiting for. And it didn't come easy."

A close election that came down to runoffs for Georgia' two Senate seats shifted control of the chamber, splitting it 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans, leaving Harris with the deciding vote to break any ties votes in favor of Democrats.

In an interview published Tuesday in Vogue magazine, Harris said the administration's first 100 days will focus on the COVID-19 pandemic -- primarily distributing the vaccine and using the Defense Production Act to increase distribution of masks, gowns and gloves.

"The first line of approach has to be to get control of this pandemic," Harris said.

Harris' husband, Doug Emhoff, a 56-year-old entertainment lawyer, will be making history, too. He has quit his job at a law firm to serve as the United States' first second gentleman.

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Emhoff has two children, Cole and Ella, from a previous marriage. They call their stepmother Harris "Momala."

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