I feel I am something of a novice upon this platform. Born of a race whose inheritance has been outrage and wrong, most of my life had been spent in battling against those wrongs. But I did not feel as keenly as others, that I had these rights, in common with other women, which are now demanded. About two years ago, I stood within the shadows of my home. A great sorrow had fallen upon my life. My husband had died suddenly, leaving me a widow, with four children, one my own, and the others stepchildren. I tried to keep my children together. But my husband died in debt; and before he had been in his grave three months, the administrator had swept the very milk-crocks and wash tubs from my hands. I was a farmer’s wife and made butter for the Columbus market; but what could I do, when they had swept all away? They left me one thing-and that was a looking glass! Had I died instead of my husband, how different would have been the result! By this time, he would have had another wife, it is likely; and no administrator would have gone into his house, broken up his home, and sold his bed, and taken away his means of support.
I took my children in my arms, and went out to seek my living. While I was gone, a neighbor to whom I had once lent five dollars, went before a magistrate and Swore that he believed I was a non-resident, and laid an attachment on my very bed. And I went back to Ohio with my orphan children in my arms, without a single feather bed in this wide world, that was not in the custody of the law. I say, then, that justice is not fulfilled so long as woman is unequal before the law.
We are all bound up together in one great bundle of humanity, and society cannot trample on the weakest and feeblest of its members without receiving the curse in its own soul. You tried that in the case of the Negro. You pressed him down for two centuries; and in so doing you crippled the moral strength and paralyzed the spiritual energies of the white men of the country. When the hands of the black were fettered, white men were deprived of the liberty of speech and the freedom of the press. Society cannot afford to neglect the enlightenment of any class of its members. At the South, the legislation of the country was in behalf of the rich slaveholders, while the poor white man was neglected. What is the consequence today? From that very class of neglected poor white men, comes the man who stands to-day, with his hand upon the helm of the nation. He fails to catch the watchword of the hour, and throws himself, the incarnation of meanness, across the pathway of the nation. My objection to Andrew Johnson is not that he has been a poor white man; my objection is that he keeps “poor whites” all the way through. That is the trouble with him.
This grand and glorious revolution which has commenced, will fail to reach its climax of success, until throughout the length and breadth of the American Republic, the nation shall be so color-blind, as to know no man by the color of his skin or the curl of his hair. It will then have no privileged class, trampling upon and outraging the unprivileged classes, but will be then one great privileged nation, whose privilege will be to produce the loftiest manhood and womanhood that humanity can attain.
I do not believe that giving the woman the ballot is immediately going to cure all the ills of life. I do not believe that white women are dew-drops just exhaled from the skies. I think that like men they may be divided into three classes, the good, the bad, and the indifferent. The good would vote according to their convictions and principles; the bad, as dictated by prejudice or malice; and the indifferent will vote on the strongest side of the question, with the winning party.
You white women speak here of rights. I speak of wrongs. I, as a colored woman, have had in this country an education which has made me feel as if I were in the situation of Ishmael, my hand against every man, and every man’s hand against me. Let me go to-morrow morning and take my seat in one of your street cars — I do not know that they will do it in New York, but they will in Philadelphia-and the conductor will put up his hand and stop the car rather than let me ride.
Going from Washington to Baltimore this Spring, they put me in the smoking car. Aye, in the capital of the nation, where the black man consecrated himself to the nation’s defense, faithful when the white man was faithless, they put me in the smoking car! They did it once; but the next time they tried it, they failed; for I would not go in. I felt the fight in me; but I don’t want to have to fight all the time. Today I am puzzled where to make my home. I would like to make it in Philadelphia, near my own friends and relations. But if I want to ride in the streets of Philadelphia, they send me to ride on the platform with the driver. Have women nothing to do with this? Not long since, a colored woman took her seat in an Eleventh Street car in Philadelphia, and the conductor stopped the car, and told the rest of the passengers to get out, and left the car with her in it alone, when they took it back to the station. One day I took my seat in a car, and the conductor came to me and told me to take another seat. I just screamed “murder.” The man said if I was black I ought to behave myself. I knew that if he was white he was not behaving himself. Are there not wrongs to be righted?
In advocating the cause of the colored man, since the Dred Scott decision, I have sometimes said I thought the nation had touched bottom. But let me tell you there is a depth of infamy lower than that. It is when the nation, standing upon the threshold of a great peril, reached out its hands to a feebler race, and asked that race to help it, and when the peril was over, said, “You are good enough for soldiers, but not good enough for citizens.”
