Archive for the ‘black women and politics’ Category

Good-bye Ms. Height, See You in the Morning.

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010

Height

Our matriarch of justice passed this morning.

Dorothy I. Height (March 24, 1912 – April 20, 2010) who fought for most of her life on behalf of women and blacks, died at the age of 98.

The last time I saw Ms. Height she was in her wheel chair, poised, eagle-eye alert, wearing her signature church lady wide brim hat, and in full control of everyone and everything.

President of the National Council of Negro Women for more than 40 years, advising presidents from Dwight Eisenhower to Bill Clinton on both civil and gender rights, Ms. Height helped advance landmark legislation on school desegregation, voting rights and equality in the workplace.

She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1994, and the Congressional Gold Medal in 2004. Make no mistake about it, Ms. Height was among the coalition of African American leaders who pushed civil rights to the center of the American political stage in the years after World War II, often standing alone as a woman amidst a den of black male preachers, challenging sexism, decrying foolishness, negotiating between factions, calling egos on the carpet, making deals without losing her soul, and calling movements to moral order.

I remember the first time I met Ms. Height. She called me on the phone to invite me to speak at a NCNW meeting. I couldn’t believe it was Ms. Dorothy Height on the other line. It was 9pm where I was, 10pm there in her office in DC.  She was in her 80s back then. “Ms. Dorothy, what are you doing in your office this time time of night?” I asked incredulously. “Where else do you suppose I’m  supposed to be, Renita?” “Yes Mam.” I answered.

A few weeks ago after speaking at Howard University Rankin Chapel I was greeted by my mentor and friend, Dr. Marian Wright Edelman who mentioned that she was off to visit Ms. Dorothy who was in the hospital.  “How’s she doing” I asked. “Ms. Dorothy is doing what she’s always doing –even from her sick bed– in charge and giving out orders to everyone.” We laughed.  “She ordering even you around, Dr. Marian?” I asked. “Child, all any of us can say in reply to anything Ms. Height tells us is, ‘Yes Mam. That includes me!’”

Yes Mam.

You have to admire a woman who didn’t mind taking care of business.

Fifty Years Ago, Today

Monday, February 1st, 2010

On February 1, 1960,  four black freshmen from North Carolina A&T State University sat in at the Whites-only lunch counter in the Greensboro, North Carolina Woolworth’s store: Ezell A. Blair, Jr. (now Jibreel Khazan), Franklin E. McCain, Joseph A. McNeil, and David L. Richmond. The act of simply sitting down to order food in a restaurant that refused service to anyone but whites is now widely regarded as one of the pivotal moments in the American Civil Rights Movement.

greensboro sit-ins

The waitress ignored them, as did the store manager and a pacing policeman. Some white customers taunted the students, while two others patted them on the back, whispering “Ah, you should have done it ten years ago.”

The next day, the four young men returned with 19 supporters. By the third day, the number had risen to 85, including white and black students from neighboring colleges. Before the week was out, there were 400. They demonstrated in shifts so they wouldn’t miss classes.

On July 25, nearly six months later, Woolworth’s agreed to desegregate the lunch counter.

student sit-ins2

Meanwhile, energized students staged smaller sit-ins in seven other North Carolina cities as well as in Hampton, Virginia, and Nashville, Tennessee. By summer, 33 southern cities, including Greensboro, had integrated their restaurants and lunch counters. One year later, 126 cities had taken the same step.

Marian Wright Edelman, founder and President of the Children’s Defense Fund and first African American woman admitted to the Mississippi state bar, writes in today’s HuffingtonPost about being a student at Spelman College during the time of the Greenboro student sit-ins and how that incident led by students in another state became the spark that changed her life and American history forever.

Love Your Enemies. For Real Jesus?

Monday, November 16th, 2009

It’s the question every liberator has had to ponder. What do you do with traitors? What do you with slaves who get half way to freedom, take one look at the swamp that stands between them and freedom, and decide they want to go back to the plantation? What do you do with the slave who sells out his kin and friends down in the slavequarters by telling the master about all the talk about rebellion and freedom that takes place at night when massa’em is asleep up in the big house?

