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Berkeley Urged to Make Home Where Kamala Devi Harris Grew Up a Historic Landmark

Berkeley Urged to Make Home Where Kamala Devi Harris Grew Up a Historic Landmark

Staff Writer
  • Councilwoman Kate Harrison, who introduced the resolution, says the vice president was “strongly shaped by the city’s cultural diversity.

The Berkeley, California home where Vice President Kamala Devi Harris grew up may become a historic landmark. A resolution introduced by Councilwoman Kate Harrison, demands clarification for eligibility for historic landmark designation for residences and other landmarks of importance for notable community members who contributed to the cultural and historic values of Berkeley, including Harris. 

Current city rules only allow landmark status for places where historic events occurred. If the resolution passes on March 7, it would allow for homes of historic Berkeley residents to be given landmark status. It would bring Berkeley’s law into alignment with national landmarking guidelines, Harrison told ABC7 News.

Harrison says in the resolution that Harris was raised in Berkeley and made history as the first woman, African-American, and South Asian American to be elected to the second highest office in the executive branch. Although these achievements did not take place while she was a resident of Berkeley, the councilwoman argues that Harris was “strongly shaped by the city’s cultural diversity.”

A year after her parents divorced, Harris and her sister Maya and their mother moved into the top floor of a duplex on Bancroft Way, in a part of Berkeley known as the flatlands.

In her memoir, “The Truths We Hold,” Harris talks about her growing up years in Berkeley. “I was born in Oakland, California, in 1964 and spent the formative years of my childhood living on the boundary between Oakland and Berkeley,” she writes. She mentions how her mother, Shyamala Gopalan Harris, left her home in Chennai, India, at age 19, and came to Berkeley to pursue a doctorate in nutrition and endocrinology, “on her way to becoming a breast cancer searcher.” It was in Berkeley that her mother met her father, Donald Harris.Harris also talks about getting a stroller side view of the civil rights marches with her parents in Berkeley. 

A year after her parents divorced, Harris and her sister Maya and their mother moved into the top floor of a duplex on Bancroft Way, in a part of Berkeley known as the flatlands. “It was a close-knit neighborhood of working families who were focused on doing a good job, paying the bills, and being there for one another,” she writes in her memoir. 

In Berkeley, Harris and her sister Maya attended Rainbow Sign, an African American cultural center. “My favorite night of the week was Thursday,” Harris writes in the book, referring to the day they went to Rainbow Sign, “a performance space, cinema, at gallery, dance studio and more.” Writin about going to the Rainbow Sign often with her mother and sister, she says, “everyone in the neighborhood knew us as ‘Shyamala and the girls’  We were a unit. And when we’d show up, we were always greeted with big smiles,” she writes. Harris writes about loving the “electric atmosphere” at Rainbow Sign. “It was where I learned the artistic expression, ambition and intelligence were cool,” she writes in her memoir. “It was where I came to understand that there is no better way to feed someone’s brain that by bringing together food, poetry, politics, music, dance, and art.”

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She also writes about how she would “walk to the corner”  and get on the bus to Thousand Ohs Elementary School. “I only learned later that were part of a national experiment in desegregation, with working-class back children from the flatlands being bused in one direction and wealthier white children from the Berkeley hills bused in the other. At the time, all I knew was that the big yellow bus was the way I got to school.” 

This part of Harris’ life came into national attention during a Democratic presidential debate in June 2019 when Harris, addressing her then opponent Joe Biden, spoke of being bused to school every day. “That little girl was me,” she said.

If passed, the landmark application will need to be approved by the City Council and Landmarks Preservation Commission. Steve Finacom, a Berkeley historian and former member of the landmarks commission, who has been working on an application for months, told Berkeleyside that it will be ready to submit in April. He told the paper that Harris’ Bancroft Way was “extensively remodeled and raised a few feet” in 1970/71. After the remodeling, the basement “was made usable for a preschool that now has a separate address, but there has never been more than one residential unit — the current “upstairs” — on the property.” 

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