We have a woman in our country who has received the name of “Moses,” not by lying about it, but by acting it out — a woman who has gone down into the Egypt of slavery and brought out hundreds of our people into liberty. The last time I saw that woman, her hands were swollen. That woman who had led one of Montgomery’s most successful expeditions, who was brave enough and secretive enough to act as a scout for the American army, had her hands all swollen from a conflict with a brutal conductor, who undertook to eject her from her place. That woman, whose courage and bravery won a recognition from our army and from every black man in the land, is excluded from every thoroughfare of travel. Talk of giving women the ballot-box? Go on. It is a normal school, and the white women of this country need it. While there exists this brutal element in society which tramples upon the feeble and treads down the weak, I tell you that if there is any class of people who need to be lifted out of their airy nothings and selfishness, it is the white women of America.
Today I honor my ancestors. I honor all the women who stood and spoke in their power. May they rest well. May we live well as we continue moving forward in the footsteps of giants.
For a few years now, I’ve wanted to do a road trip focusing on historic African American Women. The pillars for me are Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman. I’ve been mapping out sites they lived and worked for a while.
Throughout March and April this year, I finally got on the road for an extended trip. This one wasn’t focused on African American Women exclusively, but it was deeply saturated in African American history and culture. However, because I AM Woman is named for one of Sojourner Truth’s speeches, I truly wanted to make sure she was part of this road trip. So Battle Creek, MI was added to my route. I visited a monument dedicated to her and her grave site at Oak Hill Cemetery.
We think of history as being so distant, but standing at Mother Sojourner’s grave site made me very aware that her time was not so long ago.
We are created in violence Birthed in pain Our only constants Conflict and struggle What can we possibly Ever know of nonviolence When even our peace is achieved Within storms turbulent Enough to alter The landscape of our lives
Since mid-March, I’ve been traveling across the country. I hit the road after selling my home in Southern Arizona. There were no immediate thoughts on where to pitch my tent next, so I decided to roam a bit and see where the Spirit led.
Before Covid-19, I thought I’d travel abroad for a few months to a year. But even homeless and mostly untethered, I wanted to be in a land I understand how to move in during a global pandemic. So international travel was out.
Driving across the United States was initially an exciting proposition. It’s been on my to-do list for over two decades, but I had hoped it would be done with a partner. A test of sorts of our compatibility and adaptive skills together. That thought was one of the first things I released as I began planning my post-Arizona life. No more shelving hopes for a future that isn’t rooted in today. No more putting things I want to do on the back burner because there’s no one to share the journey with. I released myself from that tether and the fear of becoming so comfortable in my singledom that I no longer allow space to accommodate another.
That’s when the opening began. As each tether and fear is released, hidden spaces are exposed and unexpected grace appears for my vulnerabilities.
I thought I would make time to write a lot while on the road, but of course that didn’t happen. All the “free” time I imagined was actually spent driving and sleeping. There was a lot of thinking and even more releasing. I focused on healing and opening. Still working on both, but more aware of how I’ve closed myself off over the years as a process of self-preservation. For a time it was necessary to remain isolated and nurture my solitude. That time has come to an end and its important to flow in the direction of life.
I don’t know how I’m being purified, but I know it’s happening.
I don’t know what the end result of this process will be, but I know I am already changed.
This has been quite an undertaking for I AM WOMAN: Expressions of Black Womanhood in America!
At first I assumed there had to be chronologies of African Women in America and our contributions or achievements throughout the centuries. But there really weren’t any. I was able to source a chronology of enslaved African American Women. I was able to locate chronologies of African Americans in general and African American men specifically. But nothing that told a broader history of Black Women in this land. This has consumed a great portion of my development time on the I AM WOMAN project, but I think it’s a necessary part of the continuing story I’m trying to show and tell about our roots and our trajectories. Our struggles and our joys. The way we make do and make better no matter our starting points. We, Black Women, are magnificent in all our statuses, throughout any affliction or oppression, we not only continue to rise, we shine, we illuminate our surroundings and provide routes of escape for others to follow.
I’m so humbled and encouraged by the varied richness of the short bio lines of the women in the I AM WOMAN Timeline. To aid Women and Girls to see themselves as part of the overall story, I’ve added a space for them to add themselves to the timeline.
Have you pre-ordered your copy yet? If not, you can do so here!
Why did You make me Black?
Why did You make someone
the world wants to hold back?
Black is the color of dirty clothes,
the color of grimy hands and feet.
Black is the color of darkness,
the color of tire-beaten streets.
