By now, many in the abortion rights community have heard about the horrific vandalism that recently took place at All Families Healthcare in Kalispell, Montana, the family medicine practice of Susan Cahill, a physician assistant (PA). Cahill includes abortions as one of numerous services offered to her patients and this clearly was the reason for the attack. As reported at RH Reality Check and elsewhere, Cahill’s clinic was completely destroyed and remains closed as of this writing. Less well known, however, is Cahill’s important role, more than 20 years ago, in a consequential event in U.S. abortion care history—an event that continues to resonate today.
“Every woman is born a doctor... [while] men have to study to become one,” declared American educator Ella Flagg Young in the mid-19th century. Looking around much of the country, it certainly must have seemed that way.
Long before marketers invented “Dr. Mom,” women had served as nurse, doctor, and pharmacist to their family and friends. Doctoring a family required a great deal of knowledge and skill, which often passed down, woman to woman, through families for generations. Even so, mainstream medicine generally barred women from pursuing medical careers until the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Those women that did see doctors rarely received adequate treatment. Many doctors refused to physically examine women for fear of offending their modesty. Others dismissed women’s illnesses, contending that reproduction made women irrational and emotional. As a result, women often found themselves suffering from a dangerous or inappropriate remedy—or no treatment at all—without the benefit of a thorough analysis.
In her memoir Prison Baby, now available from Beacon Press, author Deborah Jiang Stein describes the pain and confusion she experiences upon finding out at the age of twelve that she was not only adopted, but had in fact been born in prison to a heroin addict, spending the first year of her life there. The shock, Stein writes, “sends me into a deep dive, an emotional lockdown behind a wall that imprisons me for nearly twenty years.” The rest of the book details Stein’s harrowing descent into depression, violence, drugs, and crime, and her torturous climb back out of that emotional “imprisonment” to a place of eventual redemption.
To help herself heal from the stigma of being born a heroin-addicted “prison baby,” Stein founded the unPrison Project, a nonprofit whose mission is to “empower, inspire, and cultivate critical thinking, life skills, self-reflection, and peer mentoring for women and girls in prison” while calling attention to the needs of women and children in prison.
No school district, employee or agent thereof, or educational service provider contracting with such school district shall provide abortion services. No school district shall permit any person or entity to offer, sponsor or otherwise furnish in any manner any course materials or instruction relating to human sexuality or sexually transmitted diseases if such person or entity is an abortion services provider, or an employee, agent or volunteer of an abortion services provider.
The above provision is contained in a nearly 50-page bill that recently went into effect in Kansas. (A judge temporarily blocked two other provisions of the law, but allowed this one to remain.)
To be sure, the relentless assault on abortion that we are currently seeing in other state legislatures—Texas, Ohio, and North Carolina, among others—are far more consequential in the short run. Ambulatory surgical center (ASC) and hospital admitting privilege requirements really do have the capacity to shut down clinics. Should the Texas bill currently being considered become law—as is likely, despite the heroic efforts of the thousands of orange-shirters gathered at the capitol—the number of Texas abortion facilities would go from 47 to five in that huge state. Already, due to a similar ASC requirement, earlier rammed through the Pennsylvania legislature as a cynical response to the Gosnell scandal, a number of clinics in Pennsylvania have closed. And the bans on abortions after 20 weeks, adopted by a number of states, will affect a relatively small number of women, but typically those in desperate medical and/or social condition.
But other provisions of abortion legislation, of which the Kansas one cited above is a prime example, do a different kind of damage. They further the stigmatization and marginalization of abortion providers by making clear that these individuals are not welcome in that most central of community institutions: the schools. It is not just participation in sex education from which Kansas providers are barred. As Stephanie Toti, senior attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights, which is challenging this law, told me, “This is unprecedented discrimination against abortion providers. … The prohibition on providers serving as ‘agents’ of a school district has the effect of barring them from serving as chaperones on field trips and engaging in most other volunteer activities.”
So abortion providers are at this moment banned from Kansas schools—and supposedly this will promote the safety of adult women getting abortions, as is the typical sanctimonious rationalization of the various laws we are seeing.
I asked several lawyer colleagues if they knew of other instances in which a whole occupational category was banned by law from volunteering in schools. They did not. Indeed, as far as I can tell, only sex offenders as a class are de facto banned from school grounds.
This shocking ban on abortion providers’ involvement in the schools leads me to recollect other instances I have encountered of attempts to isolate this group and keep them from community involvement. I think of a provider I’ve written about who I call Bill Swinton (not his real name), a family medicine doctor in a small town in the Pacific Northwest. He was deeply involved in both his church and his community, and served for three terms on the local school board. But he was defeated for a fourth term in the late 1980s, as the abortion wars intensified; needless to say, his status as a provider was the key factor in his defeat. I think as well of another doctor I’ve written about named Susan Golden (also not her real name), in a town in the Midwest, who integrated abortion provision into her family medicine practice. When she and her partner planned to take part in a community health fair, presenting on the care of newborns, the entire event was abruptly cancelled by the anti-abortion owner of the facility where the fair had been scheduled to take place.
As disturbing as these incidents were, they did not have the force, or the legitimization, of law. The Kansas provision does—and as such, takes the stigmatization of abortion providers to a new level.
Assuming the Kansas law, including this provision, is not overturned, we can only speculate as to what effects it might have. Speaking personally, I remember as a child the enormous pride I felt when my father, a cardiologist, came to my elementary school with his microscope and showed the class wondrous things. As a working mother, I recall how much I valued occasional volunteer stints in my daughters’ schools, getting to know both their classmates and other parents. It is very disturbing to contemplate that providers and their children will be deprived of these experiences. And it is equally disturbing to contemplate the messages that others in the community will receive from such a ban.
It does not take a rocket scientist to realize that in health-care settings a positive relationship between clinician and patient—one comprised of mutual understanding, respect, and trust—is beneficial to both parties. It is only common sense that when such a relationship exists, however brief it may be, the provider develops more sympathy for the needs of the patient, and the latter’s overall well-being can improve if she or he senses personal interest and concern on the part of the former.
Arguably, this point is especially relevant in abortion care because of the extreme politicization and stigma that surrounds the procedure. Some patients, having been exposed to anti-abortion distortions, are terrified of the procedure (one provider told me of a patient who asked, “When are you going to use the steel ball with the knives on it?”) and some do not view abortion doctors as “real” doctors. Some physicians, in turn, depending on the circumstances of their particular facility, have little chance to interact with patients, except when she is on the procedure table, possibly under anesthesia. Therefore, these providers may have an inadequate understanding of the reasons that brought these women to the clinic. Indeed, several research studies of abortion staff done soon after abortion became legal in the United States have shown that those who had opportunities for verbal interaction with patients—for example, social workers and counselors—were more positively inclined toward patients than those whose interactions were confined to just physical care. My own research among abortion providing physicians has revealed that the aspect of this work many find most meaningful is simply talking to patients, and some are wistful that there is not more opportunity for this.
