Black Mamas Been Revolutionary
Written by: Danielle Slaughter
From Mary Church Terrell to Audre Lorde, Black mamas have always been on the frontlines of activism. This Black History Month, join Mothering Justice in honoring five women who set the standard for radical change.
Mary Church Terrell
“Seeing their children touched and seared and wounded by race prejudice is one of the heaviest crosses which colored women have to bear.”
The child of freed slaves, Mary Church Terrell was one of the first African American women to attend Oberlin College. She began her career in education before focusing on social activism specifically focusing on the empowerment of women. In 1892, Terrell was one of six women who formed the Colored Women’s League, an organization established to focus on promoting unity, social progress, and the best interests of African American community. Terrell was a suffragist who fought tirelessly for Black women’s right to vote.
Ida B Wells
“The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them.”
Mary McLeod Bethune
“We have a powerful potential in our youth, and we must have the courage to change old ideas and practices so that we may direct their power toward good ends.”
Born the child of former slaves, Mary McLeod Bethune believed that educating young women was the way to help advance the lives of Black people in America. In 1904, she started the Educational and Industrial Training School for Negro girls. Initially the girls were trained in home economics and industrial work like cooking or dressmaking. As the school progressed, Bethune added business and science classes, and finally English, math, and foreign language courses. In 1931, with the help of the Methodist Church, the school joined with a boys institute becoming Bethune-Cookman coeducational junior college.
“If there is a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, you must be the one to write it.”
Toni Morrison not only said those words but she lived them as well. As the single mother to two boys, Morrison often woke up at 5 am to write the books that she wanted to read. Books that focused on Black experiences while ignoring the white gaze. Her writing, while often criticized by the white literary canon, earned her the Nobel Prize in Literature. She is the only African American to win this honor and one of two American women.
“If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive.”
As a young girl, Audre Lorde struggled with communication, which led to her love of poetry as a form of expression. While known for her poetry, her essays are how I first became introduced to this amazing woman. Lorde’s writing focused on the intersections of race, gender, and sexuality. Her battle with cancer led her to keep a diary that has inspired many with chronic health issues.
Interested in learning how you can become a Black mama activist in your own right? Check out our online fellowship Mamas’ University.
About the Author: Danielle is a Doctoral student (on hiatus) in the Rhetoric and Composition program at Georgia State University. She has a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in English from the University of Michigan – Ann Arbor and Georgia State, respectively. She is a Detroit native currently residing in Atlanta with her husband, two sons, and their pet turtle. Danielle is passionate about the intersections of parenting and social justice. She shares her experiences navigating motherhood while finding her place in the academy on her website, Mamademics. Danielle currently serves as the Leadership Development Coordinator for Mothering Justice, where acts as the lead facilitator for Mamas’ University, an online fellowship focused on helping moms of color learn to advocate for their family and themselves.