Why did You give me thick lips,
a broad nose and kinky hair?
Why did You make someone
who receives the hatred stare?
Black is the color of the bruised eye
when someone gets hurt.
Black is the color of darkness,
Black is the color of dirt.
How come my bone structure’s so thick,
my hips and cheeks are high?
How come my eyes are brown
and not the color of daylight sky?
Why do people think I’m useless?
How come I feel so used?
Why do some people see my skin
and think I should be abused?
Lord I just don’t understand.
What is it about my skin?
Why do some people want to hate me
and not know the person within?
Black is what people are “listed”
when others want to keep them away.
Black is the color of shadows cast.
Black is the end of day.
Lord you know my own people mistreat me
and I know this just ain’t right.
They don’t like my hair.
They say I’m too dark or too light.
Lord, don’t You think it’s time for You
to make a change?
Why don’t You re-do creation and
make everyone the same?
Why did I make you Black?
Why did I make you Black?
Get off your knees and look around
Tell me, what do you see?
I didn’t make you in the image of darkness,
I made you in likeness of ME!
I made you the color of coal from which
beautiful diamonds are formed.
I made you the color of oil,
the black gold that keeps people warm.
I made you from the rich, dark earth that can
grow the food you need.
You color’s the same as the black stallion,
a majestic animal is he.
I didn’t make you in the image of darkness.
I made you in likeness of ME!
All the colors of the heavenly rainbow can be
found throughout every nation.
But when all of those colors were blended,
you became my greatest creation.
Your hair is the texture of lamb’s wool.
Such a humble little creature is he.
I am the Sheperd who watches them.
I am the One who will watch over thee.
You are the color of midnight sky.
I put the star’s glitter in your eyes.
There is a smile hidden behind your pain.
That’s why your cheeks are so high.
You are the color of dark clouds formed,
when I send My strongest weather.
I made your lips full so when you kiss
the one that you love, they will remember.
Your stature is strong, your bone structure thick
to withstand the burdens of time.
The reflection you see in the mirror…
The image that looks back is MINE.
In 2019, the United States of America and Ghana commemorated 400 years since Africans were brought to the United States of America in bondage. The NAACP called their commemorative trip Jamestown to Jamestown, beginning with a trip to Jamestown, Virginia and flying over to Jamestown, Accra. Ghana created a whole year of programming named Year of Return which according to Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture, Mrs. Barbara Oteng-Gyasi boosted Ghana’s economy by $1.9 billion from 200,000 visitors[i] most of whom were members of the African Diaspora. Ghana is now creating an ongoing program, Beyond the Year of Return[ii] to further capitalize on the Diaspora’s tortured need to connect to the Homeland.
On August 19, 1619 a ship pulled into Jamestown, Virginia with twenty Africans. These men and women were sold in the first British human auction in North America. Because America has a very British-centric way of retelling its history, non-British colonial stories are marginalized and framed by tales of wars with Mexicans and Native Americans.
Spain began importing enslaved Africans from the Iberian Peninsula[iii], where they were taken after capture, in 1501. In August 1518, the king of Spain authorized direct shipment of captured Africans to the Americas[iv], putting an end to Spanish human trade holdovers in Europe. This drastically increased the enslaved populations throughout the Americas.
Black women of African descent are documented in Spanish settlements throughout the present-day states of Florida, New Mexico, and California. African men and women had long accompanied European travelers to the Americas on Spanish, Portuguese, and English expeditions[v]. The Spanish city of St. Augustine, Florida is viewed as the first permanent colonial city in what is now the United States of America. It was settled with African and Native slave labor in 1565. However, Santa Fe, New Mexico was established in what was formerly known as New Spain, in 1610. It is now the oldest state capital in the United States[vi].
In 1600, Isabel de Olvera, a free woman of African and Native descent living in Querétaro, Mexico[vii], joined a relief expedition to the recently colonized province of New Mexico. It is said she was traveling as a servant to Spanish woman. Before leaving, she spoke an affidavit to declare her free status to the mayor of Querétaro, New Spain, don Pedro Lorenzo de Castilla. She had three witnesses standing with her, a free black man, a mestiza woman (mixed race), and a black slave woman and insisted on having a copy to carry with her at all times. Isabel’s statement, intended actions, as well as her witnesses illustrate the broad presence of slavery in North America at that point in time. It also highlights the legal standing of women in Spanish colonies no matter their legal statuses and heritage – 365 years before Black Women got the federal right to vote in the United States. Spaniard’s were moving Africans and their descendants around the America’s more than one hundred years before the United States acknowledges commoditizing and trading human beings within its current borders[viii].
