In commemorations of Black History Month, Black women are often ignored or mentioned only as props. Black women have had to overcome the triple oppression of racism, sexism, and classism to make unparalleled contributions to our country.
Here is a video of Vontril McLemore, a ministry partner of The Gathering, A Womanist Church, singing “We Shall Overcome” at one of our worship services when we could meet in person.
New Wineskins Community celebrates Black Women’s History Month. We honor Ida B. Wells, Rev. Dr. Prathia Hall, Rosa Parks, and many other Black women.
Born a slave in Mississippi, Ida B. Wells-Barnett (1862-1931) became an early leader in the Civil Rights Movement. She was one of the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). One of the most prominent anti-lynching activists and respected journalists, she owned two newspapers and was a strong leader in the women’s rights and women’s suffrage movements. She criticized the temperance movement for not letting Black women participate. Her work contributed to waking Southerners’ conscience about race.
Rev. Dr. Abraham Smith in “Staying Awake: Ida B. Wells-Barnett and the Central Challenges of Ethical Leadership” in I Wish Someone Had Told Me: Equity for Women in the Church writes: “Wells was a member of the National Association of Colored Women and one of the cofounders of the NAACP through which she honed the skills of social analysis, a passion for justice, and appeals to new sentiments. She also worked with other women’s groups because she knew presciently what Martin Luther King, Jr. would later capture in the words, ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice anywhere.’” She was “overlooked by her contemporaries and obscured from the later annals that should have marked the contributions she made to society, Ida B. Wells-Barnett has at least lately received some of the recognition she duly deserves. She was a pioneering muckraker journalist, a fierce anti-lynching activist, and a tireless organizer. Indeed, she established multiple organizations through which she was an advocate for the rights of women, minorities, and members of the working class. Given her relentless belief in God as a source for her activism, it is also little wonder that some have called her a prophet while others can see distinctive brands of ethical leadership in her life’s witness.”
Civil Rights Movement leader and womanist theologian, Rev. Dr. Prathia Hall (1940-2002) was one of the first African American women ordained by the American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A. Courageous in civil rights activism, she was arrested many times, shot at, wounded, and jailed for weeks. Active in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), she was head of the Selma Project and the Atlanta Project, training many Northern white college students. Her repetition of “I have a dream” in a public prayer inspired Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous speech. She spoke with such power that MLK once remarked that she was “the one platform speaker I would prefer not to follow.”
Rev. Dr. Courtney Pace writes in “Preaching Down the Patriarchy: Prathia Hall’s Activism and Womanist Proclamation” in I Wish Someone Had Told Me: Equity for Women in the Church: “Hall’s Freedom Faith inspired her to pursue justice from a young age through education, civil rights activism, community organizing, and ministry. Her preaching insisted that anyone who claimed the gospel must join in the work of liberation. Hall’s womanism valued all people regardless of race, gender, or class, and sought the equality and liberation of all people. She inspired hundreds of students and challenged them to continue the legacy of their Christian and Black heritage in their ministries.” She modeled “womanist preaching before the term ‘womanist’ existed. . . The most prominent themes of her womanist hermeneutic are her exploration of women in the biblical text and chain removal. Hall recovered women’s stories in the biblical text, advancing liberating exegeses of texts commonly used to oppress women. More broadly, ‘chain removal’ signaled the need for the complete shedding of any remnant forms of oppression within the church to fully participate in the liberating gospel. Within these themes, Hall consistently preached the need for working together as one human family to mediate the needs of the people for freedom and liberation.”
Though known mainly for her history-making refusal to surrender her seat on a bus to a white male in 1955, Rosa Louise Parks (1913-2005) was a prominent leader in the Civil Rights Movement and a women’s rights activist years before and after. In the 1930s she was active in the effort to free the “Scottsboro Boys,” a group of black men falsely accused of raping two white women. In 1943 she was elected secretary of the Montgomery, Alabama, chapter of the NAACP. The only woman in the chapter, she later commented on the sexism of the chapters’ leaders in letting her in the organization only because they needed a secretary. In the 1940s she also became active in The League of Women Voters. In 1964 she became a deaconess in the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME).In the 1980s she cofounded the Rosa L. Parks Scholarship Foundation for college-bound high school seniors committed to social justice activism, and cofounded the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development that sponsors the “Pathways to Freedom” program to give young people civil rights education. In her later years she continued her activism through writing, publishing four books. Called the “mother of the freedom movement,” Rosa Parks was voted by Time Magazine as one of the 100 most Influential people of the 20th century. She received the Medal of Freedom, the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor, more than forty-three honorary doctorate degrees, and was the first-ever recipient of the International Freedom Conductor Award presented by the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center.
I wrote this song to honor Rosa Parks.
Rosa Parks made way for freedom, leading work for civil rights;
she resisted segregation, helped remove this sinful blight.
On a bus in Alabama, she sat down and took a stand,
claiming equal rights and access, equal justice in our land.
Mother of the freedom movement, Rosa Parks inspired reforms;
people followed her in action, changing racist laws and norms.
With the Holy Spirit’s power, she drew guidance from the Word,
working side by side with others, so all voices could be heard.
Rosa Parks brought liberation, changing history on that bus;
her strong moral courage led to better life for all of us.
With the Spirit living in her, she persisted; she held fast;
we will join with her in action, till we all are free at last.
Words © 2017 Jann Aldredge-Clanton HOLY MANNA