In the period immediately after Roe v. Wade, it was very common in most abortion settings for designated counselors or physicians to have the opportunity for open-ended discussion with a patient. This kind of encounter, which goes beyond offering the patient the requisite informed consent information and ascertaining she has not been coerced into the decision, has been difficult for many facilities to sustain over the years for various reasons, not the least being that in many states patient-doctor time is eaten up by doctors having to impart to patients legislatively mandated scripts about abortion, many of which contain blatant falsehoods. Nevertheless, most abortion facilities with which I am familiar make every effort to offer additional conversational time to patients who seem most in need of it.
What do these efforts to maintain meaningful provider-patient conversations have to do with Live Action, the anti-abortion group notorious for its undercover “investigations” of abortion clinics? For several years, Live Action operatives, pretending to be prospective abortion patients, have gone into clinics, questioning various levels of staff about abortion policies and procedures, and when their hidden cameras manage to catch a staff person making an inopportune comment, the organization triumphantly posts videos (typically highly edited) of these visits.
The latest Live Action “gotcha” moment is in a video of Dr. Leroy Carhart, one of the few providers in the United States who openly provides post-24-week abortions in selected circumstances, and as such is a longstanding target of the anti-abortion movement. In the video, Carhart is repeatedly grilled by a would-be patient, who portrays herself as 26 weeks pregnant, as to the procedure he would use in a pregnancy of that gestation. In response to the woman’s stated concern that a fetus whose demise has been caused by injection “would decay inside of her,” Carhart seeks to reassure her, at one point saying the fetus would soften like “meat in a Crock-Pot.” Predictably, Live Action, and subsequently other anti-abortion groups, have seized upon this statement and used it to further their campaign of what might be called the “Gosnellization” of individuals who provide later abortions—that is, to claim that Carhart and his colleagues are no different than the rogue doctor now on trial in Philadelphia for dangerous and illegal practices.
But Leroy Carhart and Kermit Gosnell could not be more different as abortion providers. As the New York Times pointed out in its coverage of this incident, “[T]he video provides no evidence of illegal action or subpar medical techniques.” Tracy Weitz, my University of California, San Francisco colleague, further pointed out to the paper the evident concern that Carhart exhibited toward the (imposter) patient, and offered this context to his “Crock-Pot” remark: “Doctors struggle to find terminology to help a client understand what’s happening, and while it may seem wrong to us, it may be appropriate for that conversation.” (The recent film After Tiller also amply demonstrates Dr. Carhart’s compassionate relationship with patients.)
What will be the upshot of this latest Live Action incident? Dr. Carhart, who previously provided later abortions in the clinic of Dr. George Tiller in Kansas before Tiller was assassinated, will not be deterred from his “mission” to carry on his friend’s work, as the former military surgeon often puts it. In the years since he decided to devote himself full-time to abortion work, Carhart has had extremists burn down his barn with 17 horses inside, seen the state of Nebraska pass a law deliberately aimed at preventing him from performing abortions after 20 weeks’ gestation, and is subject to constant protestors at his two clinics as well as vilification in anti-abortion media.
But while Dr. Carhart will continue with his work, I do fear that a possible consequence of these well-publicized Live Action videos may be a chilling effect on the free and open conversation between clinic staff and patients that is such an important part of abortion care. Should this occur, I have no doubt the anti-abortion movement will declaim self-righteously about the “coldness” and “impersonality” of abortion facilities.
Dove's "Real Beauty" has another stunning commercial. In this one, "Real Beauty Sketches," a forensic artist sits with his back turned as a woman describes how she sees herself. He draws her image. Then another woman, an acquaintance, is brought in to describe how she sees the first woman. He draws that image. In the denouement, the woman is forced to look at the portrait he made from her own description and compare it to the far more attractive and realistic one described by her acquaintance. In other words, it is a beautiful illustration of something we already know: women have a warped sense of how they look.
But women's hatred of the way they look didn't just appear out of thin air. It was implanted in us in a variety of ways, but primarily through advertising that uses "idealized" images of beauty and asks us to compare ourselves to them.
After all, women and girls didn't think a whole lot about how they looked before capitalism. Historians such as Joan Brumberg have shown that adolescent girls prior to advertising tended to think about their inner make-up-- were they kind and good and devout. But with advertising early on telling women to buy creams, "slim" down, put on a bra and generally engage in what Brumberg calls the "body project," young girls started to worry far more about cellulite on their thighs than goodness in their hearts. Some social psychology studies indicate that even women with high levels of self-esteem will feel worse about themselves after looking at these idealized images found in advertising.
So capitalism created the problem of women being ugly and also created the solution: beauty products. It is an ingenious business plan. Add to this beauty business certain technologies, such as cosmetic surgery and Photoshop, and you have the completely unreal moment in which we now reside where women spend inordinate amounts of money attempting to make themselves look like images of women who don't actually exist. We are caught trying to be a copy of a copy without an original.
This beauty matrix is surely gendered (and raced and classed). Most studies show that women in conditions of hypercapitalism do in fact feel far worse about themselves than men. That's why parodies of the Dove "Real Sketches" have already popped up, with men describing themselves as far more beautiful than others see them. It's funny because it's true. Men aren't as important to the $160 Billion per yearbeauty product industry and continue to make up only about 5% of cosmetic surgery patients.
So women- caught in a web of being sold ugliness and the promise of beauty- can be startled, even moved to tears, watching Dove's "Real Sketches," whereas for many men the body project seems laughable.
But is the solution really loving the way we look? With the aid of products that help us look more "natural" such as those sold by Dove? Or is the solution actually outside the values of the market? "Erotic capital" has always been traded among humans, but the sort of erotic capital that is now demanded from the standards set by advertising is unattainable. Even if we starve ourselves, remain young forever, and get a lot of expensive cosmetic surgery to "perfect" our features, we still exist in a world where blemishes are not touched up, eyes not made brighter, and teeth whiter whenever we look at ourselves. Unless we can figure out a way to Photoshop our real bodies rather than images of them, we are stuck with imperfection.
Rather than telling women that they are in fact beautiful, it might be far more revolutionary to say beauty, real or otherwise, just isn't as valuable as other forms of capital, like educational capital or the sort of "goodness" that was valued by girls before the age of advertising.
The story of two Revolutionary-era teenagers who defy their Loyalist families to marry radical patriots, Henry Knox and Benedict Arnold, and are forever changed
When Peggy Shippen, the celebrated blonde belle of Philadelphia, married American military hero Benedict Arnold in 1779, she anticipated a life of fame and fortune, but financial debts and political intrigues prompted her to conspire with her treasonous husband against George Washington and the American Revolution. In spite of her commendable efforts to rehabilitate her husband's name, Peggy Shippen continues to be remembered as a traitor bride.
Peggy's patriotic counterpart was Lucy Flucker, the spirited and voluptuous brunette, who in 1774 defied her wealthy Tory parents by marrying a poor Boston bookbinder simply for love. When her husband, Henry Knox, later became a famous general in the American Revolutionary War, Lucy faithfully followed him through Washington's army camps where she birthed and lost babies, befriended Martha Washington, was praised for her social skills, and secured her legacy as an admired patriot wife.
And yet, as esteemed biographer Nancy Rubin Stuart reveals, a closer look at the lives of both spirited women reveals that neither was simply a "traitor" or "patriot." In Defiant Brides, the first dual biography of both Peggy Shippen Arnold and Lucy Flucker Knox, Stuart has crafted a rich portrait of two rebellious women who defied expectations and struggled-publicly and privately-in a volatile political moment in early America.
