After decades of marshaling Black women to help men of all colors attain political power, Pryce was finally watching one of her own make history as the first Black woman to accept a major party’s nomination for vice president.
“What [Black women have] done all our lives is hold up the Democratic Party,” said Pryce, a former state legislator who remains an influential figure in South Carolina politics. “We’ve supported the Democratic Party for so long. It’s time for them to support us.”
Pryce knows this all too well. She has spent her life giving sober advice — and sometimes her blessing — to politicians. That blessing often comes with pivotal access to a network of politically active women across the state.
“One of the things she has is a great network of other women,” said Jonathan Metcalf, the South Carolina state director for Tom Steyer’s presidential campaign, who also worked for President Barack Obama’s campaign. “So, for instance, I can do an event with 500 people, and her ladies will staff it on 24 hours notice.”
Politicians Pryce supported “never had to worry about getting a crowd in Spartanburg for 20 years,” he said. “She’d bring retired schoolteachers, church ladies, the best cooks in town. She could summon them in no time, and they would show up. They’d know exactly what to do. I’ve seen it countless times.”
Pryce said that influence was an extension of the nurturing role Black women had played in African American communities for generations, only aimed at achieving political success.
Her first close-up view of political power came in the early 1990s. She had returned to college as an older student and, while there, got a job as a political page for State Sen. Jim Stevens (D). Pryce understood the appointment was not an act of pure altruism: Stevens realized he could not court Horry County’s Black vote while touting an all-white staff. Still, as a page, she began to learn the mechanics of politics, a lesson that would serve her in years to come.
A few years later, she was the campaign manager for a history teacher who sought a Congressional seat named James E. Clyburn, who would go on to become the House majority whip.
Pryce said Clyburn was considered a long shot at the time. But her hopes for his success were buoyed by the number of Black South Carolinians who had attended an event featuring Shirley Chisolm, the first Black woman in Congress, who had launched a presidential bid in 1972. Looking around, she said, “I knew that Black women had organized successfully in South Carolina . . . we just had to reach out and pull that organization in.”
When Clyburn won, Pryce did not accompany him to Washington. Her mother got sick, and she returned to Spartanburg. But in 1995, she entered the state legislature, becoming the first Black woman elected from Spartanburg County.
She retired a decade later, but continued to advise candidates. And as the Black population grew in her corner of the state, it became increasingly important for politicians to have “Ms. Brenda’s” blessing. “This is my life,” she said. “Trying to give other people opportunities.”
During the 2020 Democratic primaries, that meant fighting for Harris.
From the start, Pryce was enamored of the senator from California. She sped through her book and pored over news articles about her. She had heard Harris’s name before but “when I heard that she had announced to run for president, well I thought let me read up on this sister girl. Then I thought, I should bring her here.”
At a May 2019 luncheon, Harris stood between Pryce and her husband, Caveril. A short time later, Harris had Pryce’s endorsement.
“I was just glued to her,” Pryce said. “First of all Kamala is smart. We like smart women. But she also had that magic about her. I saw the same thing in her I saw in Clyburn.”
Pryce’s admiration for Harris continued even as her campaign fizzled, ultimately ending in December. Pryce never endorsed anyone else, “although I made it known that I was for Biden.”
After Biden finished a disappointing fourth place in the Iowa primary, and fifth in New Hampshire, he headed to South Carolina, saying the primary would not be decided until the voices of Black people had been heard. After a late endorsement by Clyburn, he won 61 percent of the Black vote in the state, 44 percentage points ahead of his competitors. The commanding showing changed the trajectory of his campaign.
Clyburn was largely credited with breathing life into Biden’s campaign, but insiders said Biden’s strength lay in loyal Black women.
Since Biden sewed up the Democratic nomination, Pryce has been busy campaigning and trying to get out the vote. But she did not forget about Harris. When Biden’s campaign announced the news this month, Pryce ran through her home screaming.
On Wednesday night, as Harris prepared to speak, Pryce again tapped into her network of Black women across the state, sending emails and working the phone. The night’s ask would not require them to cook anything or show up anywhere. She simply wanted them to flip their porch lights on, in a symbolic show of support.
“I told them I wanted us all to light the way for Kamala all the way to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.”