A friend recently sent me her blog entry for this month, over the summer she had the opportunity to live in Memphis, TN and re-discovered some history while there. I personally would have slid up to a nice rib shack for the summer and learned the secret sauce recipe but that's just my thing.
If you've been living in a vacuum for the past forty years or so, the Lorraine Hotel is where Dr. Martin Luther King became forever etched as the "Father" of the modern Civil Rights Movement. I won't say he died because its to literal and I don't believe people truly die if their memory is carried on. Its semantics I know but that's my choice.
While I was reading it occurred to me that Doc couldn't have done what he did unless there was someone in the background holding his life together so he didn't have to focus on it too hard. You know those tedious everyday things that WE try to forget about; bounced checks to the light company, keeping gas in the car, telling your mom and dad your fine and will call just as soon as you get back from the march, putting money on your books at the county jail, you know us....the forgotten ones who make sure you're not forgotten.
I've often wondered about Coretta Scott King's place in civil rights. Coretta was seen on occasion but mainly her place was behind the scenes rearing their children, taking care of the homefront, making sure Martin could concentrate and be the sounding board when everyone else thought he was nuts or just plain stupid. You and I know there were some of those on his band wagon that didn't quite believe in the messenger and had a hard time with the message on occasion. He needed someone to reinforce and rejuvenate him and from time to time listen to and correct those now famous speeches at 2am. Coretta went to the fifty seven thousand afternoon socials that Martin couldn't get home for, she reinforced the message just by her presence at the home of some inconsolable parent when their child was arrested, murdered or beaten within a fraction of their life. She sent out the thank you cards that were hand written or she returned the phone call from some mother who wasn't quite understanding why her only child was being the one called to stand up when all they really wanted was a quiet night at home in front of the television forgetting the reality of being second class.
Martin did not become Martin without the help of a strong black woman.
All too often Blacks tend to dismiss the sheroes in our culture for newer shinier models that are rolled out just after Christmas, that look a little less like the previous version every year. The women of the civil rights era were well groomed, well spoken and well educated. They were given platforms to work from that didn't hit the evening news and then they went home and answered a gazillion and two questions from their children about what they did all day or why daddy wasn't at this school thing or can you help me with my spelling words or negotiate another payment arrangement for the gas bill while they waited for those donation checks to clear. They went to doctors appointments and teachers meetings and held up the drop off line in front of the school as they explained yet again why daddy couldn't pick them up this afternoon. They held dinner, they held family trips, they held their breath when there were shots fired outside their children's bedroom window and they held their tongues on occasion for the good of the family, the movement and their man. They lived behind the scenes even when their lives were played out for everyone to dissect.
They heard the rumors of infidelity, misconduct, they kept their heads about them so when they blew up it wasn't in front of the cameras, the contituents, the people who gave up everything to be there to take part in the next "Dr. King" moment. They smiled and they whispered and when everyone went home they neatly placed the package they'd been holding onto at the feet of their beloved and waited for some plausible explanation of why they should continue to walk a straight line that didn't have the advantage of ending with them being the sole beneficiary.
The history of the strong black woman has been tarnished by the gross misunderstanding of the angry black woman. The strong black woman is one of grace under pressure, wisdom in the midst of chaos, understated intelligence, patience and timing are her weapons of choice for maximum effect. There's a story in my family about one of my great aunt's I believe who was beaten often by her husband, people always wondered why she didn't leave him but I guess in the early thirties or so you just didn't pick up and go...as my mother would say "go where and with what". My great uncle would get drunk and pass out on the porch and in the morning he'd wake up penniless, sore and bruised and have no memory of how he'd gotten that way. My great aunt on the other hand would be in the kitchen fixing breakfast, singing to herself, and smiling while her husband gingerly ate what she'd prepared. When she finally left with her boat load of children she was able to buy a house for them to live in. I don't think he ever quite figured it out but I'm sure somewhere in the back of his mind the image of her kicking his ass with a cast iron skillet flares up occasionally even if as a really fuzzy dream.
I'm sure every culture has their own version of the strong, black woman but since I was raised in the arms and wisdom of my mother's people I only know from their perspectives. We are vigilant and we get up every day covering the bruises and the insecurities and we walk, run, drive and fly toward something better. We tell our children to be more than we were and expect them to learn from our mistakes with no excuses for falling. We tell stories about how and when we entered a room that didn't want us. We talk to our sisters and try and figure out where we went wrong. We second guess every moment we ever change our lives and we sing ourselves to sleep when we just can't figure it out any more. We believe in God's plan being bigger, better than our own and then we try and negotiate for a few amenities cause we want a little more just in case.
We make the little moments of our lives important so that we hold on longer and with more vigor so we can build up our strength when we need it.
We aren't strong because we want to be, we want to sit down and give the reins to someone else to navigate but everyone looks to us when the time for a decision needs to made. We strong black women keep moving even when its just by rote memory, we've been bred to progress even when we can't see any, we've been doing it for so long we don't know how to be anything else. So the next time you come in to the presence of a strong black woman give her a hug, get her a cup of tea or hell just give her your seat...she's been standing behind the scenes holding up everybody else forever it seems.
Newer versions of the Strong Black Woman
Cynthia Elayne Prosser Johnson - Ibaye*
Jennie Collier - Ibaye
Mamie Collier - Ibaye
Janie Ruth Osborne
Minnie De Santo
Leah Prescott Burgess
Mrs. Mamie Reardon of Edgefield, S.C. who has been the model of a strong black woman for over a 110 years
These are some of the images that I look to when I need an example... I haven't been let down yet
*Ibaye is a Yoruba language term which gives honor to those who have transitioned.
Causes Monique Annan Supports
The Leeway Foundation