Drawing from never-before-published correspondence, Stuart traces the evolution of these women from passionate teenage brides to mature matrons, bringing both women from the sidelines of history to its vital center. Readers will be enthralled by Stuart's dramatic account of the epic lives of these defiant brides, which begin with romance, are complicated by politics, and involve spies, disappointments, heroic deeds, tragedies, and personal triumphs.
Kirkus Reviews: “Stuart… draws on her long experience writing about
women and social history to show that strong women have always driven their
husbands to perform prominent actions, both good and bad.”
Booklist: “With the seemingly endless parade of books devoted to both
founding fathers and revolutionary rascals, it’s nice to see some attention
paid to the fervor with which some remarkable women navigated the romantic,
political, and wartime challenges of the era.”
“An ingenious means of bringing new life to the oldest story in our nation’s past: the American Revolution from the perspective of the young and clear-sighted wives of generals Benedict Arnold and Henry Knox. Tracing the parallel lives of two couples with conflicting loyalties, Nancy Rubin Stuart achieves a you-are-there verisimilitude in Defiant Brides that is rare and not to be missed.” —Megan Marshall, author of The Peabody Sisters: Three Women Who Ignited American Romanticism
"In this lively double-biography, Nancy Rubin Stuart reveals the resilient lives of a leading Patriot and a notorious Loyalist: both of them women. Lucy Flucker Knox and Peggy Shippen Arnold deftly performed the parlor politics that helped to shape the American Revolution in surprising ways." —Alan Taylor, author of The Civil War of 1812: American Citizens, British Subjects, Irish Rebels, & Indian Allies
"Written with verve and compassion, Nancy Rubin Stuart's portrait of two extraordinary marriages of the American Revolution offers a valuable and moving reminder that, even in the most dramatic of public events, private passions prevailed and participants remained, first and foremost, husbands and wives." —Marla Miller, author of Betsy Ross and the Making of America
"A captivating look at two marriages, marked by bold rebellion and fierce loyalty. The wives of traitor Benedict Arnold and Revolutionary hero Henry Knox never met, and died an ocean apart, but Stuart’s story of their marriages, full of love, passion, betrayal and disappointments, reads like a Hollywood script." —Betty Boyd Caroli, author of First Ladies From Martha Washington to Michelle Obama
A lively and lyrical account of one woman's unlikely apprenticeship on a national-park trail crew and what she discovers about nature, gender, and the value of hard work
Christine Byl first encountered the national parks the way most of us do: on vacation. But after she graduated from college, broke and ready for a new challenge, she joined a Glacier National Park trail crew as a seasonal "traildog" maintaining mountain trails for the millions of visitors Glacier draws every year. Byl first thought of the job as a paycheck, a summer diversion, a welcome break from "the real world" before going on to graduate school. She came to find out that work in the woods on a trail crew was more demanding, more rewarding-more real-than she ever imagined.
During her first season, Byl embraces the backbreaking difficulty of the work, learning how to clear trees, move boulders, and build stairs in the backcountry. Her first mentors are the colorful characters with whom she works-the packers, sawyers, and traildogs from all walks of life-along with the tools in her hands: axe, shovel, chainsaw, rock bar. As she invests herself deeply in new work, the mountains, rivers, animals, and weather become teachers as well. While Byl expected that her tenure at the parks would be temporary, she ends up turning this summer gig into a decades-long job, moving from Montana to Alaska, breaking expectations-including her own-that she would follow a "professional" career path.
Returning season after season, she eventually leads her own crews, mentoring other trail dogs along the way. In Dirt Work, Byl probes common assumptions about the division between mental and physical labor, "women's work" and "men's work," white collars and blue collars. The supposedly simple work of digging holes, dropping trees, and blasting snowdrifts in fact offers her an education of the hands and the head, as well as membership in an utterly unique subculture. Dirt Work is a contemplative but unsentimental look at the pleasures of labor, the challenges of apprenticeship, and the way a place becomes a home.
Christine Byl lives on a few acres of tundra north of Denali National Park outside the town of Healy, Alaska, with her husband and an old sled dog. She received her MFA in fiction from the University of Alaska-Anchorage, and her stories and essays have appeared in magazines, journals, and anthologies. She owns and operates a small trail design and construction business.
Richly informative, calmly passionate and much needed, “The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks” completes the portrait of a working-class activist who looked poverty and discrimination squarely in the face and never stopped rebelling against them, in the segregated South and in the segregated North.
Author Jeanne Theoharis appeared this morning on Democracy Now! with Claudette Colvin, a civil-rights pioneer who was arrested for refusing to give up her bus seat in Montgomery in March 1955, nine months before Rosa Parks. Jeanne discusses Claudette’s story in the context of her research into the local civil-rights movement at the time, and suggests Colvin’s case help set the stage for Parks and the Montgomery bus boycott. It’s a really special 35-minute interview.
MakeitMissoula.com review: "Several times while reading the book, I had to just stop, sit back and admire a chunk of imagery crafted by a man who can just flat-out write. "
Mountain West News review: "Montana needs a book like this. We need to remember the past. We need to be mindful of the present. We need to say thanks to all those who strife to do the right thing. We need more journalists like Brad Tyer to keep us humble."
Michael Bronski, the author of A Queer History of the United States and a Harvard professor, notes that sentimental arguments have become increasingly prevalent, and successful, in social movements over the last century. "Uncle Tom's Cabin was far more effective than quoting biblical texts or making a constitutional argument and abolitionist writings are filled with the tragedy of children being torn away from their mothers," Bronski said in an interview. "Suffragists mostly only used legal arguments but later, second wave feminism did better portraying a talented 12-year-old girl who wanted to play field hockey (or become a doctor) than in arguing for equal wages for female factory workers."
While the Court mulls, however, we'd like to clear up some misunderstanding. Take the "recent" institution of gay marriage, as Justice Samuel Alito seems bent on calling it. Alito is trying to dissuade any major ruling on the grounds that evidence on the effects of same-sex marriage is too little, too soon: "You want us to step in and render a decision based on an assessment of the effects of this institution which is newer than cell phones and the internet?" he asked. "We do not have the ability to see the future."
Fortunately, we don't have to. We mere humans may not wear the robes of soothsayers (or Justices, for that matter), Mr. Alito, but we do have access to local libraries and the benefit of hindsight. While, yes, the formal institution of gay marriage is recent, author Rodger Streitmatter reminds us that gay folks have been resourcefully affirming their own versions of marriage for centuries. In fact, they've found ways of making it work with or without our questionably-gay-Uncle Sam's nodding approval.
My Mother's Wars is the memoir that Mary, a Latvian Jew and New York immigrant, “was never able to write.” Faderman shares her spirited mother’s story from life-altering experiences (the Nazi's brutal annihilation of Preil, the shetl where Mary was born) to mundane city moments. Each are rendered with poetry and frankness. Beginning in 1914, Faderman chronicles Mary’s futile love affair with commitment-phobic Moishe, the wrenching isolation of immigration and the insidious backdrop of antisemitism. Mary may not have been able to tell her story, but it’s testament to her incredible life that her daughter did it for her.
