Vice President Kamala Harris on Monday delivered a stirring speech at the 113th annual NAACP Convention that focused on pressing issues in the Black community, including but not limited to the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, the 2022 midterm elections, the child tax credit, homeownership, gun violence and the perils of having democracy undermined.
Speaking on the convention’s fifth day in Atlantic City, New Jersey, Harris prefaced her remarks by tweeting out the intentions behind her speech and her powerful office: “In order to create a more fair, equal, and just America, we must defend and protect our rights.”
The full text of the vice president’s speech follows below:
Good morning, everyone! (Applause.) Good morning! Good morning. Have a seat. Please, have a seat.
Oh, it is so good to be here with all my sisters and brothers. (Laughs.)
Let me just thank Vice Chair Boykin-Towns for that incredible introduction. It means so much.
My team was back there and said, my goodness, you know, over the years, we’ve — we’ve actually — we’ve done some things, and it’s nice to know that it is having the impact that it is having. So I want to thank you, Madam Vice Chair, for that introduction. It really means a lot.
President Johnson, thank you for your years of dedicated partnership and leadership — (applause) — yes — on the issue of voting rights and so many more issues that challenge our nation and its people.
I have worked with President Johnson over the years, where we have been in small rooms, where we have been in the Oval Office, where we have been in large rooms such as this. He is the same person wherever he is. And he is a person who is always fighting for the people and the best of who we can be as a nation. And I admire and respect the hard work and determination that you put into this most important position as the president of our NAACP. Thank you. (Applause.)
So, to the Board of Directors, chapter presidents, ACT-SO and Next Gen leaders, and the entire NAACP membership; to Secretary Marcia Fudge, who was with us today — (applause) — to my pastor, Reverend Dr. Amos C. Brown; to all of you: Greetings. Greetings.
I just want to, if you don’t mind for a moment, take a moment of personal privilege to talk about Dr. Brown. He has been on this journey with me every step of the way, from when I first thought about running for public office almost two decades ago. And he has been such a voice of leadership, more leadership, and leadership in our nation. And so I want to thank you, Dr. Brown, for all that you are — all that you are. (Applause.)
So, as many of you know, I am a proud lifetime member of this organization. (Applause.) (Laughs.) And I have had the distinct pleasure of addressing this conference many times over the years. And I am honored today to address you for the first time as Vice President of the United States. (Applause.)
And I stand today on the shoulders of the legendary lawyers of this organization — Thurgood Marshall, Charles Hamilton Houston, Constance Baker Motley — who were, of course, among the greatest heroes of the Civil Rights Movement.
Just last March, I stood in the Rose Garden, at the White House, with Ms. Michelle Duster, the great-granddaughter of a founder of the NAACP and one of our nation’s greatest journalists, Ida B. Wells. (Applause.)
And we were there to address some very unfinished business — business of this organization — which was to watch President Joe Biden sign the Emmett Till Antilynching Act. (Applause.) I was proud to introduce that act when I served in the United States Senate, along with Senator Cory Booker — New Jersey’s own — (applause) — and Congressman Bobby Rush, who I think is here but has been a great leader over the years.
This legislation was a result of years of determined action by civil rights organizations, including the NAACP. Even though it took a staggering 122 years to finally make lynching a federal crime but, it must be said, even though it took that long, the NAACP was never deterred and always determined.
Core to the identity of this organization is the unwavering commitment to move our nation forward no matter how long it might take. For more than a century, the NAACP has fought to ensure the wellbeing of Black communities and, by extension, all communities in our country. This organization has fought to secure, for all people, the rights guaranteed in our nation’s Constitution, driven by the ability to see America as it can be, unburdened by what has been.
This organization and the people who make up this organization — will we see a nation in which the promise of opportunity, of justice, of freedom can be made real for all people?
And I bring you greetings from our President, Joe Biden, who wants — (applause) — to make clear that he and I, of course, share in the vision of the NAACP.
You see, we see and are prepared to address the disparities that are holding so many people back in our nation — disparities that we see in education, in economic opportunity, in housing, healthcare, and more.
To address those disparities and to advance the fight for civil rights, President Biden and I have put equity at the center of all that we do. And that begins with our children. (Applause.)
The great Thurgood Marshall once said that every child has a right — I will now quote — “to an equal start in life and an equal opportunity to reach their potential.” I believe, to move our nation forward, we must fight to make sure all of the children of our community have that equal opportunity of which he spoke. (Applause.)
And that is why together, all of us here, fought to extend the Child Tax Credit, which lifted nearly 40 percent of Black children out of poverty last year alone. (Applause.)
It is why we passed a tax cut to give working families up to $8,000 a year to give folks more room in their budgets to buy for their children food, medication, and school supplies.
