“We will be ourselves and free, or die in the attempt. Harriet Tubman was not our great-grandmother for nothing,” said Alice Walker.
It is that strength and fortitude throughout the years that has helped African American women keep their families together and stable in the face of great adversity. It is hard not to pay homage to the beings I consider the strongest on earth – women.
Mary McLeod Bethune said it best, “The true worth of a race must be measured by the character of its womanhood.” This month is a time for us to reflect back on the vast contributions that women have made in this country, and particularly black women who have been the strength and backbone of the African American community.
As I just mentioned, I believe that women are the strongest beings on this earth. And let me quantify that by saying I am not merely speaking of physical strength or the strength it must take to bare a child, but a woman’s ability to be a leader and nurturer makes her very unique.
What is so amazing about women are the remarkable strides that have made over the years. Much like African Americans, women in general were not allowed to vote and even once those rights were granted often faced discriminatory challenges when attempting to vote.
Because of the struggles faced by American females, black women were essentially double minorities. They couldn’t vote because they were black and because they were women. But that never stopped women like Mary McLeod Bethune, Shirley Chisholm and Fannie Lou Hamer.
One of the most prophetic statements I heard regarding the strength of black women was from W.E.B. Dubois who said, “I most sincerely doubt if any other race of women could have brought its fineness up through so devilish a fire.”
Entertainer Lena Horne, said, “Black women have the habit of survival.” And there are so many examples of strong women. We have all heard of the strength, fortitude and drive of Harriet Tubman, who lead hundreds of slaves through the Underground Railroad, but there are everyday people who we should acknowledge as well.
In most black families the grandmother is the stabilizing force in the family. She provides wisdom, helps us raise our children, teaches us how to cook, teaches responsibility and often instills in us the importance of education and religion.
My grandmother and many other grandmothers or “Big Mamas” have always been the backbone of our families. They are the wise ladies that not only cook a mean sweet potato pie, but also can give you advice on every topic from home health remedies to relationships.
A good woman’s worth is invaluable.
Today’s women play prevalent roles politics and business in this country, and many of them do this while being great mothers and wives. Once sanctioned primarily to being nurses, teachers and secretaries, women are now dominating corporate boardrooms, law offices and the political scene.
And as I mentioned before, black women are certainly unique because of all of the challenges they have faced from slavery to the Civil Rights Movement. Working as field laborers, nannies to the plantation owner’s children and even mandatory mistresses to “master” certainly tested the will of black women and proved that sisters have had to go up the rough side of the mountain.
Last week began Women’s History month and I have to acknowledge the ongoing role that phenomenal women play everyday in making this experimental democracy so successful. And again, super shout out to black women.
The legacy of slavery is vast and much more far-reaching than many will admit to, but it basically destroyed the black family structure. It made black women stronger, but it also took away the black male’s responsibility of raising their children. Blacks still deal with the legacy of the way African American families were treated even today.
From Sojourner Truth to Barbara Jordan and my grandma, black women have led when men were not able to lead or were too afraid. And as a great man once said, “There was never a great man who had not a great woman behind him.”
Madame C.J. Walker once said, “I am a woman who came from the cotton fields of the South. From there I was promoted to the washtub. From there I was promoted to the cook kitchen. And from there I promoted myself into the business of manufacturing hair goods and preparations….I have built my own factory on my own ground.”
Let’s celebrate women and their contributions to this great country.
Signing off from the League of Women’s Voter office,