With Black History Month behind us and Women’s History month coming to an end, it is an appropriate time to call attention to the intersectional pioneers who deserves more credit than they may have gotten.
In this past month I have researched a few of the women in the struggle for human rights. They each have their own story and we do not want those stories to be lost. One common trait they had in common, regardless of their cause or profession, was their burning determination. I learned a lot from their personal stories and gained a few insights. Most all the women that were reported on, fought for several causes. When slavery was abolished, they demanded the vote and control over their bodies, then them wanted equal rights in the workplace; they did not give up!
This speaks to the lesson number one; when these women spoke out they become stronger. Activism itself, seemed to generate power and it can become contagious. Diane Nash, the civil rights activist from the 60s, said “There is a power in each of us that we do not realize until we take responsibility.”
When one women speak out, others join. Today we saw that in #METOO movement. We saw that with the gained momentum, the women in this movement became stronger and their cause become contagious.
Today social media can aid in this process, but we need to remember that we often are listening to our own echoes. By looking back, we can easier speak to the future.
Two of the women from the past, are Ida B Wells, and Mary Walker; they are good example of increasing their activism thru activism. Ida, born in 1862, was an African-American journalist, newspaper editor, suffragist, sociologist, feminist, and an early Civil Rights Movement activist. Seventy-one years before Rosa Parks refused to give up a seat on the bus, Ida Wells refused to leave the first-class ladies car on the train. She took the train company to court and won. This decision was unfortunately, overturned. But this motivated her start a career as a journalist. Then, due to the lynching of a friend, she published articles to bring attention to this terrible injustice and illegal practice. By 1909 Ida became one of the founder of the NAACP.
Mary Walker, born in 1832, tried to change women fashion. She disliked the long skirts with petticoats calling them unsanitary since they hit the ground. On her wedding day she wore slim pants with a fashionable midi length skirt. Later in life she was arrested for wearing men's clothing yet insisted on her right to wear clothing that she thought appropriate. "I don't wear men's clothes, I wear my own clothes, she stated." Like Rebecca Lee Crumpler, born 1831, Mary was one of the first female medical doctors. When Mary tried to join the Northern Army during the Civil War; it was first suggested she be a nurse. As a doctor she treated any injured soldiers and civilians. She is the only women, to this day, ever to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor. After the war Mary Walker became a member of the Woman's Suffrage Bureau in DC. She attempted to register to vote in 1871 but was turned away. She believed the constitution gave her this right and after years advocating this position, she then advocated for a constitutional amendment. She saw herself as “the original new woman”.
Nether Mary or Ida changed their name when they married. Mary deleted the word I obey from her marriage vows. Ida continued to work after the birth of her 4 children.
That thought brings me to the second lesson I learned, that namely change does not occur overnight but rather over generations. On a slight side note, in Sept. 1922 the Episcopal Church voted to remove the word "obey" from the bride's section of wedding vows. The Catholic church ironically, never had that passage. Yet, the question “Does the bride have To Say “OBEY” In Her Wedding Vows?” was Posted in 2015 by Rev. Harris in an article from Chicago. So, even archaic ideas do change slowly.
Laws can impede or excel change. John Adams said “Our Constitution was only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
First, we had the Constitution stating, “all men are created equal”, this was written by a man that owned hundreds of slaves. Many women in the suffrage movement did not think it was necessary with a special amendment, since they believed it was already implied in the constitution. The right to vote for women, was established over the course of many decades. The Civil Right Act from 1964, outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Yet this was still not enough. And that is why Democrats Abroad is striving to pass a resolution, put forth by one of our GBC & GWC Steering members, to finally ratify the Equal Right Amendment (ERA).
In my concluding thoughts and reflection on these women’s lives, I would like to add that laws DO MAKE changes in what is legal, but they can NOT change what is in the heart of our citizens. We have seen this clearly in the struggle for Civil Right, Women's Rights and Gay Rights. To make lasting change, attitudes need to change.
The night before a Freedom March, Diane Nash, the Civil Right activist, got a phone call from the Attorney General Bob Kennedy's Secretary; the call was to warn Nash that someone might possibly be killed in the upcoming planned demonstrations. Nash replied they need not worry since the night before, they all had made their Last Will and Testament. I would like to close with a quote from Diane Nash, “the true changes in American society will come from its citizens, not government officials”.
We have work to do. Let’s get out the vote. Register to vote and request you ballot for the 2018 elections at votefromabroad.org today.