Susie Bright, in addition to being a best-selling author, activist, and podcast host, is editor at large for Audible. Susie's blog, The Bright List, keeps readers and listeners apprised of new audiobooks.
This month brings the Audible release of three titles from one of my favorite independent scholars, Hanne Blank. Blank’s curiosity and thorough, critical thinking have brought fresh insights into the fields of human sexuality and history. Her warm, witty, and clever writing has brought me much enjoyment.
From the “discovery” of the Hymen in ancient times to abstinence-only education in schools and purity balls today, Blank writes about the history of our preoccupation with "virginity." In her analysis, we can see the social construction of virginity, the sexism implicit in it, and the malleable definition of virginity over time.
Everything you think you know about virginity is up for debate. Blank writes with a great deal of humor and perception: "Of all the countries of the developed world, the United States is the only one that has to date created a federal agenda having specifically to do with the virginity of its citizens."
Narrated with friendly authority by Fran Tunno who also read Straight.
This is one of my favorite sex-ed books about any subject. I hadn’t thought about it one way or another, “size and sex”-- but there’s a lot to it. This isn’t a PC plea for acceptance, it’s really about FAT SEX, the reality and the creativity! Skinny people love this book too!
“Big Big Love is a ginormous blessing to people everywhere. Not only is it a superb sex manual, it’s positively radical, fun to read, and life affirming—big time.
"We know that “people of size” enjoy sex as much as anyone, but to talk about it so frankly, to show it, and give explicit details about the ins and outs of it, is as transgressive as it gets in our culture of “thin is sexy.” This book is well worth its weight in gold.”
Harriet Jacobs was born into slavery in 1813 to Elijah and Delilah Jacobs. When Harriet’s mother died in 1819, she was sent to live with her mother’s owner
and mistress, Margaret Horniblow, and was welcomed into the family. But, Margaret died when Harriet was 11, and instead of being emancipated like she had hoped, she was bequeathed to her mistress’s three-year-old niece, Mary Matilda. Because of Mary’s young age, her father Dr. James Norcom became Harriet’s master.
After years of unwanted sexual advances and abuse at the hands of Dr. Norcom, Harriet went into hiding above her grandmother’s home. For nearly seven years she confined herself in a small crawlspace between the storeroom and the roof waiting for
her chance to escape, all the while listening to her children grow up in the
home underneath her. In 1842, with the help of a friend, Harriet finally
escaped. Harriet died in Washington, DC, on March 7, 1897, and was buried in
Mount Auburn Cemetery, in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
The following passages are taken from her autobiography Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Written by Herself. It is one of the earliest works by an African American woman writer. Originally self-published in 1861 under the pen name Linda Brent, itwas for generations thought to be a work of fiction until its
authenticity was verified in the 1980s.
In this section, Jacobs describes the small crawlspace in which she lived for nearly seven years.
“The garret was only nine feet long, and seven wide. The highest part was three feet
high, and sloped down abruptly to the loose board floor. There was no admission
for either light or air. My uncle Philip, who was a carpenter, had very
skillfully made a concealed trap door, which communicated with the storeroom.
He had been doing this while I was waiting in the swamp. The storeroom opened
upon a piazza. To this hole I was conveyed as soon as I entered the house. The
air was stifling; the darkness total. A bed had been spread on the floor. I
could sleep quite comfortably on one side; but the slope was so sudden that I
could not turn on the other without hitting the roof. The rats and mice ran
over my bed; but I was weary, and I slept such sleep as the wretched may, when
a tempest has passed over them. Morning came. I knew it only by the noises I
heard; for in my small den day and night were all the same. I suffered for air
even more than for light. But I was not comfortless. I heard the voices of my
children. There was joy and there was sadness in the sound. It made my tears
flow. How I longed to speak to them! I was eager to look on their faces; but
there was no hole, no crack, through which I could peep. This continued
darkness was oppressive. It seemed horrible to sit or lie in a cramped position
day after day, without one gleam of light. Yet I would have chosen this, rather
than my lot as a slave.”
Next, Jacobs explains how she spent her first Christmas in hiding.
“Even slave mothers try to gladden the hearts of their little ones on that occasion. Benny and Ellen had their Christmas stockings filled. Their imprisoned mother could not have the privilege of witnessing their surprise and joy. But I had the
pleasure of peeping at them as they went into the street with their new suits
on. I heard Benny ask a little playmate whether Santa Claus brought him any
thing. 'Yes,' replied the boy; 'but Santa Claus ain’t a real man. It’s the
children’s mothers that put things into the stockings.' 'No, that can’t be,' replied Benny, 'for Santa Claus brought Ellen and me these new clothes, and my
mother has been gone this long time.'
"How I longed to
tell him that his mother made those garments, and that many a tear fell on them
while she worked!
occasion, I was warned to keep extremely quiet, because two guests had been
invited. One was the town constable, and the other was a free colored man, who
tried to pass himself off for white, and who was always ready to do any mean work
for the sake of currying favor with white people. My grandmother had a motive
for inviting them. She managed to take them all over the house. All the rooms
on the lower floor were thrown open for them to pass in and out; and after
dinner, they were invited up stairs to look at a fine mocking bird my uncle had
just brought home. There, too, the rooms were all thrown open, that they might
look in. When I heard them talking on the piazza, my heart almost stood still.
I knew this colored man had spent many nights hunting for me. Every body knew
he had the blood of a slave father in his veins; but for the sake of passing
himself off for white, he was ready to kiss the slaveholders’ feet. How I
despised him! As for the constable, he wore no false colors. The duties of his
office were despicable, but he was superior to his companion, inasmuch as he
did not pretend to be what he was not. Any white man, who could raise money
enough to buy a slave, would have considered himself degraded by being a
constable; but the office enabled its possessor to exercise authority. If he
found any slave out after nine o’clock, he could whip him as much as he liked;
and that was a privilege to be coveted. When the guests were ready to depart,
my grandmother gave each of them some of her nice pudding, as a present for
their wives. Through my peep-hole I saw them go out of the gate, and I was glad
when it closed after them. So passed the first Christmas in my den.”
relates a critical moment in which she was able to briefly speak to the father
of her children, a newly elected congressman, and ask him to free their
“The day before
his departure for Washington I made arrangements, towards evening, to get from
my hiding-place into the store room below. I found myself so stiff and clumsy
that it was with great difficulty I could hitch from one resting place to
another. When I reached the storeroom my ankles gave way under me, and I sank
exhausted on the floor. It seemed as if I could never use my limbs again. But
the purpose I had in view roused all the strength I had. I crawled on my hands
and knees to the window, and, screened behind a barrel, I waited for his
coming. The clock struck nine, and I knew the steamboat would leave between ten
and eleven. My hopes were failing. But presently I heard his voice, saying to
some one, 'Wait for me a moment. I wish to see aunt Martha.' When he came out,
as he passed the window, I said, 'Stop one moment, and let me speak for my
children.' He started, hesitated, and then passed on, and went out of the gate.
I closed the shutter I had partially opened, and sank down behind the barrel. I
had suffered much; but seldom had I experienced a leaner pang than I then felt.