With the cross-cultural and competitive histories of the colonizers, it’s amazing that the expressed sentiments of a Black Woman survives to this day. Isabel’s affidavit, a legal document in the historical archives of two countries – Mexico and the United States, is the oldest recorded example found of a Black Woman speaking up for herself in North America. Though her journey began in Mexico, she deemed the document necessary for her travel to New Mexico. She demanded justice and respect for her existence, singleness, freedom and future. The confidence embedded in her statement remains empowering and inspirational centuries later. May her character and determination lift our voices and strengthen our resolve.
I am going on the expedition to New Mexico and have some reason to fear that I may be annoyed by some individual since I am a mulatta, and it is proper to protect my rights in such an eventuality by an affidavit showing that I am a free woman, unmarried and the legitimate daughter of Hernando, a Negro, and an Indian named Magdalena . . .. I therefore request your grace to accept this affidavit, which shows that I am free and not bound by marriage or slavery. I request that a properly certified and signed copy be given to me in order to protect my rights, and that it carry full legal authority. I demand justice.[ix]
radical 1: of, relating to, or proceeding from a root: such as a: of or growing from the root of a plant b: designed to remove the root of a disease or all diseased and potentially diseased tissue
2: of or relating to the origin 3a: very different from the usual or traditional b: favoring extreme changes in existing views, habits, conditions, or institutions c: associated with political views, practices, and policies of extreme change
When did your radicalization begin?
December 2014, following a series of non-indictments of police officers and white-thinking people who killed Black men and boys. Michael Brown, Eric Garner and Tamir Rice were the straws that broke me open.
Where were you radicalized? Freddie Gray. New York, NY, April 2015. On a Union Square to Times Square march route decrying the murder of Freddie Gray who was illegally pursued and arrested with force. My second march. Before then, I believed the news reports depicting protester violence. Being a crowd of a permitted demonstration that was attacked by police before we even began marching was an eye-opener. In America’s strong-hold of freedom, independence and self-expression – New York City – no less. It was astounding. And the media reported none of aggressive police tactics from that night.
How were you radicalized?
Watching police push the crowd around, listening to them curse at us. Learning that they were trying to separate people from the crowd to do harm. Knowing they were armed and the crowd was not. Free speech didn’t feel like free speech. The right to protest didn’t feel like a right. They treated it like a challenge.
Do you know you’re radical?
Yes, I know now. I want to scrap the whole country and begin from scratch. Burn it all down. Beginning with the Constitution and every law based on it. We continue to operate from fruit from a rotten tree and wonder why we can’t move forward. We need to start over with voices from every demographic in this country contributing to our democracy or whatever governing society we collectively agree upon.
When did you first see yourself in the struggle? Sandra Bland. Houston, TX, July, 2015. Everything about her is me. I do solo road trips. I’ve been followed by police cars in isolated and unknown areas and didn’t want to stop. I’ve traveled for new opportunities and fresh starts. I know my rights. I am a Black Woman who speaks her mind and will tell you what you can do with your false superiority. Sandra was like seeing myself in the aftermath of my own murder. Seeing how she was attacked, killed and then labeled as a suicide simply because someone wanted to feel superior and others didn’t speak up to check him.
When did you become unapologetic? Chikesia Clemons. Saraland, AL, 2018. She wasn’t killed but she was brutalized and violated in a public space because she asked for utensils at a restaurant she had just paid for food in. Police were called. Two male officers threw her to the ground, tossed her around like a rag doll, exposing her breasts, then flipped her face down to cuff her. Bare breasts and face to the floor. Everyone in the restaurant continued to eat as if nothing egregious was happening. That stunned me. People wouldn’t have sat around if a white woman was being abused like Chikesia was in that restaurant. It’s one thing to see something and not say something. It’s a whole next level of denial to see something, turn your back on it and continue to act as if that something isn’t happening.
Chikesia was my catalyst to begin working on I AM WOMAN: Experiences of Black Womanhood in America, an upcoming photo essay book sharing who we are in our own words.
When did you know you wouldn’t turn back? Pamela Turner. Houston, TX, May, 2019. She cried out for mercy for her unborn child. She was shot and killed anyway by a Latino police officer. Whether or not she was pregnant is irrelevant. In that moment she was reaching for a humanizing drop of mercy from her killer. The depraved indifference of the officer who shot her five times proved an alarming lack of humanity in him.
