Baumgartner Vaughan: Women at the front

Mar. 01, 2014 @ 05:33 PM

The main photographic image in the new, permanent “Confronting Change” exhibit at the Carolina Theatre is an archive photo from this newspaper, taken when Faye Mayo was at the front of the ticket line at the then-segregated theater, asking to buy a movie ticket for the regular seats, not the ones way up in the balcony through the side door. The photograph was of a “round robin” protest, where protestors rotated through the line. Chances are someone else had just asked at the window and Mayo was simply next. But visually, she was at the front of the line, and in history, she was at the front of the line. Being part of the civil rights movement meant you were on the frontline. Now that Black History Month has segued to Women’s History Month, it is time to honor those who stepped up – to the plate, to the box office window, to the podium.

Let’s mention local female leaders by name. Mayor Pro Tem Cora Cole-McFadden. Durham City Councilwoman Diane Catotti. Durham County Commissioners Wendy Jacobs, Brenda Howerton and Ellen Reckhow. N.C. Central University Chancellor Debra Saunders-White. Durham school board members Leigh Bordley, Heidi Carter, Omega Curtis Parker, Minnie Forte-Brown, Natalie Beyer and Nancy Cox.
But not only them. Those are just the big names in Durham. Women are leading the way in the community not just in elected office or at the top of a university. There are many women of faith who lead congregations from the pulpit or the committee meeting in a basement on a Tuesday night, because not every leader has a title. There are a lot of women who make the Religious Coalition for a Nonviolent Durham keep going, including leaders Marcia Owen and Effie Steele. Putting yourself out in front of the public eye also means that you have to take what comes with that – donning a flak jacket and being ready to make right and move forward if something goes awry. It means stepping up and showing, as the great Rosa Parks and Fannie Lou Hamer did, that they had had enough.
Let us commend women who step up and call out what needs calling out. Women who go forth when it’s easier to turn back. Women who persevere. Women who keep on keeping on. Women who get up and show up.
Who did I leave out? A lot, I’ll bet. Anyone you know? Tell me why she should be recognized.
Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan may be reached at or 919-419-6563. Follow on Twitter @dawnbvaughan.