Descendants of Black icons gather at the White House in a historic meeting

Vice President Kamala Harris addressed the descendants of some of the most prominent civil rights leaders from the 1950s and ’60s and other foundational historic figures, who gathered at the White House on Tuesday, some convening in the same room for the first time.

The families of Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, Booker T. Washington, Ida B. Wells, Malcolm X, Rosa Parks, Emmett Till, and Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, among others, were scheduled to attend.

Harris praised the descendants of "extraordinary American heroes" who, she said, embody the promise of the nation and the Constitution.

"They've passed the baton to us," Harris said Tuesday.

Stephen K. Benjamin, the director of the White House Office of Public Engagement, followed Harris to recap the administration's initiatives, including an executive order tied to police accountability and Joe Biden's signing the law to make Juneteenth a federal holiday.

The Descendants, as the group calls itself, paid homage to their familial legacies as they celebrated the Black History Month event hosted by the Biden-Harris administration.

Joshua Jordison, one of the behind-the-scenes coordinators for The Descendants, said discussions to bring this group together began several years ago.

“It was amazing that many of them had never met,” he said in the days leading up to the event.

Invitations went out to other notable families, organizers said, although some were unable to attend due to scheduling and other factors.

“We stand on the shoulders of those who came before us,” said Kenneth B. Morris Jr., a descendent of Frederick Douglass and his first wife, Anna Murray Douglass. "Freedom's torch has been passed to us."

Ahead of the event, Morris told NBC News that this historic event was just the beginning for these families, whose goal is to “catalyze transformative positive societal change amongst the most significant challenges faced by our country.”

Morris is also a descendant of Booker T. Washington, he said. The Washington and Douglass families were joined by marriage in the 1940s.

Through the nonprofit he co-founded, Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives, Morris’ work and that of his mother, Nettie Washington Douglass, has centered around antiracism and human rights. But he stressed that while he helped organize the convening, it is not about one person or family. “It’s an equal collaboration. We are all coming together,” he said.

Ernestine “Tina” Martin Wyatt is a great-great-great-grandniece of Harriet Tubman. The Washington, D.C., resident hosts an annual Harriet Tubman Day celebration in the district to educate the public about the contributions of her famed ancestor. She said she was “excited” to meet the descendants of fellow freedom fighters.

Nearly 100 other guests were expected to attend. Morris and Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Ala., spoke during the event.

Beyond the official gathering, a series of activities for the descendant families will be held in the district on both Tuesday and Wednesday. Their itinerary is expected to include stops at the U.S. Capitol, the Lincoln Memorial, Supreme Court and a tour of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, as well as dinners and opportunities for group dialogue.

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