The First American Vice President of Color Was Not Kamala Harris

Kamala Harris delivers another word salad 7-12-23. (Credit: RNC Research)

When Joe Biden and Kamala Harris were inaugurated in 2021, the press made much of Kamala Harris not only being the first female Vice President but also the first "Vice President of color." There's just one problem: She isn't the first "Vice President of color." That honor belongs instead to Charles Curtis, Vice President to Herbert Hoover from 1929 to 1933. Curtis was three-eighths Indian and spent much of his youth in the Kaw Nation.

Charles Curtis (January 25, 1860 – February 8, 1936) was an American attorney and Republican politician from Kansas who served as the 31st vice president of the United States from 1929 to 1933 under Herbert Hoover. He had served as the Senate Majority Leader from 1924 to 1929. A member of the Kaw Nation born in the Kansas Territory, Curtis was the first Native American and first person with acknowledged non-European ancestry to reach either of the highest offices in the federal executive branch.

In other words, Charles Curtis was the first person of color to be elected as Vice President.

Born on January 25, 1860, in North Topeka, Kansas Territory, a year before Kansas was admitted as a state, Charles Curtis had three-eighths Native American ancestry and five-eighths European American ancestry.[4][5] His mother, Ellen Papin (also spelled Pappan), was Kaw, Osage, Potawatomi, and French. His father, Orren Curtis, was of English, Scots, and Welsh ancestry. On his mother's side, Curtis was a descendant of chief White Plume of the Kaw Nation and chief Pawhuska of the Osage.

Curtis's first words as an infant were in French and Kansa, both languages that he learned from his mother. She died in 1863, when he was 3 years old, but he lived for some time thereafter with his maternal grandparents on the Kaw reservation and returned to them in later years. He learned to love racing horses and was later a highly successful jockey in prairie horse races.

I would note that Charles Curtis's 3/8 Native American ancestry is approximately 3/8 more than the Native American ancestry of Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

While his Vice Presidency was unremarkable—he apparently rarely attended cabinet meetings and was seemingly an early adherent to the John Nance Garner estimation of the vice presidency as being worth a "bucket of warm spit"—he did make a point in his political career of advocacy for better education for native children. While in the House of Representatives, he introduced what became the Curtis Act of 1898, which had mixed results; it abolished tribal governments within the Indian Territory (now Oklahoma) and declared all natives to be citizens of the United States.

In all fairness, one could probably characterize the political career of Charles Curtis as "pedestrian." Although his accomplishments, unlike the later claimant vis-à-vis the first "VP of color" title, were at least his own, and not gained through some other, questionable means, nor through the mere fact of his skin color and plumbing. That's neither here nor there; according to the rules put in place by the political left, and whether they like it or not, Charles Curtis, not Kamala Harris, was the first "person of color" to attain the office of Vice President.

Why does this matter? Well, to conservatives and libertarians, it really doesn't; a person's genetic legacy is irrelevant; they should instead be judged on their acts. But it matters to the left and to the left's notions of what is "historic."

One might point out that Charles Curtis was only 3/8 Native American. So? Kamala Harris is, by all accounts, one-half Asian (Indian) and one-half Jamaican/black; make of that what you will. Barack Obama, lauded as the first black president, is the product of a white American woman and a Kenyan (black) father. Both President Obama and Vice President Harris were lauded as the first "people of color" in their offices, respectively; if they qualify as such, then Charles Curtis cannot be disqualified.

I should hasten to amend that to read, "...the Republican Charles Curtis cannot be disqualified."

Why does any of this matter? Well, except to tweak leftists with an interesting, if slightly obscure piece of American history, it doesn't. We should judge people not by the color of their skin but by their actions, their accomplishments, their experience, and their character. You know—not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character, as somebody once said.

The entire "person of color" issue is a canard. Because of this concern for "diversity," the nation is now saddled with a Vice President who has been lauded for her color and plumbing but is a cackling incompetent. Barack Obama was an inexperienced mediocrity, but millions voted for his "historical" run for the White House.

Charles Curtis would probably be dismayed at this kind of thinking.


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