VP Harris to warn of ‘profound threat’ to US freedom on MLK Day

VP Harris to warn of ‘profound threat’ to US freedom on MLK Day

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris gestures as she boards Air Force Two after attending the 43rd ASEAN Summit at the Soekarno-Hatta International Airport in Tangerang, Indonesia on September 7, 2023. Yasuyoshi Chiba/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

By Trevor Hunnicutt

COLUMBIA, South Carolina (Reuters) -U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris will warn Americans that their freedom is threatened as she commemorates Martin Luther King Jr. Day in early-voting South Carolina on Monday, wielding the civil-rights icon’s legacy to convince Black voters to join Democrats to win the 2024 election.

Harris headlines an annual event sponsored by the NAACP, the nation’s oldest civil rights group, which includes a prayer service and a march to the South Carolina House of Representatives in Columbia. There, Harris will press one of Democrats’ central election messages – President Joe Biden and his Democrats need voters’ help to protect Americans’ rights.

Harris plans to warn that freedom in the country is under “profound threat,” and quote King’s wife Coretta Scott King, according to remarks released before the speech, who said “Freedom is never truly won. You earn it and win it in every generation.”

Harris will urge voters to “roll up our sleeves. We were born for a time such as this.”

Biden is also expected to mark the holiday by participating in a “service event” in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, a state his aides regard as must-win in November. Republicans, including that party’s front-runner, former President Donald Trump, are wrapping up their Iowa campaigns on the day of their first nominating contest.

Biden will do a syndicated radio show interview with Black civil rights advocate Reverend Al Sharpton on SiriusXM during the afternoon, according to the show’s producers.

Harris, the country’s first Black vice president and its highest-ranking Black and Asian elected official, is tasked with outreach to people of color and younger voters, groups whose support for Biden has waned.

Long the Democratic Party’s most reliable backers, these voters are wavering over economic anxiety and policy disappointments in divided-government Washington. Echoing other recent public-opinion polls, an Economist/YouGov survey this week found only 67% of Black U.S. adults had a favorable view of Biden.


Hundreds gathered Monday morning at Zion Baptist Church in Columbia, South Carolina, a historic Black church dating to the 19th century, ahead of remarks by U.S. House of Representatives Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, the top Democrat in the chamber and Representative James Clyburn, a Democrat whose endorsement helped Biden win the South Carolina nominating contest in 2020.

As the sounds of a Hammond organ rang through the sanctuary, the audience swayed and sang “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” a hymn also known as the “Black National Anthem.”

Once a major global entry port for enslaved people, South Carolina is where the first volleys of the U.S. Civil War were launched in 1861. Under post-war Jim Crow laws, the state’s schools and public facilities were segregated through law and intimidation, while Black people were largely excluded from voting and serving in elected office.

The movement associated with King, the NAACP and others used non-violent protest and public pressure to overturn the Jim Crow system.

Still, economic inequality remains pronounced, as in much of the United States. Six decades after the federal government started forcing South Carolina to end legal segregation, some 24% of Black residents in the state live in poverty, compared to 10% of white South Carolinians.

It was not clear how Republican candidates would mark the MLK holiday during the Iowa caucuses, which begin Monday evening. The Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee (RNC) did not respond to requests for comment; a RNC official told the Associated Press last year the overlap between the caucus and the holiday was an oversight.


Biden asked the Democratic National Committee to put South Carolina first in the party’s nominating schedule this year, elevating a state where more than half of Democrats are Black and all but shutting out a serious primary challenge.

Democrats hold their primary here on Feb. 3, followed by Republicans on Feb. 24.

The president’s triumph in the state’s 2020 Democratic contest rescued a broke and flailing campaign, convincing rivals that no one could match his strength with the Black voters who vote 9-to-1 for the party in national elections, a larger share than any other ethnic group.

More than a quarter of the state’s population is Black, about twice the national average.

Now, Biden wants an overwhelming win here over long-shot challengers to quiet doubts about his re-election bid, which has been plagued by voter concern over the economy, the country’s direction and his age, 81. Trump is 77.

Lachanda Reeves Canty, 48, of Columbia, said Biden’s age is a concern not because of his ability to do the job but because he brings the perspective of an older man to challenges being faced by younger people.

“The Democratic Party has to do something to get the energy among the younger voters,” Reeves Canty said. After voting for Biden in 2020, she said she is leaning towards supporting him again.

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