By David Mark Greaves
The mother buried with her child in the African Burial Ground in lower Manhattan looks up to us out of a grave carved from a harsher and meaner place, centuries ago. The Weeksville Lady, dressed and mannered for Sunday service, stops for a moment to capture onto tintype, a satisfied confidence, looking into the future. Dr. Susan Smith McKinney-Steward sits in contemplation of a life of accomplishment.
The women in these pages, past and present, show the strength and determination that has nurtured and sustained our people before and since their arrival on these shores. As the black woman is increasingly released from racist and sexist constraints, she continues to emerge as a source of strength and wisdom. This can be seen most clearly in the churches. These houses of worship are the richest and most powerful institutions in the black community, and when we look out over the sea of hats on Easter morning and throughout the year, we know where the money and power come from. It stems from the careful husbandry of sums as small as the dimes collected by Mother Green of Bridge Street AME. Her dime drive of 50 years ago, gathered $1,000 and provided the sanctuary with a brass rail called “The Tree of Life.”
And like trees, Black women have stood by us. Providing a leeward side against harsh winds, shading from a too bright sun, and when the rain became too much, soaking through her leaves, she stayed and cried with us.
“What do women want” is the troubling question still asked by men. Respect might be one answer, equality another. Perhaps simple recognition of their worth as full beings, with strengths which can be relied upon, weaknesses to be helped with, and vulnerabilities to be protected. There has been much talk recently about having to wait to exhale as a release from the tension between the sexes. Negative tensions which cannot be corrected should always be released and let go of, but there are creative tensions which should be understood, built upon and enjoyed. The athlete’s rule of “no pain, no gain,” applies most fully in personal relationships. When you consider the prize, a developing self, a secure center, a hopeful future, and a partner through life’s long maze, then you work through the pain, taking longer and surer strides. This is not an easy process, but soon you will begin to breathe together. Wanting to give to each other what you want for yourselves.
As black people continue the recovery from the racist web in which we have been held, as black men continue to throw off sexist stereotypes and behaviors, and as men and women continue to grow and heal, we have a new world to look forward to. And the most exciting part of all, we will be continuing the work of our ancestors, building it together.