In the first few sentences in her book God Don't Like Ugly: African American Women Handing on Spiritual Values, Dr. Teresa L. Fry Brown, professor of homiletics (preaching) at Emory University, presents some of the attributes of the black women ancestors of America: “Backbone, courage, durability, energy, fortitude, nerve, stability, tenacity, and vitality.”
She also describes her maternal grandmother, “Mama Tessie,” as a woman who lived above negative social and political circumstances while “lovingly creating large dinners out of meager resources, cleaning someone else’s house, greeting the world from her own front porch, praising God from the choir stand every Sunday at the Baptist church, to shopping at stores where we couldn’t try things on.”
These words could be repeated by almost every black family member in America when speaking about the exploits and experiences of our aunties, mothers, big sisters, godmothers and other strong black women who did the work of laying foundations of faith and hard work for generations to follow. So, it is only appropriate that the 2012 theme for Black History Month be “Black Women in American History and Culture.”
The theme was chosen by the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), the organization whose founder was the Harvard-trained historian Dr. Carter G. Woodson. He conceived and announced Negro History Week in 1925 and the celebration was expanded to a month in 1976 during the nation’s bicentennial. At that time, President
Gerald R. Ford urged Americans to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplish- ments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”
And many of those neglected accomplishments have come from black women. So many of them have lived and died, but they sacrificed and in many cases changed the course of history. Some of the names and works of these “sheroes” are known, like Rosa Parks and Mary McLeod Bethune. There are others who may not be as familiar to us, like the first African-American woman banker, Maggie Lena Walker, who founded St. Luke's Penny Savings Bank in Richmond, Va., becoming the first female bank president.
And few people know that Sarah Breedlove Walker was the first African-American woman in America to become a millionaire. She was known not only for her hair-straightening treatment and her salon system, which helped other African Americans to succeed, but also her work to gain women's rights. At least they don't know her by her birth name but rather her nickname, Madam C.J. Walker.
Born in 1831, Rebecca Crumpler was raised by an aunt who was dedicated to caring for sick neighbors and friends in Delaware. It was her early exposure to helping others that would ultimately lead her to become the first African-American female doctor. In a blog for the Los Angeles Times, basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said of Crumpler's accomplishment, “To be black and trying to become a doctor at that time was challenge enough, but to also be a woman breaking into a male bastion like medicine required heroic strength and courage and commitment.”
If you ask most young black girls who their examples are of successful black women, you will more than likely hear names like the legendary Oprah Winfrey or the elegant and graceful first lady of our country, Michelle Obama. But, like the other women I've mentioned, there are any number of others who are blazing trails in significant ways. So, we pray…
“Most Gracious and Loving God, in whose Word we find our guidance, and in whose Love we find our healing and joy, rule over our spirits in this month as we celebrate our black women. We proudly humbly acknowledge and humbly appreciate these women who have throughout our country’s history been the backbone of our strength. Help us to never forget our history and instill in each of us the willingness to share our history with our families, our youth, our co-workers and others throughout the year.
“Now, Lord, fill us with the solemnity of the faith of the great commission; but also provide us with the means and the will to stay in loving and joyous relationships with one another and the world. Lord, we praise and adore you, and thank you for the joy we have in worshiping you in spirit and in truth.
“In the name of Jesus, our potent and pre-eminent Savior, we pray. Amen.”
Dr. Walter T. Richardson is pastor-emeritus of Sweet Home Missionary Baptist Church in South Miami-Dade County and chairman of the Miami-Dade Community Relations Board.
He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, website WTRMin istries.com
Photo: Rebecca Crumpler