I always love the first week of March. I am still riding high from Black History Month (and the extra day this leap year) and gearing up for a month where I get to celebrate the intersection of race and gender.
I am eagerly waiting for a sliver of time to open in my schedule so I can read and absorb Patricia Bell-Scott’s latest work, “The Firebrand and the First Lady: Portrait of a Friendship: Pauli Murray, Eleanor Roosevelt and the Struggle for Social Justice.” Many are most familiar with the work of Bell-Scott as co-editor of the groundbreaking “All the Women Are White, All the Blacks Are Men, but Some of Us Are Brave?” The first time I read that collection of brilliant scholarship was akin to discovering a lost city of gold filled with women who were able to meticulously articulate thoughts I had yet to develop words to express.
Bell-Scott’s latest work walks us through the life of a Black woman, Pauli Murray, who was in many ways a woman light-years ahead of her time. She was an activist, lawyer, poet, writer, agitator and friend of first lady Eleanor Roosevelt. For Women’s History Month, I want to learn more about women such as Murray, Dorothy Height, Shirley Chisholm, Daisy Bates, Barbara Jordan, Fannie Lou Hamer, Mary McLeod Bethune and Rosa Parks and go beyond the neat narratives that have been repeated for so many decades in attempts to sanitize their radical bravery, intellectual dexterity and multiple trailblazing acts. These women laid a foundation for Black women in this country while managing the Sisyphean task of rolling along the double boulder of race and gender in America.
When I allow myself to really reflect on the sheer bravery of Black women who have come before me, my mind can’t grasp the magnitude of it all. From the domestic worker who toiled in a home with cruel mistress and a flesh thirsty man of the house, to women who decided to join a union or run for office or speak out about neighborhood inequities or injustices, to the mother who has lost a child to violence by a young person or the state itself and found strength to become a leader for their entire community, I think of the quote by Murray when she once declared, “If anyone should ask a Negro woman what is her greatest achievement, her honest answer would be, ‘I survived.’”
Some days I definitely feel like that is truly the greatest achievement possible in this country. However, when I think of the countless invisible faces of Black women who have braved each day in this country and beyond, I am proud to say that not only have Black women survived, but they have thrived as well.
Happy Women’s History Month.
Christina Greer, Ph.D., is an associate professor at Fordham University and the author of “Black Ethnics: Race, Immigration and the Pursuit of the American Dream.” You can find her on Twitter @Dr_CMGreer.