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The Voice of the Black Community

Opinion

Remembering sisters who paved way
Black women's contributions deserve props
 
Published Thursday, March 13, 2014 12:09 pm
by Julianne Malveaux

Do you know about Elizabeth Keckley?  Maggie Lena Walker, Sarann Knight Preddy, Gertrude Pocte Geddes-Willis, Trish Millines Dziko, Addie L Wyatt or Marie-Therese Metoyer?

What about Ernesta Procope, Dr. Sadie Alexander, Or Dr. Phyllis Wallace?  What about Bettiann Gardner, Lillian Lambert, or Emma Chappell?  What about Ellen Holly, Mary Alice, or Edmonia Lewis?

If we knew anything about these women, it might cause all of us, African American men and women, to walk a bit more lightly, hold our heads a bit higher, and revel in their accomplishments.

March is Women’s History Month, so it’s an ideal time to celebrate black women who often get overlooked by other women as well as their own race.

History belongs to she who holds the pen, she who will speak up, speak out and tell the whole story.  If the names of the sisters listed above aren’t as well known as others – like Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, and Mary McLeod Bethune – it is because no one has chosen to tell their stories.

There are a thousands of unsung heroines for every one we lift up and know, women who have made phenomenal contributions to the arts, literature, money, finance, and economic development.

Why write this now?  African American History month (February) is usually about notable black men. Women’s History Month (March) is usually about notable white women.

A book edited by Gloria T Hull, Patricia Bell Scott, and Barbara Smith is titled “But Some Of Us Are Brave: All the Women Are White, All the Blacks Are Men: Black Women’s Studies,” As the title suggests, some of us are brave – and our young girls need to know that.

What difference would it make to our daughter and nieces if they knew about Septima Clark or Claudette Colvin? Had they read Lucille Clifton’s poetry, would they find it easier to breathe life into their words?

It pains me to watch black women’s history so swallowed that we are almost invisible. The most benign interpretation of this phenomenon is that those who lift history up are too myopic to consider African American women.  Is there is a sinister interpretation? Is it that both racism and patriarchy combine to swallow black women’s history?

International Women’s Day was March 8.  Annually, the United Nations sets a theme for the commemoration. This year it was, “Equality for Women is Progress for All.”

According to the United Nations, countries with more gender equality have better economic growth. Companies with more women leaders perform better. Peace agreements that include women are more durable. Parliaments with more women enact more legislation on key social issues such as health, education, anti-discrimination and child support. The evidence is clear: equality for women “means progress for all.”

We can’t make progress if we bury our history.  We can’t put Melody Hobson in context if we don’t understand Maggie Lena Walker.  We can’t truly celebrate women’s history unless we celebrate black women’s history. Black women’s history is women’s history, too. It should be realized that both the African American community and the world community cannot progress if any segment of that community is relegated to the sidelines.

The place African American women hold in our history celebrations is quite similar to the space we occupy in contemporary life.  We can get tens of thousands or more folks to turn out (as they should) in response to the massacres of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis, but the killing of unarmed Renisha McBride has caused much less of an outcry.  Theodore Wafer, the white man (yes, race matters) who shot young Renisha, will be tried for second-degree murder in June.  Will we remember this effrontery in the same way that we rallied for Trayvon and Jordan?

The sidelining of black women is one of the reasons that the late C. Delores Tucker worked tirelessly for more than a decade to ensure that a bust of Sojourner Truth be placed in our nation’s capitol. And why not?  Susan B. Anthony, Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton are there. The fight to get Sojourner Truth to the capitol was led by Tucker, a lifelong leader and a founder of the National Congress of Black Women, Unfortunately, she did not live long enough to see the fruits of her labor. Wondering who was Delores Tucker? That’s a whole column by itself.

If you know nothing about the women I’ve mentioned, Google them, or check my website, www.juliannemalveaux.com for more information. 

Julianne Malveaux is a Washington, D.C.-based economist and writer.  She is president emerita of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro.

 

Comments

Edmonia Lewis was the only person of color invited to show at the 1876 Centennial in Philadelphia. Today her art is sought by many great museums and dedicated collectors.
Posted on April 12, 2014
 

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