NEW ORLEANS—Senator Kamala Harris’s line sisters took up two rows. They had pledged Alpha Kappa Alpha, the nation’s oldest black sorority, alongside Harris at Howard University back in 1986. At Essence Festival here on Saturday, they wore matching T-shirts, and pink-and-green beaded necklaces to represent AKA’s signature colors. As soon as Harris acknowledged their presence and support, they cheered loudly and belted, “Skee-wee!”—the sorority’s high-pitched trademark greeting.
The scene unfolded at Spotify’s “Are & Be” venue, where Harris sat down with me for a wide-ranging podcast interview that will air July 15. Although she is often described as cautious and reserved, Harris was truly in her element among the thousands of black women, including many of her own line sisters, who had descended on New Orleans for Essence Festival—a major cultural event that attracted more than a half million people last year. The festival’s target demographic is arguably the most powerful voting bloc in the Democratic Party.
Harris was one of seven presidential candidates in New Orleans last weekend. The Democratic candidates Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren, Bill de Blasio, Beto O’Rourke, Michael F. Bennet, and Pete Buttigieg also used the festival, sponsored by Essence magazine, as an opportunity to describe how their plans would help black women. But Harris was the main attraction, as she continues to ride the biggest upswing of her campaign thus far. The surge is timely: Harris is coming into her own as a candidate, just as the role of black women voters in determining the nominee is coming into focus.