Had my children, then, become of so little consequence to him? And had he so
little feeling for their wretched mother that he would not listen a moment
while she pleaded for them? Painful memories were so busy within me, that I
forgot I had not hooked the shutter, till I heard some one opening it. I looked
up. He had come back. 'Who called me?' said he, in a low tone. 'I did,' I
replied. 'Oh, Linda,' said he, 'I knew your voice; but I was afraid to answer,
lest my friend should hear me. Why do you come here? Is it possible you risk
yourself in this house? They are mad to allow it. I shall expect to hear that
you are all ruined.' I did not wish to implicate him, by letting him know my
place of concealment; so I merely said, 'I thought you would come to bid
grandmother good by, and so I came here to speak a few words to you about
emancipating my children. Many changes may take place during the six months you
are gone to Washington and it does not seem right for you to expose them to the
risk of such changes. I want nothing for myself; all I ask is, that you will
free my children, or authorize some friend to do it, before you go.'
"He promised he
would do it, and also expressed a readiness to make any arrangements whereby I
could be purchased."
As a sociologist who writes at Psychology Today, I must admit that there is some very bad sociology out there. And like bad psychology, bad sociology can be incredibly harmful to individuals and our culture at large. Such is the case with the obviously flawed study produced by sociologist Mark Regnerus last year that was supposedly a measure of the children of gay parents. Of course, it really measured no such thing, but it claimed to.
The study was a case of comparing apples and oranges and insisting you’ve measured bananas. Because Regnerus could not find a large enough sample of adult children of gay and lesbian parents, he decided to ask adult children of divorced parents whether or not their parents had ever had a same sex relationship. This is a problem. The relationship could have been one time or thirty years. The relationship could have resulted in a gay or lesbian identity or not. We don’t know because Regnerus decided that apples were a close enough measure of bananas. To make matters worse he compared those apples to oranges: he compared the outcomes of adult children of divorced parents to adult children of still married parents and found, not surprisingly, that these adult children were more likely to be depressed, unemployed and alcoholic than those whose parents were still together. I say not surprisingly because even a bad sociologist knows that marriage is highly correlated with socio-economic status. It would make sense that children who grow up in less wealthy and less educated households are more likely to be less wealthy, less educated, more unemployed, and yes, even depressed and alcoholic. Poverty creates all sorts of stress in a person’s life that wealth and well-being do not. That is just sociology of the obvious.
Normally no one would care that there is some bad sociology out there (and believe me there is), but this work is being used in a variety of court cases that will decide the fate of gay marriage, gay adoption laws and in many other ways the legal future of gay families. And here's the really scary thing: the study was funded by the ultra-conservative Witherspoon Institute to the tune of $700,000 specifically to influence the Supreme Court of the United States decisions. That's right: the conservative funders of the study and the conservative sociologist who conducted it were assuming that the results would show gay families are worse than straight families and recent emails between them retrieved through Freedom of Information Act requests prove it. An article published in the American Independent and the HuffingtonPost reveals that:
The documents, recently obtained through public-records requests by The American Independent and published in collaboration with The Huffington Post, show that the Witherspoon Institute recruited a professor from a major university to carry out a study that was designed to manipulate public policy. In communicating with donors about the research project, Witherspoon’s president clearly expected results unfavorable to the gay-marriage movement.
To make matters worse, the peer-review process of this article that was published in Social Science Research seems to have been both highly compromised and highly rushed. Despite an internal audit by Social Science Research, the editors have been unable to explain why the article was submitted before data was fully collected, why reviewers were rushed to approve or disapprove its publication in such a short time frame, why two of the three reviewers were connected to Regnerus, and why they have not yet retracted the study.
This strange marriage of the anti-gay agenda of the Witherspoon Institute, which is connected through one of its founders to the National Organization for Marriage, a conservative researcher in Regnerus who has publicly staked his claim for heterosexual marriage as the best option for all of us, and some seriously flawed statistics will now be influencing court decisions and gay families for decades to come.
Despite an amicus brief filed by the American Sociological Association stating that Regenerus' study
provides no support for the conclusions that same-sex parents are inferior parents or that the children of same-sex parents experience worse outcomes"
it will still be considered in Hollingsworth v. Perry, the Supreme Court case to decide the constitutionality of California's Prop 8.
Which is just what the Witherspoon Institute wanted. And Regnerus too. But anyone who cares about families, all families, not to mention the integrity of social science, should refuse an invitation to the wedding of bad sociology, anti-family values and just plain mean-spiritedness that this study represents.
Lillian Faderman is an internationally known scholar of lesbian history and literature, as well as of ethnic and immigrant history. She is the author of such acclaimed works as To Believe in Woman, Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers, Surpassing the Love of Men, I Begin My Life All Over, and her memoir Naked in the Promised Land.
Last Thursday, Faderman read from her new book, My Mother's Wars, at one of our favorite bookstores, the Brookline Booksmith. We recorded her reading a few passages from the book, and we're happy to share those videos with you here.
A story of love, war, and life as a Jewish immigrant in the squalid factories and lively dance halls of New York's Garment District in the 1930s, My Mother's Wars is the memoir Lillian Faderman's mother was never able to write. The daughter delves into her mother's past to tell the story of a Latvian girl who left her village for America with dreams of a life on the stage and encountered the realities of her new world: the battles she was forced to fight as a woman, an immigrant worker, and a Jew with family left behind in Hitler's deadly path.
The story begins in 1914: Mary, the girl who will become Lillian Faderman's mother, just seventeen and swept up with vague ambitions to be a dancer, travels alone to America, where her half-sister in Brooklyn takes her in. She finds a job in the garment industry and a shop friend who teaches her the thrills of dance halls and the cheap amusements open to working-class girls. This dazzling life leaves Mary distracted and her half-sister and brother-in-law scandalized that she has become a "good-time gal." They kick her out of their home, an event with consequences Mary will regret for the rest of her life.
In the first passage, Faderman reads about her mother's participation in a garment workers' strike.
Mary Daly (1928-2010) was a world-renowned radical feminist philosopher. When her groundbreaking work, Gyn/Ecology, was first released by Beacon in 1978, one reviewer called it “the most important book to come out of the feminist movement since Daly’s last book, Beyond God the Father.”
“In this deeply original,
provocative book, outrage, hilarity, grief, profanity, lyricism and moral
daring join in bursting the accustomed bounds even of feminist discourse.” —The
New York Times Book Review
“Daly’s insights into the background of radical
feminism…are brilliant, and her synthesis of theology, mythology, philosophy,
history, and medicine is absolutely overwhelming.” —Library Journal
“Gyn/Ecology is a great leap forward
in feminist theory…It defies simplistic categorizations of political theory,
philosophy of religion, or even poetry. The book is all of these yet none,
because it goes beyond them.” —Janice Raymond, New Women’s Times
“A vivid and exciting work, destined to become
of landmark in the radical feminist process.” —Chrysalis
“Brilliant and soaring, Mary Daly’s Gyn/Ecology is
the most amazing book I’ve ever read. It set me spinning. A wonderfully
dangerous book.” —Gena Corea
“Daly writes with deep healing anger and
uncompromising vision. Her book gives a shock of awakening such as is found in
the works of Simone de Beauvoir.” —Publishers Weekly
Women’s History Month Classics: In the thirty-five years since its publication, Toward a New Psychology of Women by Jean Baker Miller, MD, has become famous for its groundbreaking demonstration of how sexual stereotypes restrict men’s and women’s psychological development. Wendy Strothman, former Beacon director, called it “one of our books that overturn an entire field.”
