The following essay was written by Kiarra McCain, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, for Afro 3866/5866 History 3856/PA 5490: The Civil Rights and Black Power Movement, Dr. Peter Rachleff, December 21, 2015.
“Show me a woman that loves herself and I’ll show you a woman holding her mirror, show me a woman who hates herself and I’ll show you a woman holding yours.”
What does it mean to love yourself? To view yourself as worth it and to walk in a room shameless, no matter the struggles you face. How do you start to love yourself? Where do you begin this journey and with whom can you compare your success and challenges to? For the above questions are truly where education begin. To accept that I am educated, that I have set and accomplished goals and that I am worth a life full of success and happiness would mean that I first have a grasp on the concept self love.
I wrote the above quote when trying to sift through what self love truly means. While all have the right to define the term how they please, I believe self love comes from really knowing who you are. Being able to articulate the pros and cons of your past, educate others of the history that makes you and inform them of the ethics that drive you, would be a step toward self love and understanding self worth. On the other hand, being unsure of those things (and oblivious to their importance) can influence one to compare and become consumed with the life others are (seemingly) living costing that individual her right to happiness and ultimately her right to possess the love that we speak of.
While I understand that much of this must be learned before school and peers play an important role in ones life, the history we are exposed to, the lessons we are taught through experience and the narratives we see play out in the media certainly help us structure our thoughts on the matter.
I am a fifteen year old Black man. I attend high school (maybe not as often as I should) and I do enough in school to get by. My peers seem to have the same goals as I so “trying hard” for the sake of keeping up is unnecessary. I don’t have to watch television more then fifteen minutes before I am reminded of the “scary nigga” phenomenon that seems to have plagued the world. How can I know myself as anything other then that if that is what I see? How can I know myself as anything other than that when no matter what I do, that is what you see?
I am a fifteen year old Black woman. I attend high school often as my friends do too. We have
thriving social life, but we also challenge each other to be smarter then most think we are. Though I personally have no children, what I see is a world that assumes I do or will soon. To them, I’ll be a “baby mama” before a Bachelors or Master degree recipient. How can I know myself when that is what is supposedly awaiting me? How can I know myself when you can not figure out what is awaiting you?
Though the above piece is not a direct quote, I have too many times been challenged with this harsh reality as a youth worker. Furthermore, it is my job (literally) to then find the response. During the next pages of this journal, I will walk you through what I found in a search for what I believe is now an acceptable reply and source: The East Side Freedom Library. This is a private library located on the east side of Saint Paul. It is a place where a young man or woman can begin to find themselves, and as I previously proposed, find self love. At ESFL people of color can find a slew of resources geared toward the history of their people, where all young people can go and become a step closer toward educating themselves on what people before them that look like them did in times of struggles; depicting how they “made it over”.
One of the most beautiful things about human beings is the layers that make us, us. We are artists, writers, singers, historians, leaders, entrepreneurs and more. Exploring these possibilities, having the ability to read about others who were like the fifteen year old black man and woman above and see their story didn’t end the way it began is a source of energy.
I believe all youth within the East Side area should visit this Freedom Library and explore the collection, ask questions and challenge the adults in the space if your mirror can’t be found. To encourage this process, I will take you through a series of topics that I explored that I explored within Black culture, Black leadership and strong women of color. Along with my synopsis on the topic that will be taken from a book within the genre I will provide a list of other resources from the Freedom Library that I believe will assist in the search.
Poetry, Music and more…
From slave ships to the Harlem Renaissance to Maya Angelou to the music we dance and listen to today, black artistry has always been something to admire. It is through the arts that people of color (more often than not) have chosen to express, define or defend themselves to the dominant culture. In the book, SOS: Calling All Black People: A Black Arts Movement Reader, the authors pour ideas, resources and explore art pieces that exemplify the many stances blacks took toward movements about freedom. In this book you’ll find song lyrics, views on boycotts, conversations about music and gender and all things that make human beings human.
Pieces in this book remind me of the courage so many people of color had during times of adversity. The way they used the art of music, theater, poetry and story telling to send a message to the community, encouraging and reminded them of the power they all possessed. Below is a famous song/poem by James Brown, displayed on page 423, it reads:
Say it loud, I’m black and I’m proud
Say it loud, I’m black and I’m proud
Some people say we got a lot of malice
Some say it’s a lot of nerve
But I say we won’t quit moving
Until we get what we deserve
We’ve been ‘buked and we’ve been scorned
We’ve been treated bad, talked about as sure as you’re born
But just as sure as it takes two eyes to make a pair
Brother we can’t quit until we get our share
Whoee-out of sight tomorrow night-its tough
You’re tough enough-whoee-it’s hurting me
Say it loud, I’m black and I’m proud (repeats 2x)
I’ve worked on jobs with my feet and my hands
But all that work I did was for the other man
Now we demand a chance to do things for ourselves
We’re tired of beating our heads against the wall
And working for someone else
We’re people, we’re like the birds and the bees
But we’d rather die on our feet than keep living on our knees.
