Digging Deeper into Kamala Harris’ Jamaican Roots


I would like to introduce you to a great website with a special Jamaican diaspora focus, skillfully managed by Ian Randle – whom I used to work with many moons ago (he doesn’t like when I call him “my former boss,” but actually he was. OK – former colleague, then). Ian has a wealth of publishing expertise and wisdom under his belt. Anyway, I am shamelessly copying and pasting his article about Kamala Harris, Joe Biden’s pick for Vice President of the United States (with his permission) below. Here is the link, – do explore this interesting website! There are a couple more links therein that will provide further insights into this remarkable woman’s career and heritage.

And thank you, Ian, for putting Kamala in perspective for us all – as you note below, we have not responded as fulsomely as we could have in the local media to this amazing woman, thanks to the twin scourges of COVID-19 and general elections!  P.S. I am also a big Susan Rice fan, another woman of Jamaican heritage with tremendous grit and substance! Coincidentally, a Letter to the Jamaica Gleaner today reminds us of her Jamaican roots.

Digging Deeper into Kamala Harris’ Jamaican Roots

The day following the announcement of the selection of Kamala Harris to be Joe Biden’s running mate for Vice President in the November 2020 Presidential elections, veteran Jamaican journalist Lloyd Smith posted on Facebook:

“If a egg we inna di red and if a pumpkin, we inna di vine” – no translation is necessary for any red-blooded Jamaican!

The immediate euphoria felt by Jamaicans particularly in the diaspora overflowed on social media, but was somewhat muted in our local print and electronic media, preoccupied as they were by the announcement of our own General Elections in Jamaica – an anti-climatic event that had for weeks been one of the worst-kept secrets. So tunnel-visioned was local media that the leading TV station did not think the Harris selection was worthy of being included in its prime time news that evening (probably because they did not have a clip from CNN) and the following day was relegated to the last item in its prime time newscast, this time by way of a brief CNN clip! In stark contrast, Foreign Affairs Minister Kamina Johnson-Smith was quick to respond, tweeting her congratulations  and pointedly quoting Senator Harris’s “big country on a little island” description of Jamaica.

However, by week’s end all that had changed; how could it not, as US media began falling over themselves marveling at the prospect of a woman of Jamaican and South Indian descent occupying the second highest seat of power in the world’s most powerful country? As they began digging deeper into Kamala Harris’s Jamaican roots, including descending on Brown’s Town in St Ann parish to unearth as much as they could, the Sunday editions of Jamaica’s two newspapers were suddenly in competition to find family members, amateur historians and other individuals, many claiming either to be distant relatives or to have known the Harris family well. Few, however had any fresh insights to add to what was already in the public domain or in the case of family members, had ever met Kamala Harris! We had to ask the question, where were all these people when Kamala Harris launched her bold and spirited but ultimately unsuccessful bid for the Democratic Party’s Presidential nomination two years ago in 2018? Did they see it then as an impossible dream?

751f29ad-47cd-4791-9506-d4b6b846b53e-KamalaHarris
Sen. Kamala Harris ended her run for President in December 2019, but her participation in the election was far from over. On Aug. 11, Biden tapped the California senator as his vice president running mate, making Harris the first Black woman on a major party’s presidential ticket. (Photo: Chris Carlson/Associated Press)

TRACKING KAMALA HARRIS ALL THE WAY TO THE WHITE HOUSE

The only solid new information related to Kamala Harris’s Jamaican family history has come from Brett Ashmeade-Hawkins, a Florida-based Jamaican Fine Arts & Antiques dealer and founder of Jamaica Colonial Heritage Society, a historic preservation Group. In a post on the Society’s web page on August 12, he writes in part:

Senator Kamala Harris’s paternal great-grandfather, Joseph Alexander Harris (1874-1939), merchant and planter, owned Orange Hall estate, a 250-acre pimento (all-spice) plantation in the hills adjoining Brown’s Town, St Ann. Joseph Alexander Harris was the son of James Henry Harris and Eliza Brown . He married Christina Brown (1889-1951) of Brown’s Town, who was said to have been a descendant of Hamilton Brown (1776-1843) a wealthy and prominent Anglo-Irish Planter who was the founder of Brown’s Town in the late 1820s. Hamilton Brown owned Minard Estate, a 2,000 acre pimento plantation adjoining Brown’s Town and several other plantations in St Ann. He was also a colonel in the St Ann Regiment of foot militia and a Member of the Assembly for St Ann in the House of Assembly of Jamaica for 22 years.

