UNSUNG: “Black Women: The Power Behind the Liberation Struggle”
“They just kept beating me and telling me, “You Nig**r bi**h, we’re gonna make you wish you were dead.”…Every day of my life I pay with the misery of that beating.” These are the words spoken by the legendary Civil Rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer during one of her many encounters with our oppressors in the Jim Crow South. She was born on a plantation in the Mississippi Delta and ultimately rose to become one of the most powerful forces in the Civil Rights struggle. Historians claim that if she’d had the opportunity that Martin Luther King Jr. was afforded, she would have been the preeminent leader of the Civil Rights Movement. She was one of the many “drum majorettes for justice” who yet remain UNSUNG.
The truth is, there would not have been a Martin Luther King Jr. without Fannie Lou Hamer. Ella Baker was a force in the Civil Rights movement who fought for our freedom just as hard as any man. It is she who inspired the “Black Lives Matter” activists of today more so than Dr. King. It was Ms. Baker who concluded that Black folk did not need a single charismatic leader. She used to say that “strong people don’t need strong leaders.” She was a strategic thinker and visionary whose work impacted millions. However, most of our people have no idea who she is or what she contributed.
I have a saying. The world is not ruled by powerful men. It’s actually run by the women who support them.
Our liberation struggle has been long and hard. In many ways it has been patriarchal. I am a firm believer in men taking charge, but too often we have minimized, discounted or outright dismissed the pivotal role that women have played in our quest to be made free, justified and equal to all mankind. Black men, no matter how powerful, have NEVER made significant progress without the assistance of women. Sometimes it was women who actually led the way, while men got the credit.
Beyonce’s Super Bowl halftime performance was not just a cultural suggestive jab as police brutality; she was paying homage to the too often understated role of the women in the Black Panther Party. While Eldridge Cleaver, Huey P. Newton and Mark Clark became household names, sisters like Elaine Brown, Afeni Shakur (Tupac’s Mom), Angela Davis and others are an afterthought. Let’s not talk about Assata Shakur who is still in exile in Cuba with a $2 million dollar bounty on her head.
If you study the history of the Nation of Islam, you will discover that when The Honorable Elijah Muhammad and many of his male followers were sent to prison it was the women of the Nation of Islam who moved the Nation of Islam forward in their absence. This was long before Malcolm X came along. Mother Clara Muhammad, The Honorable Elijah Muhammad’s wife, was a principle driving force yet is a name that you seldom hear. She was also a pioneer in the “home school” movement.
Know that wherever you’ve seen Black people make any significant progress that benefitted the masses of our people, women were either directly or indirectly at the forefront. It was true then. It is true now. The “Black Lives Matter” movement is a good example.
As an activist, myself, I can look at a movement and immediately determine if the sisters played a significant role in executing the plan. This is no disrespect to us as brothers; but when our sisters are involved things tend to be more organized, less chaotic and generally more substantive and effective. Some of us are of the false perception that a woman’s touch tends to weaken or water things down. Man please! Some of these front-line sisters are so “turnt up” and revolutionary that they make some of the brothers look watered down.
Just as a husband and wife must complement one another in the building of a family, men and women of conscience must learn to complement one another in the struggle for justice. This starts with us recognizing how much we need the power of feminine energy to give birth to a new reality for our people. To minimize the woman’s role in the struggle is to minimize the struggle itself.
There have been so many honorable women who have paved the road toward our liberation that it is impossible to remember or call them all by name. So I would just like to take the time to say THANK YOU, THANK YOU and THANK YOU to all the sisters (past and present) who have suffered and still suffer for the cause of the whole. Your example has given me something to point towards while raising my daughters. I don’t have to even say much. All I have to do is point. Thank you.