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Friday, June 14, 2024

Women of the Movement

By Ivan Saul Cutler, Carolina Peacemaker / March 22, 2024

The girding courage and power of women of the Civil Rights Movement reverberated in the searing personal testimony, dramatic spoken word and embracing song of their essential achievement in celebration of Women’s History Month.

At a Ladies’ Tea honoring the late Amelia Parker in the International Civil Rights Center & Museum whose development she helped guide and direct, women donning fashionable fascinators and stylish attire participated in a riveting program, Women of the Movement.

Serving as mistress of ceremonies, Gwen Bookman, Bennett College professor of political science, opened a series of presentations clarifying the prominent role of women in the civil rights era. She recognized the significant role of the Bennett Belles, the students who helped strategize and execute the famed Feb. 1, 1960, A&T Four sit-in at the lunch counter of Greensboro’s F.W. Woolworth store that sparked the movement across the nation.

“Although those men (The A&T Four) were the first to come on February 1, we don’t want you to be unmindful of all the women and other men who collaborated on getting that wonderful achievement undertaken,” Bookman said.

Before the program’s primary speakers, educators and organizers Joyce Hobson Johnson and Deborah Barnes, Greensboro poet and author Sage Chioma requested all present say out loud names of women, living and dead, to honor their achievements, beginning with Amelia Parker and others known and unknown in advancing civil rights leaders. Chioma followed with an emotional poem about the virtues of Black women whose faith, passion, commitment and service sustains life and achievement.

Johnson said, “We’re not free y’all, especially women … we still have work to do,” leading into a chronological recounting of her childhood filled with devotion and dedication while navigating the racism of segregated Richmond, Va., and subsequent journey into civil rights advocacy, education, impelling her to a calling of never-ending work for the “liberation of my people.”

Barnes said Black people, especially women, needed to know their authentic history, to teach others verifiable truths intentionally omitted in history books and elected (White) leaders. “There’s more than one way to tell the story,” she said, “So, even though all these years we integrated schools and we even managed long after the fight to get Black History Month, we’re telling those stories exactly the same way as our so-called oppressors … talking about it which means that it completely erases and obscures among many things that Black women are invisible and so they are made invisible by the ways we tell stories.”

Early in the program, the mood shifted to revival-style hand clapping, as Cassandra Williams, as Fannie Lou Hamer, sang her way in galvanizing attention, intoning the anthem of “This Little Light of Mine,” which the heralded civil rights leader sang at the 1964 Democratic National Convention. As the revered civil rights leader, Williams delivered to rapt attention Hamer’s dramatic testimony to the then convention’s credentials committee about how her state of Mississippi’s delegation intentionally denied inclusion of Blacks in violation of party rules.

Elon University’s La’Tonya Wiley sang the modern spiritual “Ordinary People.” At the conclusion, Robin Easter sang Nina Simone’s “I wish I knew how it would feel to be free.”


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Since 1967, the Carolina Peacemaker has served as North Carolina’s leading news weekly with a national reputation. Founded by Dr. John Kilimanjaro, the newspaper is published by Carolina Newspaper, Inc.

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