It is why we are fighting to make sure home healthcare is accessible and affordable. Because we all know we have far too many children, for example, in our communities who have disabilities and their parents need support. They need help. And so, this is the work we are doing.
And finally, because we know that when we invest in the education of our children, we are really investing in the future of our nation. (Applause.)
That is why, as Madam Vice Chair mentioned, we invested an historic 5.8 billion — that’s with a “B” — billion dollars in our HBCUs so they will remain the center of academic excellence. (Applause.)
Leaders of the NAACP: To move our nation forward, we must also — as has been discussed — make sure that our mothers, our daughters, our sisters, and our aunties have the healthcare that they need to thrive. And that is why we are leading the fight to address the maternal health crisis.
Today, in America, Black women are three times as likely to die from pregnancy-related causes. Native American women are more than twice as likely to die. Rural women are more than one and a half times more likely to die.
So we have elevated, for an obvious reason, the issue of maternal health so it will be a national priority.
And building on the work that we have done together over the years, for the first time I was proud to convene women from around the country at the White House to discuss this critical issue.
And we took action then, because it can’t just be about words, to provide resources to hire and train doulas, to advance culturally competent care — (applause) — and to research the contributors to maternal mortality, because included in those contributors are racial bias in the healthcare delivery system; included in those contributors are the stressors that Black women face in life. And we need to research and make clear and speak honestly about all of those issues, again, as a national priority.
In addition, we worked with states to expand Medicaid postpartum, because the way it had been working, Medicaid was covering two months postpartum. Now, she just gave birth to a human being. So we are now extending and working with states that it will be expanded to 12 months of postpartum care. (Applause.) And that will benefit over a quarter million women.
Leaders of the NAACP: To continue to move our nation forward, we must also take action to address the economic inequities that are holding back so many people in our nation, which is why, together, we are fighting to build more opportunity for wealth in our communities.
For example, we are investing billions of dollars in minority and women entrepreneurs. We are — (applause) — we are addressing systemic inequities in homeownership, which, of course, is an issue this organization has been fighting for, for years, as integral to the Civil Rights Movement.
And as you know, it is because of a clear history of segregation, restrictive covenants, and redlining that long denied Black homeowners the opportunity to take full advantage of the wealth-building power of homeownership. That inequity continues today in the home appraisal system.
So, I am proud that our administration, led by Secretary Marcia Fudge — (applause) — is working to eliminate racial bias in home appraisals so that Black and Latino families can fully realize the true value of their homes and pass that value to their children and grandchildren. (Applause.)
Homeownership is one of the greatest sources in the community of intergenerational wealth. However, we know that, still, in this ongoing fight for civil rights on housing, that we are hearing the cases of, for example, a Black family trying to sell their home, and they get the appraisal and they just know it is not the true value of their home. And so you’ve heard the stories about how they’ll then encourage friends of the family — a white family — to come in. And then the white family will put the pictures up of their family. And then that appraisal gets done, and it’s for a much higher value. Same house. Same neighborhood.
So this is a real issue. And with the leadership of Marcia Fudge, we are dealing with that.
And finally, we know that to protect this progress — the progress we have achieved so far — and to ensure justice for all, we must have better representation on our federal courts. (Applause.)
And with your support, I am proud to say that our administration has appointed the most diverse group of judges in the history of the United States — (applause) — including a woman who I have come to know and admire, who is the first Black woman appointed to the United States Supreme Court: Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson. (Applause.) We got to stand for that one.
So, leaders of the NAACP, together we have fought hard to move our nation forward. And yet, we must recognize there are those who are fighting to drag us backward: extremist, so-called leaders, who are attempting to undermine our democracy and assault our most fundamental freedoms — the freedom to be safe from gun violence, the freedom to make decisions about our own bodies, and the freedom to vote. So I will address them in turn.
First, the freedom from gun violence. So, recently, I visited Buffalo, New York, to attend the funeral of an 86-year-old grandmother who went to the grocery store after, as she often did, spending the day with her husband who was in a nursing home — Mrs. Whitfield.
I went to Highland Park, Illinois, where there were strollers and lawn chairs scattered up and down a street where there was supposed to be a parade for July 4th. There — as in Uvalde, Texas; as in Greenwood, Indiana, just last night; and in so many communities across our nation — scenes of ordinary life have been turned into war zones by horrific acts of gun violence.
Mass shootings have made America a nation in mourning. And it’s not only the mass shootings. We see it in our communities every day, and it is no less tragic or outrageous.
Think about it: Black people are 13 percent of America’s population but make up 62 percent of gun homicide victims. This issue of the need for reasonable gun safety laws is a real issue when we are talking about the civil right, the right that all communities should have, to live in a place that is safe without weapons of war running those streets.
