What We Owe to Black Women
In honor of Black History Month, I’m letting you in on something I’ve learned. America owes a debt to Black women for moving us toward democracy. You might already know this. I didn’t.
I learned about these heroes reading the excellent book, “She Took Justice,” by Gloria J. Browne-Marshall.
She Took Justice
Browne-Marshall is a civil rights attorney and playwright. In this absorbing book, Browne-Marshall straight-forwardly recounts The Black Woman’s non-stop fight to take justice for herself. The author never shies away from the lengths to which white America opposed The Black Woman. For example, rather than let Lucile Bluford enter the University of Missouri’s graduate school of journalism, they shut the school down. Without the women whose stories Browne-Marshall recounts, America would never have come as close to it has of being a functioning democracy.
Black Women Take Justice: 1940s and 50s
Irene Morgan, a Black woman, brought the case in 1946 that outlawed segregation on interstate buses.
A Black woman from Memphis, Mary Church Terrell, in 1953 forced restaurants in the nation’s capitol to serve African Americans.
The “Brown” in the 1954 case Brown V Board of Education that outlawed segregation in schools was Linda Brown.
in 1956, the United States Supreme Court upheld the Montgomery bus boycott. Rosa Parks was the leading face for the boycott, but she was one of many in the effort. Others took the suit to the Supreme Court. Two Black women—Aurelia Browder and Susie McDonald Mary—plus two teenagers—Mary Louise Smith and Claudette Colvin.
Black Women in the 1960s
Ruby Bridges, a 6-year-old Black girl, in 1960 integrated Louisiana schools. This is the same Black child whose story racist whites want to ban from schools. Apparently, Ruby sitting alone in a classroom for one year is just too hard for their white children to hear.
A Black woman, Dollree Mapp, in 1961 brought the case that keeps police from unconstitutionally ransacking your home then using the evidence in court.
Evelyn Butts, a Black woman, in 1963 challenged the poll tax whites used to block African American voting.
In 1963, a Black woman went to the Supreme Court to force a racist-ass prosecutor to address her with her last name: Miss Mary Hamilton.
Fannie Lou Hamer in 1964 led a lawsuit that threw out election results when Black Mississippians were kept from voting.
A Black woman, Gardenia White represented by Attorney Pauli Murray, won in 1966 a woman’s right to serve on juries.
Mrs. Sylvester Smith, a Black woman, won in 1968 a right to receive benefits regardless of whether a man was in the house.
What You Won’t Believe
Early in our years of nationhood, there was no pretense that Black women challenging white supremacy risked their lives. Yet, Elizabeth Key went to court to prove she was a free servant (1658). Winny successfully challenged her status as free after a slave-holder took her into free territory (1824). Sojourner Truth sued successfully to regain her son (1827). Elizabeth Jennings successfully sued for being forcibly removed from a horse carriage (1855). These Black woman and so many more were taking justice when it meant possibly giving up everything.
The detailed account of She Took Justice ends in 1970. Browne-Marshall proves her premise. The Black Woman “turned the law, a device clearly meant for her oppression, into a weapon to combat discrimination, a prestigious occupation, and a platform from which she could lift others as she rose.”
The author cites the obvious: the struggle continues. But I believe her prediction. “If history is a guide, The Black Woman will fight until she takes justice despite any and all opponents.”