I included this piece in its entirety to show the powerful message that James Brown shared over twenty years ago that still should resonate with us all no matter the age. Mr. Brown’s message was simple; black people have worked for others and the time has come for them to live truly free from the debt of the dominant culture (the white man). He goes on to say that some may not agree, nevertheless, being black and proud is a right that all black men and women were born with (though others fought against it) thus we will not stop until we are able to live our lives with the chance at the same amenities as our counterparts. The last line written above “we would rather die on our feet than keep living on our knees” sums it up. Mr. Brown was saying we have prayed for our time to come “living on our knees” and we will not stop until we prevail; death would be the only other option.
Though this is a popular song, it wasn’t until reading this chapter that I really began to think of the PSA James Brown was sending for generations to come. It is this kind of discovery, even if it is within stories or literature that you’ve heard of, that can get one closer to defining their self worth. At the East Side Freedom Library, there is not only information like such, but scholars of the black culture that can help take these ideas further.
Now, many times youth and music receive a bad reputation. A lot of elders in the generations before, can sometimes seem critical of the music selections now often chosen or written by young people. The ESFL not only can help explain the “rebellious” stance that some take on in music, but it can lend examples of when it took place in history and for what cause. Furthermore, the collection can also encourage and inspire music and poetry writers to use this talent to speak out toward adversity and give examples of the success and struggles that came along with taking on such a task historically.
Related Literature includes but is not limited to the following:
Bracey, J. (n.d.). SOS/Calling All Black People: A Black Arts Movement Reader.
Sternlicht, S. (n.d.). August Wilson’s twentieth-century cycle plays: A reader’s companion. Texas Tech University Press.
Wilson, A. (1996). Seven guitars. New York: Dutton.
Wilson, A. (2001). Jitney. Woodstock, NY: Overlook Press.
Cummings, S. (n.d.). The theatre of Naomi Wallace: Embodied dialogues.
Elkins, M. (1994). August Wilson: A casebook. New York [u.a.: Garland.
Herrington, J. (1998). I ain’t sorry for nothin’ I done: August Wilson’s process of playwriting. New York: Limelight Editions.
Most leaders (in the very early stages of leadership) find it hard to believe they are such. To them, they are merely standing up for what they believe, fighting rather physically or intellectually as a part of a divine plan or simply a mundane experience. To them, fighting is not something they desire to do, but will defend their right to do so for the good of the cause. Many of these leaders live amongst us today. They look like your average civilian but have the desire to fight against injustice and when the time is right they do so. So many of these historical leaders can be found, in literature form, at the East Side Freedom Library; one in particular that I came across is the highly regarded to some and deeply misunderstood to others; Ms. Angela Davis. In the book, The Black Power Mixtape, 1967-1975 the author not only tells the story of many struggles and unsung heroes of the black power movement but also incorporates the voices of people like Erykah Badu and Questlove as commentary. This not only adds depth to the stories that some may have heard but reminds us of the importance of joining the conversation. Showing that the issues of the past are very related to those of the present and studying those and the response can give insight into best practices.
“From the time I was very small, I remember the sounds of bombs exploding across the street, our house shaking…You ask me whether I approve of violence?”
The above quote can be found in The Black Power Mixtape but originated from an interview with Angela Davis. A reported asked her if she approved of violence and in summation her answer was simple, violence is what I know. It is and has been a part of my environment without my consent, so when asking if she approves of violence (in regards the to the Black Power movement) she responded as such.
When reviewing this, I couldn’t help but to think of my own thoughts on violence and like Angela Davis I couldn’t help but conclude the same. Not saying I condone it, but like many people of color it has been a part of the “solution” long before the answer was even attempted. Furthermore, reading this and being reminded of the leaders then, encourages me to use what gifts I have to be a leader now while assuring me that all leaders had a journey of their own to discover. This journey toward understanding my leadership and the journey of others before furthers the sincerity of my plea. To have the resources to discover the truths in the past, only furthers the understanding of self and gets one closer to self worth, self discovery and self love.
Related Literature includes but is not limited to:
Bolden, T. (1995, June 1). W.E.B. Du Bois: A Reader.(Brief Article). Black Enterprise.
Marine, G. (1969). The Black Panthers. New York: New American Library.
Olsson, G., & Olsson, G. (n.d.). The Black power mixtape: 1967-1975.
Franklin, J. (1982). Black leaders of the twentieth century. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.
Gates, H. (2011). Call and response: Key debates in African American studies. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.
Pardo, M. (1998). Mexican American women activists identity and resistance in two Los
Angeles communities. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
Wright, R., & Rosskam, E. (1988). 12 million black voices. New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press.
Strong Women of Color
At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance – A New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power
- Danielle L. McGuire
What is the narrative you’ve been told of Rosa Parks? Does it involve her being too tired to give up her seat to a white man, subsequently launching one of the most widely known boycotts during the civil rights movement? Were you taught of her shy and meekness, of how timid she was or consistently reminded of her “old age” at the time of the unplanned event? Being educated in America, I would assume one of the above statements would be true according to our “Black history month lessons” (also assuming that she was one of the only women taught about anyhow), unfortunately both are extremely miseducative. In the book listed above, found within the historical women of color section at the Eastside Freedom Library, McGuire tears this narrative up within the beginning chapters.