When did you acknowledge your trauma? Me. Tucson, AZ, March, 2020. When my neighbors threatened me through a houseguest by warning them that “neighbors were discussing throwing rocks through my windows and burning down my home” because they didn’t like the fact that I had added a backyard studio to my property with upscale landscaping and stone walkways. They didn’t like that I was using my home as an Airbnb. So they threatened to burn me out, destroy my home and business. In my mind, my neighbors became a lynch mob. It was difficult to process how very American this interaction was. I had enough strength to get an order of protection, but afterwards, with the help of quarantine, I retreated into deep hibernation, where I essentially remain knowing there’s nowhere in this country I can go to feel safe in my home.
When did you acknowledge your helplessness? Walter Scott. North Charleston, SC, April 2015 was running away when he was shot in the back by a police officer who tried to claim he feared for his life. All caught on tape by a neighbor from their yard. Walter Scott’s killer was charged with murder and sentenced to twenty-years. Very grateful for the video.
When did you acknowledge your rage? Eric Garner. Staten Island, NY, December 2014 when I began to understand that the media deflected from the murder of Black People by bringing up property during times of protest. How the fuck are property rights in the same discussion with the right to breathe?
When did you acknowledge your grief? George Floyd. Minneapolis, MN, May, 2020. I had no more words. I didn’t speak for several days. I didn’t want to speak. I couldn’t put my finger on my exact feelings, but I knew I was overwhelmed. When I was ready to communicate, my first three words were GRIEF, RAGE, TRAUMA. My rage is too much to confront and embrace directly. My trauma reaches back through centuries of dehumanizing brutality for hundreds of millions of ancestors. My grief cries out from the first betrayal of brotherhood to the abduction and transportation by violent co-conspirators to the most racist “post-racial” society any one could have imagined.
When did you become radicalized? (Feel free to answer in the comments.)
When did your radicalization begin? Where were you radicalized? How were you radicalized? Do you know you’re radical? When did you first see yourself in the struggle? When did you become unapologetic? When did you know you wouldn’t turn back? When did you acknowledge your trauma? When did you acknowledge your helplessness? When did you acknowledge your rage? When did you acknowledge your grief?
This poem came from frustration with the passive language most media use to report state-sanctioned murder and police brutality. They say “the death of” this person or that person, as if the person died in an unremarkable way. They speak of people who “lost their life” as if the opportunity to reclaim lost life is available. A more accurate wording would be “life was taken.” Life was stolen. Life was destroyed by someone who had no right to take a life.
Death is passive. Killing is not.
On the lynchings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breyonna Taylor and George Floyd
Death is a passive word.
There is no story attached to death.
Killing is an active word.
Someone does something:
There’s always a story attached to a killing.
Who did the killer kill?
Why did the killer target the victim?
How was the victim killed?
Will the killer be prosecuted?
Is the killer still breathing?
Why do killers kill?
People who kill inherently believe
They are judge, jury and executioner.
They are the law,
Inhabiting space above, beyond
and around societal norms.
They enjoy an extrajudicial existence.
The law as we know it
needs to be eliminated.
We need to write new laws.
We need to establish new societal norms.
Killers need to know
Murder is not something else
Because of their badge
Skin color or family connections.
Murder is an intentional act.
It is purposeful destruction of an active life.
Murderers think they have the right
To take away life.
To steal another person’s breath.
To extinguish a human being’s light.
They do not have that right.
Witnesses need to name names.
Supervisors need to hold perpetrators
Accountable for their violence, brutality
And abuse of authority.
Administrative leave is not enough.
Job termination is not enough.
Payouts to injured families is not enough.
Full accountability and prosecution
of killers is necessary.
No matter their uniform.
No matter their perceived goodness.
No matter their community.
A killer is a killer. Their victims
Don’t just die. They are killed.
Breathing is active.
Breath is sacred.
Air is life.
We are all created beings
with the same Right to Life
and unhindered breathing.
Access to air should not depend on
Assumptions, opinions, political views,
Occupation, wealth, social status,
Skin color, mood, hatred of fellow humans
or self-hatred. Access to air should
not require legislation.
Yet here we are.
There is a great lack of understanding in America,
An astonishing general ignorance across the continents,
Of an elemental natural truth:
The deeper you grind US into the ground,
The stronger OUR roots become.
One day, your tsunami of brutality
Will wash you and your generations
Out into the sea you brought US across,
While WE who are deeply rooted in the soil
Will not only still be standing,
But will be flourishing. Gloriously.