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Politics

In the Running: Vangie Williams

In this series, we interview female candidates who are winning historic primaries across the nation. This week, Vangie Williams talks about her run for Congress in Virginia. If she wins, she’ll be the first black woman to hold the seat. To read Meena’s interview with Paulette Jordan, click here.

illustration of Vangie Williams against light blue gingham background
Illustration by Osheen Siva

Name: Vangie Williams

Age: 50

The Race: Virginia’s First Congressional District

Making History: If I win this race, not only will I be the first woman of color to take this seat, I’ll be the first black woman. In 239 years, Virginia’s only had four women serve in Congress. No one expects a woman to step up to run for Congress in the state of Virginia. This year, more than eleven women did.

The Challenge: For the past couple of decades, my district has been Republican, but I’m aiming to flip it blue. I’m running against an incumbent who has been in office for eleven years now. He’s more worried about how corporations are affected than we the people. We are struggling, and we don’t see him actually doing anything.

I’m a woman of color running in a red district. I have to deal with KKK flyers. I have to deal with Confederate flags. I have to deal with marches on Charlottesville. I have to deal with it all, and I have to overcome it, but I have to overcome it from the eyes of a woman of color. And that’s something I can’t change. I can’t walk into a room and say I’m not that person, because you can see it every time I walk in.

The Best and Worst Advice: The worst advice I’ve gotten was to act like I was a liberal white man running for Congress. The best advice was to stay true to who you are. I’ve never deviated from who I am.

Most Powerful Political Memory: My grandmother was a stickler about voting. If you stayed in her home, if you wanted her to like you, you’d get out and vote. She said the first time that she tried to vote, they told her, “You can’t, black women don’t vote.” Within two years, she and her four sisters all moved away from the South, because they wanted to be able to vote for a President.

When I was a child visiting my grandmother in South Carolina, she took me to a furniture store. We parked in front of the store, but we had to walk around to the back of the building and through the back door. I asked her, “Why did we just do that?” She said, “Because we’re colored.” I had never even realized I was. I just never thought about it. That was an eye opener. It made me political.

Real Talk: I hear people complaining about how things are done in our government all the time. “Oh, well, we could have done this, she could have done that.” You could do something. Roll up your sleeves and get to work.

Meena Harris is the founder of the Phenomenal Woman Action Campaign.