Gov. Gretchen Whitmer addressed the State of Michigan after a plan to kidnap her and other Michigan government officials was thwarted by state and federal law enforcement agencies. She started by saying thank you to law enforcement and FBI agents who participated in stopping this [...]
WOMAN: an adult female, mother, wife, lover but also educator, nurturer and innovator. But for most of western history women were confined to a life of domesticity. As late as the early 20th century in the United States, women could not vote, hold elective office, conduct business without a male representative and had little or no access to education.
At the 1851 Women’s Rights Convention, Sojourner Truth gave voice to the frustration of women everywhere. She stood up and gave her famous speech “Ain’t I a Woman.” It was not just a demand for equality, but an affirmation of strength, determination and ingenuity in the heart and soul of all women.
The early women’s rights movement built on the principles and experiences of other efforts to promote social justice and to improve the human condition. And whose principles and experiences to gain social justice and improve their condition could provide better insight than that of the black woman?
Besides the inequities of the “female condition,” black suffragettes had to deal with the specter of slavery. The nightmare of having been used for breeding like livestock, having children snatched from the breast and sold into slavery and being raped, disrespected beat-down simply for being black.
Gaining equality and improving their condition was not a principle but a necessity for survival – adversities to be overcome and won one struggle at a time. And black women did it again and again, paving the way for others seeking justice and equality.
Born a slave, Sojourner Truth discovered that one of her children had been sold to slavery in Alabama. Since this son had been emancipated under New York Law, Sojourner sued in court and won his return. She went on to become a noted speaker for both the abolitionist and women’s rights movement.
A daughter of slaves and married at fourteen, Madam C.J. Walker worked as a laundrywoman to save enough money to educate her daughter. Developing and marketing her own products, Walker was the first African-American woman millionaire in America. She was known not only for her hair treatments and salon system, which helped other African-Americans to succeed, but also her work to end lynching and gain women’s rights.
Wilma Rudolph was crippled by scarlet fever and unable to walk without braces until she was 11. Her life is a story of achieving against the odds. Her first accomplishments were to stay alive and get well! On Sept. 7, 1960, in Rome, Wilma became the first American woman to win three gold medals in the Olympics. She won the 100-meter dash, the 200-meter dash, and ran the anchor on the 400-meter relay team. This achievement led her to become one of the most celebrated female athletes of all time. In addition, her celebrity caused gender barriers to be broken in previously all-male track and field events.
Audre Lorde, the daughter of Caribbean immigrants, decided to drop the “y” from the end of her name at a young age, setting a precedent in her life of self-determination. The self-described “Black lesbian, mother, warrior, poet” stood up against oppression and injustice everywhere. Recognizing that “imposed silence about any area of our lives is a tool for separation and powerlessness” (“The Cancer Journals,” 1980), Lorde claimed and celebrated all of her selves in order that others could come to find their own.
Barbara Jordan was born in Houston, Texas to a Baptist minister and a domestic worker. She made history when she was elected to the Texas Senate seat in 1966, becoming the first black to serve in that body since 1883. The first black woman to serve in the U.S. Congress, Jordan sponsored bills that championed the cause of poor, black, and disadvantaged people including the Workman’s Compensation Act, which increased the maximum benefits paid to injured workers. She also sponsored legislation to broaden the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to cover Mexican-Americans and to extend its authority to those states where minorities had been denied the right to vote or had had their rights restricted.
As we mourn the loss of Coretta Scott King, we remember her not just as the widow of Martin Luther King Jr. but a determined fighter for equality herself. The mother of four stepped into the spotlight days after the slaying of her husband to lead the March in Memphis. She went on to lead the effort for a national holiday in her husband’s honor and to found the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Non-Violent Social Change in Atlanta. As did her husband, Mrs. King believed and reminded the world that, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” She appealed to everyone who believed in King’s dream to “make room at the table of brother and sisterhood for lesbian and gay people.” Homophobia, she said, is like racism and anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry in that it seeks to dehumanize a large group of people, to deny their humanity, their dignity and personhood.
So as we continue to struggle for equality, let us do as those early activists did and build on the principles and experiences of other efforts to promote social justice and to improve the human condition. Equality and justice must be those inalienable rights promised to all, not just in America but the world.
It can be done. Equality has no boundaries. But if equality were to have a face I’m betting it would be a strong black woman.
Looking at all that has been done and all that needs to be done, she would roll up her sleeves and say to all those who doubt if full equality is attainable, “Ain’t I a woman!”