Recy Taylor was a young woman (in her mid-twenties) living in Abbeville, Alabama in 1944. Leaving from church one night with friends and family Recy and the others were stopped by a group of white men. Being sent by the sheriff to capture a black woman who allegedly assaulted a white boy (during the same time Recy and the others were at church), the men insisted they had found the culprit. Though the entire group (including a young 18 year old black man) pleaded and tried to convince the white men of their mistake, they took Recy into the woods. Before they took her, one of the white men shook the hand of the black young man and assured him she would be returned unharmed if the assaulted white man can validate her innocence.
It didn’t take long for Recy to realize, she wasn’t being taken to the assaulted white man. After a few turns into the woods, she was ordered to get out of the truck and strip down to nothing. Though she cried and begged, the white men through rugs on the dirt, stripped down to their socks and took turns with her body. Once all seven of them were done, they ordered her to get dressed, placed a blindfold over her eyes and dropped her off on the road side. The local NAACP got involved and sent for one of the best rape investigators they had, and in entered Rosa Parks.
Rosa Parks was an extremely intelligent woman. She was a strong activist for women’s rights and worked hard to bring rapist of black women to justice. Though it may be (unfamiliar) to most, the Montgomery boycott was not only about black riding rights but “a woman’s movement for dignity (McGuire, xxl)” as a lot of sexual violent acts took place on public transits, bus stops and while women of color were walking to their destinations.
This is the kind of narrative that gets left out of our education but is arguably one of the most important. Revisiting the idea of the mirror, as a woman of color these historical facts help me to see my reflection more clearly. I am a product of black women who were not great by happenstance but intentional and with a specific purpose. Rosa Parks was not only much younger then accounts we lead scholars to believe, but she was very calculated in her moves toward freedom.
Furthermore, I believe the story of Recy Taylor is very instructive if we’re given the opportunity to explore it. Recy was raped. Her body was used for the pleasure of seven white men as she was required to “act like you do when having sex with your husband or I’ll cut your damn throat (McGuire, xvii)”. Even more telling is the role the young black man (only identified as Daniel’s son) played at the start of the attack. He tried to be the protector. Pleading with the white men in regards to her innocence and with the black women to stop running and cooperate, but in the end was further emasculated with a hand shake and the later discovery of Recy’s fate.
Young ladies of color our history teaches us that our bodies are pure and beautiful and are of such quality that they are often the point of attack. Young ladies of color, our history tells us that many strong women of color fought for us to have the right not only to vote or be treated fairly on the bus, but the right to these pure an beautiful bodies and to be the sole source of power over them. Only reading history like such can charge us to take back (or continue to fight for) this right so that women who fought before would not have fought in vain or hopefully women after will not have to fight at all.
Related Literature includes but is not limited to:
Banner, L. (1974). Women in modern America; a brief history. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.
Brakebill, T. (2014). Barbara Egger Lennon teacher, mother, activist. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
Crow, B. (2000). Radical feminism: A documentary reader. New York: New York University Press.
Garland, A. (1988). Women activists: Challenging the abuse of power. New York: Feminist Press at the City University of New York .
Kerber, L. (1982). Women’s America: Refocusing the past. New York: Oxford University Press.
.Laughlin, K. (2011). Breaking the wave: Women, their organizations, and feminism, 1945-1985. New York: Routledge.
McGuire, D. (2010). At the dark end of the street: Black women, rape, and resistance- a new history of the civil rights movement from Rosa Parks to the rise of black power. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
Gonzales, M. (1999). Mexicanos: A history of Mexicans in the United States. Bloomington: Indiana University.
“Show me a woman that loves herself and I’ll show you a woman holding her mirror, show me a woman who hates herself and I’ll show you a woman holding yours”
What does this mirror look like that I speak of? How is it constructed and of what material is it made of? Though this mirror is not an instrument in physical form, it does hold the same responsibility; to reflect the image that is looking into it, back to the individual, to help the individual to see themselves. The East Side Freedom Library is a place full of mirrors. There are shelves and shelves of material that all people (especially people of color) can go and find themselves. Sure some narratives may be missing, but their collection is much richer than your typical library, their stories that have rarely been told can be found. I titled this paper “In search of me” but that really is not so. While reading the material, allowing my fingers to graze page after page, book after book, I realized I was becoming closer to knowing my history and in turn closer to knowing me. I was able to read stories of Angela Davis or Rosa Parks and answer why I respond the way I do to adversity or why they look at me strange when they cannot figure me out. I write the paper to encourage all of my fellow leaders to take advantage of such a gem right in the neighborhood. Enter the Eastside Freedom Library with an expectation. Expect to be better, then what you were when you entered. Expect to find material that relates or counters your beliefs and struggle with finding your truth within them. Expect to subsequently find yourself, to find the mirror that shows you, who you really are.