'Joy and pride': Black women celebrate Ketanji Brown Jackson joining Supreme Court

·9 min read

WASHINGTON – Antoinette France-Harris set the alarm Thursday on her cellphone to remind her: “The time had come.”

When it went off, she sat on the couch with her husband, Kirk Harris, in their family room in  Powder Springs, Georgia, and turned to CNN to watch the historic swearing-in of Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson. 

France-Harris cried as she watched Jackson, a fellow Harvard University alum, take the oath at the Supreme Court.

“There's so much that's depressing and distracting in the world so it was nice to have something joyous to look forward to,’’ said France-Harris, also an attorney. “It's a moment of joy and pride for me as a Black woman, as an attorney to see someone looking like me in that position.’’

“It's way overdue,’’ she said.

Across the country, Black women of all ages celebrated Thursday’s swearing-in of the first African American woman to serve on the Supreme Court. They stopped working in offices and at home to watch on television. They sported T-shirts bearing Jackson’s name and image. Some stood in front of the Supreme Court where Jackson will soon join other justices in considering cases on the nation’s highest court.

For many, it was a proud moment.

“Her presence up there is hope,’’ said Cassandra Welchlin, 49, a community organizer in Jackson, Mississippi. “It brings hope to where we are, where we know we can go.’’

A triumph ‘for all of us’

Confirmed Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson and  Vice President Kamala Harris at the White House on April 08, 2022.
Confirmed Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson and Vice President Kamala Harris at the White House on April 08, 2022.

Jackson, who was born in the nation’s capital but raised in Miami, attended Harvard for both undergrad and law school. That's where she met her husband, Patrick Jackson, a surgeon. The couple has two daughters, Leila and Talia.

After graduation, Jackson was a clerk for Stephen Breyer, the justice she replaced. She's held several positions, including working as a public defender and as a judge in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia Circuit and the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

France-Harris knows all too well the challenges of being a Black female attorney. She's also from the Class of ’92 at Harvard University and lived in the same house as Jackson while in school.

She hasn’t seen Jackson since graduation, but she’s kept up with her career and couldn’t be more proud. She also cried while watching Jackson’s confirmation hearing in March when some lawmakers grilled the Harvard graduate about her credentials.

“In light of everything that's going on in the world it was nice to have a moment to celebrate,’’ said France-Harris, 52, an attorney and associate professor of legal studies at Clayton State University in Morrow, Georgia. “It's a historic moment and I think it's important to make sure that we take note of it.

“It's a reflection of what so many of us have had to go through to achieve anything,’’ she said. “People questioning our accomplishments and questioning our credentials. In light of all of that, to know that she overcame and was able to make it to this point, it was a triumph. Like she said in her acceptance speech, not just herself, but for all of us."

Antoinette France-Harris and her husband, Kirk Harris.
Antoinette France-Harris and her husband, Kirk Harris.

In Mississippi, Welchlin paused from her work as executive director of the Mississippi Black Women’s Roundtable for a few minutes to watch the swearing-in. Months earlier, Welchlin joined hundreds of other women at a rally outside the Supreme Court to demand the Senate confirm Jackson.

Welchlin called her family, especially the younger women, including her daughter.

“Y'all turn on your television,’’ she told them.

Then Welchlin watched as Jackson took the oath.

“That brought me a lot of joy,’’ said Welchlin. “We haven't had so much joy in the last week. This was really awesome and incredible to be able to sit in that moment and experience the historic nature of her confirmation.’’

Minutes before Jackson’s swearing-in, Andrea Thomas sent a link via Twitter and Facebook to her followers reminding them to tune in to watch. Then the 33-year from Tougaloo, Mississippi, watched on a computer at work.

“The part that really kind of shook me was when they were done swearing her in and they said ‘Justice Kentanji Brown Jackson.’ It made it so tangible, so real,’’ said Thomas, a communications strategist for the Mississippi Black Women’s Roundtable. “Representation is a big deal. Young girls need to see it. It's one thing to have your parents and your loved ones tell you you can be anything in the world. But when you see the person looks like you, it's just more tangible. That’s why it's so important to me.’’

Three generations celebrate Jackson making history

For Myra Dandridge, Jackson’s swearing-in was “a win-win.” She is excited for what Jackson’s role means for her 7-year-old daughter and her friends. She’s also excited about what it means for African American communities in the United States and across the globe.

Myra Dandridge (left) and her daughter, Elizabeth, of Washington, D.C., celebrated the swearing-in of Ketanji Brown Jackson to the U.S. Supreme Court. "I was so excited about it,'' said Myra Dandridge.
Myra Dandridge (left) and her daughter, Elizabeth, of Washington, D.C., celebrated the swearing-in of Ketanji Brown Jackson to the U.S. Supreme Court. "I was so excited about it,'' said Myra Dandridge.

“Judge Jackson will bring a much-needed diverse voice to the court whether through her personal experiences as a Black woman and how those experiences impacted her, or the historical experiences of people of color in the U.S.,’’ said Dandridge, 54, an executive for a national trade group in Washington, D.C.

Dandridge watched some of Jackson’s confirmation hearings with her daughter, Elizabeth, then a second-grader at Eaton Elementary School in Washington, D.C. She wanted her child to know the historical significance of Jackson’s nomination.

