Women of the march
In January, I interviewed illustrator Kadir Nelson about his new children’s book that pairs his beautiful paintings with an abridged version of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech at the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. After I wrote my story, I gave the book to my son, who is now 5. He gets to pick out his bedtime stories, and sometimes chooses “the Martin Luther King book,” as he calls it. Now, you can’t read King’s words in a run of the mill voice. You know I’m on the religion beat here at the paper, too, so I hear a good deal of preachers whose elocution is similar to King’s. And frankly, if you’re going to read King’s “I Have a Dream” speech aloud, you should read it with respect. I do my best. It’s a wonderful speech, with new meaning each time you say it. My favorite line is “…and if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.”
We read the book again this month, and I pointed out Nelson’s illustrations of Washington, D.C., and reminded my son that this speech actually happened. “It was important that Martin Luther King stood up for what was right,” I said, as usual. Then my son said, “Like Rosa Parks,” whom he learned about in school. “Yes, just like Rosa Parks,” I said. It warmed my heart that my son easily recognized a woman leader alongside King.
King also quoted our Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” This is the part, in reading the book, where I add “and women.” The Colonial era was most definitely a time of mentioning men but not women, and implied was white men, of course. Mid-20th century was also a time of mentioning men but not women. We all know that the hundreds of thousands of people who attended the March on Washington 50 years ago this week included many, many women. Unfortunately, only one woman spoke to the crowd, though we know the voices of women are just as important as their male counterparts.
There are women being recognized more frequently now who were civil rights leaders. It’s about darn time. Just a few: Fannie Lou Hamer. Dorothy Height. Ella Baker. Daisy Bates. All those teenage girls who went through school desegregation.
While the Civil Rights Movement was executed largely through the church, it was the men whose names were on the signs outside as reverends. Now, churchgoers know that men at the helm do not do the work by themselves. Church women get things done, too. The women who made sure the repasts were set up while others attended meetings in the sanctuary contributed, too. The women who made sure children were educated and cared for while others were out on marches. And the women who suffered quietly at the hands of systemic oppression, but persevered. The women of the movement are just now getting their due. I’m not trying to take anything away from all the work of men, but along with that we must recognize the women. I’ll bet there are plenty here in Durham. Thank you for working to make America become the great nation King – and many others, men and women -- envisioned.
Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 919-419-6563.