Judas did the honorable thing. He took his own life.

While violence isn’t something I subscribe to normally, I can understand why Harriet Tubman  felt it necessary to keep a gun on her hip at all times. It wasn’t just to blow away any bounty hunter or slave catcher that crossed her path. The gun on Harriet Tubman’s hip was for slaves too. Before each escape she’d get in the faces of all the men, women, and children who met her in the brush harbor saying they wanted to go with her, and say to them, “If you don’t follow me when I go out, I’m going to kill you. Go forward and live or turn back and die.”

Harsh but necessary words, I suppose. I wonder what Moses did when his runaway slaves started murmuring about being hungry and preferring their slave pallets to the harsh desert conditions they now faced (Exodus 16:3). I know he complained to God about it, but, for real, what did Moses and his lieutenants do to dissuade runaways from turning back and betraying to Pharoah’s army the whereabouts of the Hebrew camp?

Every movement has had to decide how it will deal with traitors, turncoats, defectors, betrayers, and people who half way through change their mind and want to go back.

Of course, we’re a civilized generation now. Everyone has a right to his or her own opinion. Side with the oppressor, if you share the oppressor’s political views. We don’t all have to think the same. Follow for as long as you feel comfortable, and when you don’t feel comfortable anymore; stop following.  Change your mind, if you want.  All’s fair in love and politics, right?

Lord, Renita, what’s got into you this morning?

What had happened was…from time to time I listen to so called Christian radio when I’m in the car driving to Atlanta. There’s nothing Christian about the stuff that comes out of the mouths of the folks on many of those shows, especially when the President of the United States is the subject for the hour (which he nearly always is). And from time to time I watch Fox News (something I don’t do often) and I’m stunned by the things that come out of the mouths of some of the black conservatives that come on Fox News.  enemie's fingersAnd admittedly, I’m still shaking from an encounter I had here on the blog over a month ago. You remember the one where a reader left a comment admitting that she is a black woman Tea Party member who loathes Obama’s politics and has no qualms with her party’s caricature of the country’s first black president as a monkey. After much yelling back and forth between us, the reader and I eventually calmed down and agreed to disagree and went to our separate sides of the rings. But I haven’t been able to get the incident out my head. That encounter made me sit up and pay attention.

Is there a point in a political fight when it’s more than the fact that you and I differ ideologically. It’s not just that we have different ideas of what it means to be a Christian. We’re enemies, Boo. Plain and simple. To allow you to continue on in your rants and ravings is to leave myself at risk of being killed, subjugated as a woman, or sold back into slavery.

Sometimes I wonder whether Jesus understood exactly what he was asking of us when he demanded, “Love your enemies,  bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” (Matt. 5:44). For real Jesus?

And A Little Child Shall Lead Them…

Tuesday, October 20th, 2009

You’ve all seen the video by now of little Tyren Scott,  a fourth grader at a charter school in New Orleans, who got to ask  President Obama the last question at the town hall meeting the President held there in his city.

“Why do people hate you?”

“Ahhhh…” we collectively say to ourselves.

Our hearts break as we listen to a little boy ask the question on the minds of plenty adults and children as they witness the rage that has been directed at President Obama over the last few months.

But what about the President’s answer? How do you rate the President’s answer?

Watching the video, I find myself wondering if His O-ness missed the moment. Oh sure, he tried to explain to the little fellow that it was all politics, and then wanted him to know that he needn’t worry that he  [the president] could take care of himself. I get that. I even get that the President was probably sideswiped by the boy’s question and was so moved by the his genuinely not understanding all that was going on that  His O-ness  fumbled for a moment there on how best to respond knowing that cameras were zooming in on him. I get that.

But still I wonder.

Might there have been a better response to the little boy’s question about hate and American politics? I haven’t yet figured out what I wish the President had said.  I just know that I was looking for something a little more thoughtful.

What else, or what differently, might President Obama have said in response to the little guy’s question, “Why do people hate you?”