I have been thinking a lot about Black women lately. After the 2020 election we were praised for upholding democracy. We’re praised for leading the charge on policy issues ranging from climate change to police brutality, from voter protection to a woman’s right to choose. Black women are constantly applauded but often times not supported in substantive ways by other demographic groups. I am tired of the applause, I want others to step up and speak out. Until that happens, Black women will continue to lay the foundation for a more equitable future while also educating us about the brave and dynamic Black women from our past.
I recently learned about the work of artist and activist Michelle Browder in Montgomery, Alabama. Browder decided to create a monument honoring some of the “Mothers of Gynecology,”––Anarcha, Lucy and Betsey. These are three of eleven enslaved women who were the unwilling subjects of Dr. J. Marion Sims’ experiments in the 1840s in the state of Alabama.
Some of you may have heard of Dr. Sims, often called “the father of gynecology” who notoriously experimented on enslaved Black women without their consent or anesthesia – in order to make advancements in modern gynecology. Because of the experiments by Sims, on the bodies of Black women, he was able to develop new tools and techniques for women’s health that are still used today.
In interviews, Browder said she made the “Mothers of Gynecology” statues from common metal items such as tools, bicycle parts, and surgical and gynecological instruments, which were donated for the project.
I do hope I get to Montgomery, AL to experience some of Browder’s tours. It is imperative (especially for Northerners) to go beyond the efforts of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. when thinking of the South, and especially the events in Alabama. The dynamic history of so many Black people exists throughout this nation and in the South especially. Browder is laying a foundation for tourists from across the country and the world to better contextualize U.S. chattel slavery as well as the Civil Rights Movement that took place (and is still taking place) in Alabama.
Part of honoring Black women is also supporting Black women. It is our responsibility to make time to honor our ancestors by visiting the monument and making sure more monuments like this are able to exist throughout the South and the country. We must also prioritize supporting artists who help us contextualize our history and honor all of the brave Black Americans who came before us. I am so thankful Browder has chosen to educate a new generation about Anarcha, Lucy and Betsey who were the subjects of Dr. Sims experiments.
More information about Browder, the statues, and the three campus projects that encompass the More Up Campus can be found at www.anarchalucybetsey.org.
Christina Greer, Ph.D., is an associate professor at Fordham University, the author of “Black Ethnics: Race, Immigration, and the Pursuit of the American Dream,” and the co-host of the podcast FAQ-NYC.