“Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.” Fannie Lou Hamer
I was planning to have a traditional Lenten blog series this month. Unfortunately, I cannot write about things like grace and mercy and forgiveness without remembering that religion is about humanity. I remember that Lent begins with Jesus praying and fasting in the wilderness and that so many women and girls all over the world have, since the beginning of human history, lived in a perpetual wilderness. There must be preaching and teaching that speaks to the Hagar experience.
March is Women’s History Month. Via womenshistorymonth.gov: Women’s History Month originated from a national celebration in 1981 when Congress asked then-President Reagan to proclaim the week beginning March 7, 1982, as “Women’s History Week.” During the next five years, Congress passed joint resolutions designating a week in March as “Women’s History Week.” In 1987 after being petitioned by the National Women’s History Project, Congress passed Pub. L. 100-9 which designated the month of March 1987 as “Women’s History Month.” Since then, Congress passed additional resolutions requesting and authorizing the President to proclaim March Women’s History Month annually. Since 1995, Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama have issued a series of annual proclamations designating the month of March as “Women’s History Month.”
Women’s history is American history. Women are the silent backbone of much of the work that has been done for millennia all over the world and attributed to their male counterparts. Through creativity, resilience, and courage, women have built empires in the worlds of science and technology, medicine, business, sports, fashion, entertainment, and much more. Women’s work both inside their private homes and in the public sphere makes valuable contributions to the world. This Wednesday, March 8, women the world over have been encouraged to participate in A Day Without a Woman, organized by the same folks who led January’s Women’s March. The day is a protest, a reminder of all the contributions that women make through our paid (and unpaid) labor.
In honor of women and all the contributions we make to the world, I will highlight four African American women in my blog posts this month who made contributions to American History. I will call this short series “She Did That!” By no means do these women represent all the black women who have made and are making substantial contributions to American history. I understand that this sort of practice of naming “exemplars” of the race and gender still obscures so many women and their stories. The movie (and book) Hidden Figures which chronicles the lives of three black women who worked for NASA during the mid-twentieth century has aptly named the conundrum of womanhood (and black womanhood in particular). That is, the general public does not recognize our valuable contributions, and sometimes they even go unrecognized by our teammates and coworkers. I hope that in many posts to come, I can celebrate so many of these hidden figures of our past and present.
On March 6, I will write about my favorite nineteenth-century shero, Maria W. Stewart, the inspiration behind this site. On March 13, I will write about the incredible nineteenth-century AME preacher, Jarena Lee because she paved the way for so many black women like myself who are in Christian ministry. On March 20, we will dive into the twentieth century and remember the life of Pauli Murray for whom a new dorm at Yale, one of my alma maters, has been named. Pauli was a lawyer, a priest, and an activist, plus, she frequently bent gender norms. Finally, on March 27, I will write about the life of twentieth-century student activist Diane Nash.
In conclusion, I need you to know that my heart has been troubled in recent years because of the violence perpetrated against transgender folks in this country. Black transgender women are disproportionate targets. As a Christian woman, I believe that God is the Creator of all human lives and all human bodies and that God has not made any mistakes on any of us. The criminalization of human bodies because they are different is sinful. So, in my definition of womanhood, I want to be clear that I embrace all who self-identify as female. I do not consider it to be my place to determine for any other woman whether she is a woman, only to affirm her current understanding of herself. Furthermore, as a Baptist minister, I affirm that we are all on a journey which means that we must have enough grace to allow one another to change our minds about our beliefs about God and ourselves. And so, as the season of Lent perfectly coincides with this Women’s History Month, I say to you, “Remember you are dust you are and to dust you shall return. Remember you are God’s, and to God, you shall return.”