On Thursday, Elizabeth welcomed the news.

“I’m still recovering from the happiness. I'm really jumping up and down,” she said. “She is like me. The same skin tone. I’m also smart like her.”

Elizabeth’s grandmother, Corrine Dandridge, an 80-year-old retired educator in the New Orleans school system, said she wished Jackson had been sworn in years ago.

“Maybe we would be more advanced than we are,’’ said Corrine Dandridge, who lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, pointing to last week's abortion decision. “I think she might have made a difference.”

She said she was excited about Jackson’s accomplishment. She never thought she would see a Black president, let alone a Black woman serving on the Supreme Court.

“I never thought this would happen in my lifetime,” she said.

‘If Judge Jackson can do this. I can do this’

During the swearing-in ceremony, Joi Edwards-Haynes of Plano, Texas, and Marla Edwards of St. Louis, stood in front of the Supreme Court to celebrate.

“There’s a joy in being in this space at this time, to be able to say I sat here, to tell people I was at the Supreme Court on this day,” Edwards said. “This made the whole trip worth it, just being on this block right now. It makes all the difference.”

Steps away, a crowd protesting the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade blocked a nearby corner. Edwards-Haynes said it felt like the country was “stepping backward,” but it was still important to honor Jackson’s historic position.

“I hate that it is another first because it's a long time coming, but I'm happy that she's been confirmed,” she said. “It’s absolutely about representation and a symbol of what can be achieved.”

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson has family support at her Supreme Court confirmation hearing March 21. Behind her, from left, is husband Patrick Jackson and daughters Leila and Talia.
Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson has family support at her Supreme Court confirmation hearing March 21. Behind her, from left, is husband Patrick Jackson and daughters Leila and Talia.

Kendra Brown slipped out of a panel at the Essence Festival to watch Jackson’s swearing-in on her cellphone in a hotel hallway in New Orleans. It was something, she said, not to be missed.

Brown, who is from Upper Marlboro, Maryland, watched as Jackson put her hand on the Bible. She noted that Jackson’s husband stood nearby. She called it full circle that one of the oaths was administered by Breyer, whom Jackson clerked for years ago.

“For us to see and live in this moment has just been so, so, so phenomenal,’’ said Brown, 42, vice president of public policy for Mastercard. “She is more than qualified for the role that she now holds.’’

Brown, former national chair of the National Black Law Students Association, said she appreciated having “living examples’’ of Black women role models for her six-year-old daughter, Brooklynn.

“She has just been so blessed to watch all of this tremendous Black Girl Magic with madam vice president (Kamala Harris) and then also seeing Justice Jackson,’’ said Brown, who belongs to Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, the same sorority as Harris. “I'm just really grateful to have these examples to show her and for her to see that there is no limit to what she could do and what she can achieve.’’

For Doxie McCoy, the smile on Jackson’s face during the swearing-in ceremony was infectious. So much so that she found herself also grinning as she watched Jackson sworn into the high court from her Washington, D.C., home.

“Her smile is so bright and pleasant,” McCoy, 66, said.

The swearing-in, she said, was a “breath of fresh air” in challenging times, including the Jan. 6 hearings.

A mural of Ketanji Brown Jackson, who made history as the first African American woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court, is on a building in Washington, D.C.
A mural of Ketanji Brown Jackson, who made history as the first African American woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court, is on a building in Washington, D.C.

“Certainly, seeing her there and seeing that she has achieved this level can give hope and give confidence in some who may be discouraged by the state of affairs these days,” McCoy, who is also a spokeswoman for the Office of the People's Counsel in Washington, D.C.

Jackson’s presence on the court may be felt in various ways, including her dissents, McCoy said.

“She offers a different perspective,” McCoy said. “And perhaps she may rub off on them too.”

Fifteen-year-old Chyna Holloway, who is considering a career in law and writing, said Jackson is “absolutely’’ an inspiration for her.

“More people can say, ‘If Judge Jackson can do this. I can do this,'" said Holloway. “Judge Jackson is a good reflection of how we can overcome obstacles and achieve whatever we put our mind to.’’

The week after Holloway watched some of Jackson’s confirmation hearing, she decided on her topic for an essay contest.

In April, she tied for first place and won $500 for her essay about Jackson entitled “The Pressure of Expectations.” Holloway, a Girl Scout, wrote about expectations placed on Black women in the workforce.

“Judge Jackson is already, and will be, an inspiration to so many young girls and women,’’ Holloway, a junior at Jackson-Reed High School in Washington, D.C., said Thursday.

Cheryl Brannan, a founder of Sister to Sister International a Yonkers, New York-based nonprofit.
Cheryl Brannan, a founder of Sister to Sister International a Yonkers, New York-based nonprofit.

At Sister to Sister International Inc.’s STEAM camp, a camp for Black girls, the young people were celebrating Jackson’s new role, said Cheryl Brannan, founder of the Yonkers, New York, nonprofit. 

The Supreme Court had been a hot topic for the girls. They have essays due Friday on either Jackson or the abortion decision. 

“Black women had to come up the rough side of the mountain, as they say, and still achieve,” Brannan said. “And that’s inspiring for young girls coming after.” 

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Ketanji Brown Jackson swearing-in to Supreme Court celebrated by women