The following excerpt is from Chapter 4: Strengths
Today in psychotherapy a central place is given to feelings of weakness, vulnerability, and helplessness, along with their usual accompaniment, feelings of neediness. These are feelings we have all known, given the long period necessary for maturational development in human beings and, in our society, given the difficulties and lack of support most of us suffer during childhood and indeed in our adult lives. Such feelings are, of course, most unpleasant—in their extreme, they are terrifying—and several schools of psychodynamic thought postulate that they are the root causes of various major “pathologies.” In Western society men are encouraged to dread, abhor, or deny feeling weak or helpless, whereas women are encouraged to cultivate this state of being. The first and most important point, however, is that these feelings are common and inevitable to all, even though our cultural tradition unrealistically expects men to discard rather than to acknowledge them.
Two brief examples illustrate this contrast. Mary, a gifted and resourceful young hospital worker with two children, was offered a new and more demanding position. She would lead a team attempting an innovative approach to patient care. It involved greater scope for the team members and for Mary a harder job of coordination and negotiation of the workers’ anxieties and difficulties. Mary’s immediate reaction was to worry about her ability to carry out the project; she felt weak and helpless in the face of the formidable task. At times, she was convinced she was totally incapable of doing the job and wanted to refuse the offer.
Her worry was in some measure appropriate, for the position of team coordinator was a difficult and demanding one that should be approached only after rigorous self-evaluation. She was, however, extremely able and had demonstrated the abilities necessary for the position. She retained some common feminine problems—having trouble admitting to, and easily losing sight of, her strengths. A clear recognition of her own competence would mean the loss of the weak, little-girl image to which she clung, in spite of its obvious inaccuracy. While some fear about the job seemed justified, her reluctance to relinquish the old image exaggerated the fears.
By contrast, a man, Charles, who was also very gifted, had the opportunity to take a higher-level job, and he was very pleased. In its administrative requirements and responsibilities it was similar to Mary’s and was equally demanding. Just before he undertook the new job, he developed some fairly severe physical symptoms; characteristically he did not talk about them. His wife, Ruth, however, suspected that they were caused by his anxieties about facing the tasks ahead. Knowing him well, she did not mention the problem directly, but opened up the topic in the only way she felt able. She suggested that it might be a good idea to make some changes in their diet, hours, and general lifestyle. His initial reaction was one of anger; he disparaged her, sarcastically telling her to stop bothering him. Later he admitted to himself, and then to Ruth, that when he feels most uncertain of his abilities and most in need of help, he can react only with anger—especially if anyone seems to perceive his neediness.
Fortunately, Charles is trying hard to overcome the barriers that keep him from acknowledging these feelings. His wife’s attempts opened up the possibility of dealing with them. He could not have initiated the process himself. He could not even respond to her initiation immediately, but this time, fairly soon after the fact he was able to catch himself in the act of denying it. Ruth easily might have remained rejected, hurt, and resentful, and the situation could have escalated into mutual anger and recrimination at the very time he was feeling most vulnerable, helpless, and needy.
It is important to note also that Ruth was not being rewarded for her strengths. Instead, she was made to suffer for them—by anger and rejection. This is a small example of how women’s valuable qualities are not only not recognized but are punished instead. Even in this case, Ruth was not able to state her perceptions openly. She had to use “feminine wiles.” Important qualities such as understanding of human vulnerabilities and offerings of help can thus be dysfunctional in relationships as they are presently structured and can make a woman feel she must be wrong.
In no society does the person—male or female—emerge full-grown. A necessary part of all experience is a recognition of one’s weaknesses and limitations. That most valuable of human qualities—the ability to grow psychologically—is necessarily an ongoing process, involving repeated feelings of vulnerability all through life. As the example of Charles illustrates, men have been conditioned to fear and hate weakness, to try to get rid of it immediately and sometimes frantically. This attempt, I believe, represents an effort to distort human experience. It is necessary to “learn” in an emotional sense that these feelings are not shameful or abhorrent but ones from which the individual can move on—if the feelings are experienced for what they are. Only then can a person hope to find appropriate paths to new strengths. Along with new strength will come new areas of vulnerability, for there is no absolute invulnerability.
That women are better able than men to consciously admit to feelings of weakness or vulnerability may be obvious, but we have not recognized the importance of this ability. That women are truly much more able to tolerate these feelings—which life in general, and particularly in our society, generates in everybody—is a positive strength. Many adolescent boys and young men especially seem to be suffering acutely from the need to flee from these feelings before they experience them. In that sense, women, both superficially and deeply, are more closely in touch with basic life experiences—in touch with reality. By being in this closer connection with this central human condition, by having to defend less and deny less, women are in a position to understand weakness more readily and to work productively with it.
In short, in our society, while men are made to feel weak in many ways, women are made to feel weaker. But, because they “know” weakness, women can cease being the “carriers” of weakness and become the developers of a different understanding of it and of the appropriate paths out of it. Women, in undertaking their own journey, can illuminate the way for others.
Until now, women who are already strong in many ways still have had a hard time admitting it. Mary, the woman in the example, illustrates this problem. But even when weakness is real, women can go on to strength and ability once they can convince themselves that it is really all right to let go of their belief in the rightness of weakness. Only someone who understands women can understand how this psychic element operates, how widespread and influential the fear of not being weak can become, and how persistently it can hang on without being recognized for what it is. It is very difficult for men, with their fears of weakness, to see why women cling to it and to understand that it does not, and could not possibly, mean the same thing for women as it does for men.
There is a further social point here. The fact that these feelings are generally associated with being “womanly,”—hence unmanly—serves to reinforce the humiliation suffered by the man who has such experiences. Women, in the meanwhile, provide all sorts of personal and social supports to help keep men going and to keep them and the total society from admitting that better arrangements are needed. That is, the whole man-woman interaction thus dilutes the push to confront and deal with our societal deficiencies. We all experience too much danger as we attempt to grow and make our way in the difficult and threatening circumstances in which we live. We all lose in the end, but the loss is kept obscure.
Long before "women in rock" became a media catchphrase, African American guitar virtuoso Rosetta Tharpe proved in spectacular fashion that women could rock. Born in Cotton Plant, Arkansas, in 1915, Tharpe was gospel's first superstar and the preeminent crossover figure of its golden age.
Sister Rosetta is at long last getting the attention she deserves with "The Godmother of Rock & Roll," a documentary that aired last weekend on PBS, and a related campaign to get her inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
This month is also a great time to buy a copy of Shout, Sister, Shout! During our Black History Month Sale, buy any African American Studies title using promo code FEB2013 by February 28th and receive 20% off and free shipping. Buy two titles and receive a free King Legacy tote bag. Plus, Beacon Press will donate 15% of all sales using promo code FEB2013 to the Young People's Project. More info here.
This Valentine's Day, people are expressing their love for Rosa Parks and this long-overdue biography of her surprisingly radical life.