And understand: The number of guns manufactured in this country tripled over the last 20 years. Today we have more guns in our nation than people.
So, earlier this month, the President signed the first federal gun safety law in nearly 30 years. And it was an important and necessary step. But we need to do more. We must repeal the liability shield that protects gun manufacturers. (Applause.) And we must renew the assault weapons ban. (Applause.)
You know, an assault weapon, like many things, there’s a design — there’s a purposeful design. Well, for the assault weapon, the design is to kill a lot of human beings quickly. There is no reason for weapons of war on the streets of America. (Applause.)
We must also take steps to protect other fundamental freedoms, including the freedom for a woman to make decisions about her own body. (Applause.)
And, you know, on this subject, it’s important to note that to support a woman’s ability — not her government, but her — to make that decision does not require anyone to abandon their faith or their beliefs. It just requires us to agree the government shouldn’t be making that decision for her. (Applause.)
And think about it: For the first time in generations, the United States Supreme Court — the highest court of our land; the former court of Thurgood Marshall — took away a constitutional right, that had been recognized, from the people of America, from the women of America.
We know, NAACP, that our country has a history of claiming ownership over human bodies. (Applause.) And today, extremists, so-called leaders are criminalizing doctors and punishing women for making healthcare decisions for themselves — personal decisions that it is her right to make in consultation with her doctor, her pastor, her priest, her rabbi, her loved ones, not her government telling her what to do. (Applause.)
And these so-called leaders — so-called — claim that, “Well, you know, we just think that this is a decision that should be made by the folks in the states. People in the states can vote on this.” Right? But at this moment, many of those same so-called leaders are the same ones who are passing laws to restrict the ability of people to vote. (Applause.)
Laws — they’re passing laws, the same people — laws that ban drop boxes and restrict early voting; laws that make it illegal to give people food and water for waiting in line to vote. Undemocratic laws. Un-American laws. (Applause.)
You know, I asked my team to — you know, I — remember Venn diagrams? Those three circles. Right? And then let’s just see where they overlap.
So I asked my team — I said, you know, “Do a Venn diagram on two circles for me and, in particular, the overlap of states that are attacking the freedom to vote and attacking women’s freedoms over their own bodies. There are 10 states that are doing both.
Here’s the point: Our freedoms are all connected. Consider the freedom to vote. The freedom to vote is the freedom that unlocks all others. Is — it is a catalyst for economic justice, for social justice, for racial justice. (Applause.) And generations of leaders gave their sweat, their tears, their blood in its defense.
You know, earlier this year, many of us were together in Selma, Alabama — as we have been before — this year to commemorate the 57th anniversary of Bloody Sunday. Standing there, shoulder-to-shoulder with leaders who return to the Edmund Pettus Bridge every year, it was clear: While we will honor the history of the movement, we must recognize the dream of the movement remains unfinished.
So, no matter how many times they push us back, we will continue to march forward. And we will pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the Freedom to Vote Act. (Applause.)
Friends: Freedom, liberty, and democracy are on the ballot this fall. And we need to make sure that our voices are heard. There is a midterm coming up in about — I think it’s 113 days, maybe 112 days — 112 days. We’re not going to be able to get these days back, so each one of these days we must, with a sense of urgency, ensure that the American people know their voi- — their vote matters. It is their voice; that the right to vote is something that the leaders of this organization and its founders knew to be at the core of all of the other rights and freedoms to which we are entitled.
So, we know what we need to do. And, in particular, to protect the freedom to vote and a women’s right to make decisions about her own body, we need people who will defend our rights up and down the ballot, from district attorneys to state attorneys general, from local sheriffs to governors.
And we need two more votes in the United States Senate. (Applause.)
We will not — and the President has been clear — we will not let the filibuster stand in our way of our most essential rights and freedoms.
So, leaders of the NAACP: Together, we have accomplished much, but we still have much to do.
To move our nation forward, President Biden and I ask for you to do what you have always done: continue to build coalitions of Americans of all ages and races and backgrounds; continue to do so with the knowledge that we have so much more in common than what separates us; continue to activate and organize communities in every state; continue to use your power to sh- — to fight for our shared vision of America.
And as I often will refer to her, the great Coretta Scott King — who joined the NAACP as a young college student — once said that freedom must be earned and won in each and every generation.
Today — and I look at the young leaders here in particular — (applause) — yes. Today, it is our collective turn, but we’re counting on you all, because today we have been called to create a more fair, more equal, and more just America.
So, today, let us recommit to answering the call.
God bless you. And God bless the United States of America. (Applause.)