By Reggie Fullwood
With so much to write about, like local elections, crime, etc. it is important to take a pause from time to time to recognize worthy causes.
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 fortitude it must take to bare a child, but a woman’s ability to be a leader, provider and nurturer makes her very unique.
What is so amazing about women are the remarkable strides that they 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 woman’s worth is invaluable. Jacksonville has had a tradition of trailblazing black women. From Mary Singleton becoming the first black woman elected to the City Council and first woman from North Florida to be elected to the House of Representatives to Rita Perry founding and publishing the Jacksonville Free Press, women have made a significant mark on local and state history.
Today women play prevalent roles in politics, business, social movements and entertainment 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.
My heart goes out to “The ladies having babies on your own, I know it gets rough and you are feelin’ all alone,” said deceased rapper, Tupac Shakur. He understood the value of woman growing up in a single parent household. That’s what is so phenomenal about women – they are natural leaders, providers, caregivers, and lovers.
And as I mentioned before, black women are certainly unique because of all of the challenges they have faced since the days of slavery. Working as field laborers, nannies to the plantation owner’s children and even mandatory mistresses to slave owners certainly tested the will of black women and proved that sisters have had to go up the rough side of the mountain.
I can’t imagine the pain and anguish felt from having a child and that child being taken away and sold as one would sale a puppy. Or what about being a designated “bed wench” against your will or being raped at anytime or even dying because of the lack of basic healthcare – these are all the conditions black women lived in during slavery.
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 and took away the black male’s responsibility of raising their children. That is a fact that African American families deal with today in America.
From Sojourner Truth to Barbara Jordan and my grandma, black woman 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.”
Perhaps President Obama said it best during a speech about equal rights for women. “We must carry forward the work of the women who came before us and ensure our daughters have no limits on their dreams, no obstacle to their achievements and no remaining ceilings to shatter,” he said.
Signing off from the League of Women Voters Office,
This article originally appeared in the Jacksonville Free Press.