“Historian Theoharis offers a complex portrait of a forceful, determined woman who had long been active before the boycott she inspired and who had an even longer career in civil rights afterward.” Booklist
"Even though her refusal to give up her bus seat sparked a revolution, Rosa Parks was no accidental heroine. She was born to it, and Theoharis ably shows us how and why." Kirkus Reviews(Starred Review)
"Theoharis succeeds here in doing what the best history books always do: challenging what we thought we knew, replacing fables with flesh and blood." Kate Tuttle, The Boston Globe
The Detroit Free Press ran a substantial profile of Parks on her 100th birthday. Check out the piece for some amazing images of Parks and insights about her life, particularly the time she spent in Detroit.
"The myth of the simple seamstress took on a life of its own," Theoharis said. It became part of a kind of romanticizing of the civil rights movement, that has stifled it, she said. "If she is going to be used to tell the story of American history, we need to tell the whole story."
People need to know, Theoharis said, "how undaunted she was, and how fearless she was, and how she kept on keeping on." [Read More]
But it is Jeanne Theoharis who has made the greatest contribution to our annual, ritual observance of Black History Month. She has revealed a story clouded by myth, conflict and fictional retellings. In the process, she has given us a valuable framework for understanding the present and the future.
Burstein and Fast Future are featured in an article for the March issue of Glamour Magazine about young “deservers” in the workplace.
Interview with The Fiscal Times: "Why Millennials Are Generational Game Changers."
Their values are shifting. It's less about how we maximize profit and more about how we maximize happiness. Fewer millenials are homeowners, married and have children compared to our elders. People have an appreciation not for the institution of marriage, but for being with people they love. They're finding a sense of belonging and adulthood not in home ownership but in community.
Burstein spoke on HuffPost Live about the new study that says millenials are the most stressed out generation.
"An inspiring look at what the millennial generation is doing in America." Kirkus Reviews
In the face of such hostility, one can ask, why does anyone keep doing this work? In simplest terms, the social movement opposing abortion has helped create a counter-movement of physicians (today, mainly women) who view their work as a “mission” and not just a medical subspecialty. Interviews I have conducted over many years with this community reveal how deeply meaningful many clinicians (and their office staff) find this work, the obvious drawbacks notwithstanding. Many have spoken of the satisfaction of being able to help a woman solve a crisis at a particularly vulnerable time in her life. As one physician said to me, “You ask how I can do this work? For me, the question is, how could I not?” [Read more]
Snob Zones: Fear, Prejudice, and Real Estate by Lisa Prevost: Kirkus Reviews on Mar 1: “Moves the argument well past simple “not in my backyard” sentiments… Makes the issue interesting on a number of levels, taking the argument beyond property values into the essential notion of what a community is and what might benefit it.”
My Mother’s Wars by Lillian Faderman: Booklist review Mar 1 issue: “As Faderman vividly chronicles her mother’s intense personalityand complex experiences, she also freshly illuminates the Jewish immigrant experience.”
Jeanne Theoharis (The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks) on PBS NewsHour
All month long, Beacon Press is offering 20% off and free shipping on all African American Studies titles purchased at Beacon.org. Use promo code FEB2013 at checkout. If you purchase two or more books, you'll also receive an attractive King Legacy Series tote bag.
In addition, Beacon will donate 15% of all purchases made through this promotion to the Young People's Project, an organization that uses Math Literacy Work to develop the abilities of elementary through high school students to succeed in school and in life.
Browse books in the categories above, or check out these suggested recent titles.
In The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks, Jeanne Theoharis masterfully details the political depth of a national heroine who dedicated her life to fighting inequality and, in the process, resurrects an inspiring civil rights movement radical who has been hidden in plain sight far too long.
"In the first sweeping history of Parks's life, Theoharis shows us…[that] Parks not only sat down on the bus; she stood on the right side of justice for her entire life." —Julian Bond, chairman emeritus, NAACP
"The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parkswill undoubtedly be hailed as one of the most important scholarly contributions to civil rights history ever written." —Melissa Harris-Perry, Host, MSNBC's Melissa Harris-Perry Show
"A much-needed book on the woman who is, arguably, the most important person in the last half of the twentieth century." —Nikki Giovanni, poet
"Jeanne Theoharis brings all of her talents as a political scientist and historian of the civil rights movement to bear on this illuminating biography of the great Rosa Parks." —Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
Read the introduction to The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks.
The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks revisits the life of the civil rights icon and argues that the quiet, shy seamstress is a reductive stereotype. Biographile spoke with Jeanne Theoharis about the importance of changing the image of the tired lady on the bus.
Watch author Jeanne Theoharis on the Melissa Harris-Perry Show on MSNBC
Written during the 1940s and early 1950s, when Baldwin was only in his twenties, the essays collected in Notes of a Native Son capture a view of black life and black thought at the dawn of the civil rights movement and as the movement slowly gained strength through the words of one of the most captivating essayists and foremost intellectuals of that era. Writing as an artist, activist, and social critic, Baldwin probes the complex condition of being black in America. With a keen eye, he examines everything from the significance of the protest novel to the motives and circumstances of the many black expatriates of the time, from his home in "The Harlem Ghetto" to a sobering "Journey to Atlanta."
Notes of a Native Son inaugurated Baldwin as one of the leading interpreters of the dramatic social changes erupting in the United States in the twentieth century, and many of his observations have proven almost prophetic. His criticism on topics such as the paternalism of white progressives or on his own friend Richard Wright's work is pointed and unabashed. He was also one of the few writing on race at the time who addressed the issue with a powerful mixture of outrage at the gross physical and political violence against black citizens and measured understanding of their oppressors, which helped awaken a white audience to the injustices under their noses. Naturally, this combination of brazen criticism and unconventional empathy for white readers won Baldwin as much condemnation as praise.
Notes is the book that established Baldwin's voice as a social critic, and it remains one of his most admired works. The essays collected here create a cohesive sketch of black America and reveal an intimate portrait of Baldwin's own search for identity as an artist, as a black man, and as an American.
Read the new introduction by Edward P. Jones for Baldwin's classic collection that creates a cohesive sketch of black America and reveals an intimate portrait of Baldwin's own search for identity as an artist, as a black man, and as an American.
"We embarked on this journey because we believe America must overcome the racial barriers that divide us, the barriers that drive us to strike out at one another out of ignorance and fear. To do nothing is unacceptable."
Sharon Leslie Morgan, a black woman from Chicago's South Side avoids white people; they scare her. Despite her trepidation, Morgan, a descendent of slaves on both sides of her family, began a journey toward racial reconciliation with Thomas Norman DeWolf, a white man from rural Oregon who descends from the largest slave-trading dynasty in US history. Over a three-year period, the pair traveled thousands of miles, both overseas and through twenty-seven states, visiting ancestral towns, courthouses, cemeteries, plantations, antebellum mansions, and historic sites. They spent time with one another's families and friends and engaged in deep conversations about how the lingering trauma of slavery shaped their lives.
Gather at the Table is the chronicle of DeWolf and Morgan's journey. Arduous and at times uncomfortable, it lays bare the unhealed wounds of slavery. As DeWolf and Morgan demonstrate, before we can overcome racism we must first acknowledge and understand the damage inherited from the past-which invariably involves confronting painful truths. The result is a revelatory testament to the possibilities that open up when people commit to truth, justice, and reconciliation. DeWolf and Morgan offer readers an inspiring vision and a powerful model for healing individuals and communities.
