Eye on Women

BTL Staff
By | 2017-10-31T06:27:47-04:00 October 31st, 2017|Uncategorized|
Women’s History Month 2005

{HEADER To help us commemorate Women’s History Month, Between The Lines has asked a few of our community’s favorite women to tell us about the legendary ladies that inspired them.
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Barbara Murray on Margaret Bourke White
The woman: Barb Murray is the executive director of AIDS Partnership Michigan and AIDS Walk Michigan, the annual statewide AIDS Walk.
The woman who inspired her: Margaret Bourke White:
Margaret Bourke-White was born in New York City on June 14, 1904. She developed an interest in photography while attending Cornell University and later studied at Columbia. In 1936, Bourke-White joined Life Magazine. The following year she worked with novelist Erskine Caldwell to create the book “You Have Seen Their Faces,” a passionate attack on racism that was heavily criticized for its left-wing bias. Bourke-White was a member of the American Artists’ Congress, a group that supported state funding of the arts and fought discrimination against black artists. Bourke-White married Caldwell in 1939 and the couple were the only foreign journalists in the Soviet Union when the German Army invaded in 1941.
During the Second World War Bourke-White served as a war correspondent, working for both Life Magazine and the U.S. Air Force. She survived a torpedo attack while on a ship to North Africa and was with United States troops when they reached the Buchenwald Concentration Camp. After the war, Bourke-White continued her interest in racial inequality by documenting Gandhi’s non-violent campaign in India and apartheid in South Africa.
“Her photography to this day stands the test of time,” said Murray, “gorgeous black and white photography.”
By the 1950s, Bourke-White had caught the attention of Joe McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee. Bourke-White issued a statement reaffirming her belief in democracy and her opposition to dictatorship helped her to avoid being cross-examined by the committee.
In 1952, Bourke-White was discovered to be suffering from Parkinson’s Disease. Unable to take photographs, she spent eight years writing her autobiography, “Portrait of Myself,” which was released in 1963.
“I distinctly remember this TV movie and they did surgery on her, which is what they did back then,” said Murray. “And here’s this incredibly talented, articulate woman with a good eye and she could no longer continue her life’s trade, though she tried. She was just very gutsy. Very gutsy.”
After struggling with Parkinson’s for nearly a decade, Bourke-White died on Aug. 27, 1971.
“When I think of somebody famous, particularly from my childhood, I think of her,” said Murray. “Back then, there weren’t a lot of women photographers running around. It was a man’s world.”
Selma Massey on Mahalia Jackson
The woman: Selma Massey is the founder and pastor of Whosoever Ministries in Detroit, the author of “Dr. Selma Help” and the co-owner of Ashley’s Flowers, a chain of four florists.
The woman who inspired her: Mahalia Jackson
Mahalia Jackson was born Oct. 26, 1911 in New Orleans. She attended the McDonough School No. 24 through the eighth grade, by which time she was already an accomplished soloist at the Plymouth Rock Baptist Church. In 1927, at the age of 16, Jackson moved to Chicago and found work as a domestic.
She continued to sing and performed with the Prince Johnson Singers for several years before signing a recording contract with Decca Records in 1937. When her initial releases did not sell well, she worked for a time as a beautician. Her recording career was eventually revitalized after five years of touring with popular composer Thomas Dorsey. She recorded for Apollo Records from 1946 to 1954 and then switched to Columbia Records where she stayed until 1967, by which time she was a worldwide-recognized superstar.
“When she sang, her voice was so powerful that she was able to penetrate a whole lot of people of all races,” said Massey. “She was able to touch the high and the mighty, the rich and the poor. Her eyes seemed to twinkle when she sang.”
Throughout the 1950s, Jackson’s voice was heard on radio, television and concert halls around the world. She even sang for President Dwight Eisenhower and at John F. Kennedy’s inaugural ball in 1960.
From the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott until her death, Jackson was very prominent in the Civil Rights Movement. A close friend of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., she often performed at his rallies, going so far as to sing an old slave spiritual before his famous “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington in 1963. She also sang at his funeral five years later.
Jackson had been diagnosed with heart disease in the 1960s but refused to slow down. She collapsed while on tour in Munich in 1971 and died of heart failure on Jan. 27, 1972. At the time of her death, her estate, which, in addition to record royalties, included real estate holding and several business, was valued at over 1 million dollars.
“Later on, I realized that she was a business woman also,” said Massey. “She had beauty shops and several fast food chicken restaurants long before all that was popular. Being able to love the Lord and do her ministry of singing while still being a savvy business member, that was real sharp.”

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BTL Staff
Between The Lines has been publishing LGBTQ-related content in Southeast Michigan since the early '90s. This year marks the publication's 25th anniversary.