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A great woman would have been 100 on Sept. 26

Richard G. Carter | 9/27/2012, 4:15 p.m.
Colony Records was my place for original Black R&B

"She could always see me, because she had her heart in her eyes."--John Hodiak, "Somewhere in the Night" (1947)

Black womanhood for two centuries has been the unbreakable backbone of the United States. Over the years, strong, courageous and talented Black women have suffered, persevered and triumphed in the face of often oppressive, overpowering odds. But through it all, they abide.

Nobody knows this better than the Black men who have derived from Black women a full measure of support, occasional refuge and a loving push in the right direction when we needed it--which was, and is, a lot of the time.

Such was the case with my late mother, Mrs. Juanita Carter--born on Sept. 26, 1912--who would have been 100 years old this week. Thinking of it, such feelings come rushing back as I proudly, once again, stake my claim--sending chills of pride down my spine.

This is a claim to which Black women everywhere--past, present, living and dead--are entitled. Most are unsung, to be sure, but steadfast to the end. Standing behind their fathers, brothers, husbands and sons. Standing up for themselves and for the race. Always there. Rock-solid Black women who have traveled from slavery to freedom, from slave ship to championship.

More years ago than I care to recall--as my mother was ready to give birth to her first child--she was taken to a Catholic hospital in a racially mixed neighborhood on the near north side of Milwaukee. But there was a problem. She was a Black woman.

"We don't allow colored mothers here," she and her worried husband were told. My brown-skinned mother was a Northern-born, lifelong Catholic, and my father was a tall, dark-skinned player in the Negro baseball leagues. She ended up having her baby--this writer--in a second-floor bedroom a few blocks away at her mother's home.

Some 12 years later, as I played baseball on a cracked cement playground in a changing neighborhood--oblivious to the lateness of the hour--she showed up to bring me home for supper. A white father arrived about the same time to pick up his son.

"That boy of yours plays great," the man told her. "One of these days he may be another Jackie Robinson or Willie Mays." My mother, who had grown increasingly outspoken over the years, wasn't having it.

"Mighty white of you," she replied. "But why did you specify Jackie and Willie? Why not Mickey Mantle or Joe DiMaggio, too? Tell me that, sir."

These were words I clearly remember--words that made me think, for one of the first times, of my potential to be all that I could be. That my color didn't have to be a barrier. And I never forgot them and how forcefully she'd spoken them.

Mrs. Carter was happily married to my late father, Sanford, for 58 years. I had three wives--the first of whom was the mother of my four children, including Sherry Carter, formerly of Black Entertainment Television. Yet, my mother gave each of my wives unrequited loyalty, reasoning that if I loved the women, it was good enough for her.