Read the introduction to Gather at the Table, and journey with two people—a black woman and a white man—as they confront the legacy of slavery and racism head-on.
Today would have been the 100th birthday of Rosa Parks. To honor the day, we share these Ten Things You Didn't Know About Rosa Parks, compiled by Jeanne Theoharis, author of The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks.
1. Parks had been thrown off the bus a decade earlier by the same bus driver -- for refusing to pay in the front and go around to the back to board. She had avoided that driver's bus for twelve years because she knew well the risks of angering drivers, all of whom were white and carried guns. Her own mother had been threatened with physical violence by a bus driver, in front of Parks who was a child at the time. Parks' neighbor had been killed for his bus stand, and teenage protester Claudette Colvin, among others, had recently been badly manhandled by the police.
2. Parks was a lifelong believer in self-defense. Malcolm X was her personal hero. Her family kept a gun in the house, including during the boycott, because of the daily terror of white violence. As a child, when pushed by a white boy, she pushed back. His mother threatened to kill her, but Parks stood her ground. Another time, she held a brick up to a white bully, daring him to follow through on his threat to hit her. He went away. When the Klu Klux Klan went on rampages through her childhood town, Pine Level, Ala., her grandfather would sit on the porch all night with his rifle. Rosa stayed awake some nights, keeping vigil with him.
3. Her husband was her political partner. Parks said Raymond was "the first real activist I ever met." Initially she wasn't romantically interested because Raymond was more light-skinned than she preferred, but she became impressed with his boldness and "that he refused to be intimidated by white people." When they met he was working to free the nine Scottsboro boys and she joined these efforts after they were married. At Raymond's urging, Parks, who had to drop out in the eleventh grade to care for her sick grandmother, returned to high school and got her diploma. Raymond's input was crucial to Parks' political development and their partnership sustained her political work over many decades.
4. Many of Parks' ancestors were Indians. She noted this to a friend who was surprised when in private Parks removed her hairpins and revealed thick braids of wavy hair that fell below her waist. Her husband, she said, liked her hair long and she kept it that way for many years after his death, although she never wore it down in public. Aware of the racial politics of hair and appearance, she tucked it away in a series of braids and buns -- maintaining a clear division between her public presentation and private person.
5. Parks' arrest had grave consequences for her family's health and economic well-being.After her arrest, Parks was continually threatened, such that her mother talked for hours on the phone to keep the line busy from constant death threats. Parks and her husband lost their jobs after her stand and didn't find full employment for nearly ten years. Even as she made fundraising appearances across the country, Parks and her family were at times nearly destitute. She developed painful stomach ulcers and a heart condition, and suffered from chronic insomnia. Raymond, unnerved by the relentless harassment and death threats, began drinking heavily and suffered two nervous breakdowns. The black press, culminating in JET magazine's July 1960 story on "the bus boycott's forgotten woman," exposed the depth of Parks' financial need, leading civil rights groups to finally provide some assistance.
6. Parks spent more than half of her life in the North. The Parks family had to leave Montgomery eight months after the boycott ended. She lived for most of that time in Detroit in the heart of the ghetto, just a mile from the epicenter of the 1967 Detroit riot. There, she spent nearly five decades organizing and protesting racial inequality in "the promised land that wasn't."
7. In 1965 Parks got her first paid political position, after over two decades of political work. After volunteering for Congressman John Conyers's long shot political campaign,
Parks helped secure his primary victory by convincing Martin Luther King, Jr. to come to Detroit on Conyers's behalf. He later hired her to work with constituents as an administrative assistant in his Detroit office. For the first time since her bus stand, Parks finally had a salary, access to health insurance, and a pension -- and the restoration of dignity that a formal paid position allowed.
8. Parks was far more radical than has been understood. She worked alongside the Black Power movement, particularly around issues such as reparations, black history, anti-police brutality, freedom for black political prisoners, independent black political power, and economic justice. She attended the Black Political Convention in Gary and the Black Power conference in Philadelphia. She journeyed to Lowndes County, Alabama to support the movement there, spoke at the Poor People's Campaign, helped organize support committees on behalf of black political prisoners such as the Wilmington 10 and Imari Obadele of the Republic of New Africa, and paid a visit of support to the Black Panther school in Oakland, CA.
9. Parks was an internationalist. She was an early opponent of the Vietnam War in the early 1960s, a member of The Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and a supporter of the Winter Soldier hearings in Detroit and the Jeannette Rankin Brigade protest in D.C. In the 1980s, she protested apartheid and U.S. complicity, joining a picket outside the South African embassy and opposed U.S. policy in Central America. Eight days after 9/11, she joined other activists in a letter calling on the United States to work with the international community and no retaliation or war.
10. Parks was a lifelong activist and a hero to many, including Nelson Mandela. After his release from prison, he told her, "You sustained me while I was in prison all those years."
"Grandpa wants you honey." This is my mom now, coming up the stairs and repeating his wish. I take a deep breath, grab a coffee pot and descend slowly. When I hit the bottom stair, Grandpa motions me near and uses all of his energy to force, in a barely audible voice, these words: "This is my granddaughter, the one who wrote a book."
The book. My book. My soon-to-be published memoir. I become light headed as I feel the eyes of the praying, faithful, God-centered men on me. And while I should beam from Grandpa's pride, I don't. Instead, I pretend I don't hear him. I move into the circle of men, pour coffee and speak loudly about nothing before they can ask me questions. I do this because my book is about the thing I have learned does not go with religion: me. And to talk about my book would reveal what I believe they will reject: gay. In his weakened state Grandpa can't compete with my flurry of distraction, so he closes his eyes and fades away.
The Pentagon's announcement this week that it will lift the ban on women in ground combat positions is welcome news to many of those who value equal rights. But it is also an urgent reminder that sexual assault remains a blight on our armed forces that only constant, sincere efforts will erase.
As a writer who has been interviewing female veterans for many years, I have long argued that lifting the ground combat ban would help military women win the respect they deserve. As long as women were officially prohibited from engaging in that essential act of a soldier - fighting - they were seen as second-class. And that has contributed to the violence, predation, and harassment so many military women endure.
The ground combat barrier is gone now, but the attitudes that sprung from it will not disappear so easily. Plenty of military men will decry this decision and resent the women who wish to fight by their sides. Some will be angered, insisting that their female comrades endanger them - an assertion often made but never demonstrated. And some will express their anger with violence. [Read the rest here]
Journalist Sarah Garland grew up in Louisville. Day after day, she left her mostly Caucasian suburban neighborhood on a school bus taking her to a mostly African-American neighborhood, where she became a student in a racial minority. Her experience long ago played a role in her decision to write “Divided We Fail,” which covers the case that found its way to the U.S. Supreme Court. So did the experience of Garland’s grandmother, an Oklahoma teacher who volunteered to join the initial group of Caucasian educators transferred to an all African-American school, where she remained until retirement. Garland relates how her own mother became a social worker splitting time between a mostly African-American school and a mostly Caucasian school in Louisville. Garland’s mother “witnessed firsthand the upheaval and violence that busing wrought in its early years.”