Photograph of Septima Clark, ca. 1960, Avery Photo Collection, 10-9, Courtesy of the Avery Research Center.
Like many white folk, my knowledge of the icons of the civil rights movement is limited at best and thoroughly deficient at worst. When I read that Dr. King had once described Septima Clark as the “Mother of the Movement” and realized that I had no knowledge of her role, I knew it was time to do some digging. As usual, this is just an overview, intended to whet your curiosity and encourage you to do some digging of your own.
A teacher and a life-long educator, Clark is most remembered for her role in establishing Citizenship Schools, which had the goal of providing full citizenship through education. In 1961, she became the SCLC director of education and teaching and traveled throughout the South, directing workshops which taught participants their constitutional rights, how to organize, as well as teaching literacy. Even more mundane topics like how to write a check were covered. Clark felt that literacy was the keystone for advancement:
We get by with a little help from our friends…and by practicing self-care.
I love winter, but in my neck of the woods, the enjoyment comes at a price. For every peaceful snowfall, there are sidewalks to be shoveled; for each moment of ice-covered marvel, there is the stress of navigating slick roads; for each breath of crisp, clean air, there is the effort of staying warm. When you add that to the ongoing shitshow of the Current Administration, it means a lot of energy, both physical and emotional, is expended, and my reserves start to run low. We’ve all talked about self-care since we knew #Resistance was going to be our only path forward, but now seems like a good time to remind ourselves what that means.
Does anyone want to predict what words would appear in a word cloud of tonight’s address?
Tonight’s the night, and I, for one, will either be locked in my sewing room finishing a project or sitting down to write a letter to my cousin (because some of us still do that!) The report on the state of the union may be constitutionally-mandated…
He shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient
…but this is one instance where I wish the pre- radio and television practice of submitting a written report to Congress was once again the norm. In the past, these reports were often a recitation of the status of various government departments, as well as a Treasury update, and as a result, are rarely remembered in the same way as inauguration speeches. What follows is a random sampling from previous SOTU reports: some notable, some not, and some that should be.
Last week was a writing drought; today I have too many topics to choose from. My final decision was made when I saw a tweet thread from Joy Reid*** that resonated with me, exposed my ignorance, and inspired me to dig further. This is going to be a bare-bones recitation of history that I never learned, but should have. I share it today as information, as well as an object lesson about persistence.
To quote Maya Angelou, “You may write me down in history with your bitter, twisted lines. You may trod me in the very dirt, but still, like dust, I’ll rise.”
In a moment of semi-panic because I had no clue what I was going to write, I turned on the television in the hopes distraction would mitigate the writing block and lead to clear thinking. It was a serendipitous choice. Independent Lens on PBS was airing “I Am Not Your Negro”, based on James Baldwin’s last and unfinished manuscript, Remember This House. It’s been years since I’ve read anything by Baldwin, but the documentary reminded me of his eloquence and passion. When we have a crude, inarticulate racist in the White House, and toadies not only willing, but eager, to justify hatred through contortions and misrepresentations of history, it seems a good day to listen to James Baldwin. His truths still resonate.
Note: I have tried to use YouTube videos with a closed captioning option; though imperfect, the overall sense is generally intact.
Fannie Lou Hamer, American civil rights leader, at the Democratic National Convention, Atlantic City, New Jersey, August 1964
I didn’t watch the Golden Globes on Sunday, but I have watched Oprah’s speech. For me, the line that resonated the most is the sentence used as the title of this post: “What I know for sure is that speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have.” I was also gratified that Oprah recognized and honored Recy Taylor. Today I’m going to focus on another woman who spoke her truth, Fannie Lou Hamer, but instead of providing a bio and background information, which is readily found on the internet, I’m just going to let her speak.
The title of this post was not inspired by electoral politics directly; it was inspired by the passing of Mrs. Recy Taylor last week. As I read her story in a series of tweets by Danielle McGuire***, (author of 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), I realized I had never heard her story before. Over the past few years, I’ve been learning that’s a problem common to/in my whiteness; with white supremacy; with centering whiteness in our history and our media. I can’t solve this problem, but I can shine a light on areas lost to me due to white-centering. I suspect that many of you do not share my ignorance; from you I ask your forbearance as I provide very basic overviews of things which should not be new. For the rest, I invite you to share with me in exploring the fullness of our history. This post is intended to pique your curiosity, not provide a comprehensive history. Today’s focus will be on the Combahee River Collective.
For my family, the holiday festivities are over. We’ve exchanged gifts, shared meals, played together, and laughed much. So while most of you are still in a state of anticipation, I’ve moved on to the introspective part of the year; that fine tradition of the “year in review.” These are some of my lessons from 2017; please feel free to share yours in the comments.
I’ve never been to Alabama. I have no family in Alabama (although my since-passed aunt and uncle retired there). To the best of my knowledge, I don’t know anyone in Alabama. Despite all that, I will be watching the returns come in tonight with bated breath and fingers crossed. For those who are like me, with zero personal knowledge or experience of Alabama, I’m providing numbers and factoids to fill in some of the gaps.