In his now widely quoted 2018 article ‘Reflections of a Jamaican Father appearing on this web site, Donald Harris traces his family roots to Hamilton Brown. However, Ashmeade-Hawkins notes that the section on Hamilton Brown has been removed from Donald Harris’s Wikipedia page. According to Ashmeade-Hawkins the fact-finding website SNOPES claims that the descent of the Harris family from Hamilton Brown was family oral history and that there was insufficient evidence to verify it.

JamaicaGlobalonline is grateful to Brett Ashmeade Hawkins for giving permission to quote from his recent post.

For now, Jamaicans should continue to bask in Kamala Harris’s reflected glory without harbouring any particular expectations about direct benefits to the country as a whole, should she be part of a Biden administration in 2021. Kamina Johnson sounded the right ‘feel good’ diplomatic note when she told Jamaicaglobalonline:

“ We all feel a sense of pride when persons of Jamaican heritage excel overseas – that feeling deepens when history is made.”

3862342
Then-national security adviser Susan Rice is seen on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington in 2016. (AP)

CURRY GOAT AND RICE AND PEAS

Dare we hope for more history to be made if another woman of Jamaican heritage is selected as a member of a Biden cabinet? The reference is, of course, to Susan Rice who was one of the main contenders for the Vice Presidency and who might well return to the White House as Secretary of State. The prospect of Kamala Harris as Vice President and Susan Rice as Secretary of State would be to a hungry Jamaican, akin to a meal of curry goat and Rice and Peas – no pun intended!

Susan Rice whose maternal grand-parents both came from Jamaica, served throughout the Clinton administration, becoming one of the youngest Secretaries of State and later, one of President Obama’s most trusted advisors. Harvard professor, Henry Louis Gates Jr. has described her as “one of the most gifted, tenacious and influential foreign policy voices of our times.”  He adds:

At the core of Rice’s story and brilliant career, is a fearless commitment to the truth and an unwavering devotion to the lessons she inherited as the descendant of Jamaican immigrants in Maine and enslaved Africans in South Carolina.”

In her autobiography published late in 2019 entitled TOUGH LOVE, Susan Rice writes:

“As an adult, I have come to realize how profoundly my grandparents and parents’ journeys have shaped my own.”

tough-love-9781501189982_hr

Her grandparents were none other than Jamaicans David Augustus Dickson who hailed from the parish of Manchester and Mary Marguerite (Maude) Daly from the neighbouring parish of St Elizabeth. The couple met at a confirmation class at the Mandeville Parish Church but their courtship was interrupted when grandpa David emigrated to the US in 1911. As soon as he was settled, he sent for Mary who arrived in the US a year later and the two lost no time in getting married on Christmas Day, December 1912. The union produced four sons and a daughter, Lois Ann, Susan’s mother, whom Jamaicans would dub Mary’s “wash belly” – giving birth at age 44 in 1933, eleven years after the birth of her last son. Readers interested in Susan Rice’s story can trace her remarkable journey in her autobiography Tough Love : My Story of the Things Worth Fighting For published in October 2019 by Simon & Schuster.

Finally, a question for readers: “What ritual or rituals would Jamaicans perform to bring Kamala Harris good luck at election time in November?

Jamaica to the world!

190325-kamala-harris-cs-419p_91011266cc98f6730b9d5107c7114115.fit-2000w
Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., at a presidential campaign rally at Texas Southern University in Houston on March 23, 2019. (Photo: Loren Elliott / Reuters

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.