Women on the Front Line of Progress

As we wrap up Women's month it has become so clear that the endless work of Black and minority women over the centuries fighting for equal rights and justice has been hushed and hidden.

So much so that it is still happening today in 2021, with the recent arrest of Georgia's Democratic state Rep. Park Cannon by the Georgia state troopers.

Historically, it has been the norm to silence Blacks, discredit them, dismiss them as inferior and disallow them part of the intellectual arena. But it was also normal to quiet women, for patriarchy deemed they were not made for the pubic arena of politics and business. Yet when you examine social, scientific and political progress, especially in North America, the lives and work of intellectual Black women continue to unearth. Names you may never heard of, perhaps intentionally. It's evident that for change to occur, women were often engaged.



Now we can debate where the fears lie in patriarchies and politics, but instead we know the role of women is integral to the social fabric of our communities and our progress as people. Georgia Representative Park Cannon's recent arrest for knocking on the door where the Georgia Governor was signing a controversial voting bill, which many consider is aiding voter suppression, is another example of suppressing the voices of Black women and entire communities they represent. Her arrest has been deemed problematic and unjust for several reasons by legal experts. Legal analyst Page Pate said, "we've got three main problems with this arrest; one, she didn't do what she was charged with doing, two, one of those laws is unconstitutional, and three, she has special protection as a member of the general assembly so there is no basis under the law for her arrest last night." (11alive.com)

This is another example of how white supremacy works, and what happens specifically to Black women standing up against injustice. But there have been many before Park, and two women deserving of praise are Ida B. Wells and Pauli Murray. Women many of you have probably never heard of. Nor had I until I started down this road of hidden stories, that I was deprived of, because Black history, especially Black 'herstory' is completely non-existent in our general education.


Ida B. Wells was one of the first Black woman investigative journalists and prolific speakers. Her work unearthed data that no one was recording, much less confronting - the hate and reality of white supremacy in action. She was the first to document the horrors and numbers of lynchings in southern USA, and as a result it became clear that these were not one offs, but systematic abuses perpetrated against Black men and their families. These assaults were allowed by the police, upheld by the courts, and Blacks soon realized the government would not uphold justice.


Her work as a journalist, activist, and suffragist took on a life of its own and reached many corners of social progress, whether part of the National Equal Rights League, the Women's Club Movement or her Pulitzer Prize citation for journalism. It took her life's work, and the data only a journalist on the inside could collect in order to create the impetus for the moderate whites in the North to look deeper into their failed 14th amendment. "The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them." Ida B. Wells


How did Ida's work create change for women and equal rights? And how did changes to the 14th amendment take root? The continuation of this work by very instrumental women shaped the advances we have seen in race relations and equal rights since.


By the time Pauli Murray was on the scene, women everywhere were talking about making equal rights a reality, but how? Her legal mind allowed her to reverse engineer forward progress. She was able to articulate the "intellectual foundations of two of the most important social-justice movements of the twentieth century". (The New Yorker) Her first legal argument was the basis that overturned Plessy, the separate but equal segregation laws. Yet most notoriously, she co-wrote a review of the 14th amendment that led Ruth Bader Ginsburg (the first woman Supreme court judge) to convince the Supreme Court that the Equal Protection Clause also applies to women.

Though Pauli's story is just as complex, deep and powerful as Ida's, the intersectionality of being both Black and women, has played an immense role in both of them being able to speak to human rights in a more holistic way. The fact that women have been the moral gate keepers of the home and social educators en masse, their voices were heard as the voice of reason, balance, ethics. This is one of the many benefits women leaders need to capitalize on in the future in order to continue this work around human rights, and our growth in race relations. Until the 14th amendment, alongside all other charters and bills of rights and freedoms across the globe, become a reality, we have work to do. And that work has and will continue to be done by Black women. That's the future we see - Black women, an essential and respected part of our intellectual, political and moral progress.