By Leonard E. Colvin
New Journal and Guide
The 2019 theme of Women’s History Month is “Visionary Women: Champions of Peace and Nonviolence.” As the National Women’s History Alliance website explained, “This year we honor women who have led efforts to end war, violence, and injustice and pioneered the use of nonviolence to change society.”
This week instead of featuring just one African-American woman who best exemplifies this year’s theme, we solicited ideas from a variety of people.
While many of the women are well known for their contributions to education, politics and civil rights, some of our contributors noted the efforts of lesser known ones, or who are living and not yet secured the broad recognition of persons, such as Sojourner Truth or Coretta Scott King.
Local educator and Hip-Hop artist Synnika Lofton gives his nod to Tarana Burke for sparking the #metoo movement. Lofton said Burke began using the hashtag #metoo which sparked the #metoomovement.
“Since then, it’s been partially hijacked by elitist white women with proper titles and a certain level of prestige and status in the professional world,” he said. “Rarely, do these type of women express the same support for women of color who have been sexually assaulted or abused.”
Former Cox Cable Executive and candidate for the State Senate Gary McCollum named Elizabeth Freeman.
“Freeman was an enslaved women in Massachusetts who sued for her freedom and won!” he said.
According to the website Wikipedia, Freeman, who was born (circa) 1744, died in December 28, 1829, also was known as “Bet or MumBet.”
She filed a suit to secure her freedom with the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court which ruled in her favor.
The court found slavery to be inconsistent with the 1780 Massachusetts State Constitution.
Freeman reportedly said at one point, “Any time, any time while I was a slave, if one minute’s freedom had been offered to me, and I had been told I must die at the end of that minute, I would have taken it – just to stand one minute on God’s birth [sic] a free woman – I would.”
Frederick Douglass Interpreter and Historian Nathan Richardson of Suffolk named his choice as Martha Ann Fields. She was an enslaved woman who escaped from Hanover, Virginia with eight children and made it to Fortress Monroe to claim freedom under the Contraband clause in 1862.
She was later united with her three other children and husband after the Civil War and they put down roots on the Virginia Peninsula.
The family built their own house on Fort Monroe. She washed the uniforms of soldiers to make money and then later on built a bigger house on Wine Street in the city of Hampton.
Her son, James, later became the first former slave to graduate from Hampton Normal School (now Hampton University) and her daughter, Catherine, also graduated from Hampton. Her youngest son George Washington Fields was the first Black man to graduate from Cornell University in New York, and her son James Fields was the first Black Commonwealth Attorney for Newport News.
Sharon Campbell Waters, who is from Montgomery, Ala. and Special Assistant to the Vice President to the President and CEO of STOP, Inc, chose Jo Ann Robinson, who helped organize the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
Robinson was a professor at Montgomery’s Alabama State University, and President of the Women’s Political Council in 1955 when the boycott was launched.
Waters, who met Robinson when she was seven, said the book “The Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Women who Led It,” by author Dave Garrow, revealed “it was led by Robinson and other women in that community.”
“Not only African-American women, but white women as well,” said Waters. “The white women secretly supported the boycott, behind their husbands’ backs. They needed their Black cooks and maids and helped them get to work and refused to fire those who were involved in not riding the bus.”
“I’m writing a book now for the 65th Anniversary of the Boycott in 2020,” she said. “I knew growing up (Robinson and others) were visionaries.”
Chesapeake City Councilwoman Dr. Ella Ward’s choice is Rev. Sandi Hutchison, an educator who headed the Communications and Theater Department at Chesapeake’s Western Branch High School. She has also been the administrator of the Visual and Performing Arts Magnet School in Portsmouth.
According to Dr. Ward, Hutchinson is first female senior pastor at the Gabriel Chapel AMEZ Church in Chesapeake, where she serves now.
She was the first Black female pastor at the St. Joseph AMEZ Church in Chesapeake for six years and the first one at the Sycamore Hill AMEZ Church in Gates County, NC.
Currently she is the Educational Curriculum Chair of Virginia’s 48 AMEZ churches
Virginia State Senator Mamie Locke of Hampton chose fellow Mississippian, Fannie Lou Hamer, whom she personally met while a student at Jackson State University when the HBCU honored Hamer who was in her 40s.
Senator Locke said that Hamer’s famous statement that she was “Sick and Tired of being Sick and Tired” of the racial injustice she witnessed each day has inspired generations of activist after her.
“She was a farm woman who championed civil rights and justice and she did not have to do it,” said Locke.
When Hamer invited a group of SNCC students to her church in Ruleville, Miss., to meet and organize an effort to register Black folk to vote, she decided to got involved in the Civil Rights Movement and that was dangerous at that time.”
Instead of citing one historical woman, Dr. Cassandra L. Newby-Alexander, a Professor of History at Norfolk State University, cited several women who fit the bill.
Alexander is the Dean, College of Liberal Arts and Director, Joseph Jenkins Roberts Center for African Diaspora Studies.
At the top of her list is Maggie Walker, who spoke out about what “Black men were not doing in their community, especially not defending Black women.”
“She started a bank because Blacks (in Richmond) had no input into the banking and economic system and no retail outlets,” said Dr. Alexander. “She helped train Black women as managers and bank executives.”
Alexander also named Mary McLeod Bethune of the National Council of Negro Women, whose organizing skills and studies of educational disparities “established the legal and social framework” for the U.S. Supreme Court’s Brown Decision which declared segregated public schools illegal.
“The NAACP (Legal Defense) Fund and other groups got credit for it,” said Alexander, “but the National Counsel of Negro Women set the framework that made it possible.”
Thirdly, Alexander named Vivian Carter Mason, an activist in Norfolk and the third President of the National Council of Negro Woman, whom she described as an ”incredible organizer.”
“As a trained social worker and activist, she cared about the education and well being of children,” said Alexander. “Also, she knew how to ‘manage’ white people. She knew how to sit and talk directly with them about issues without offending them.”
Dr. Dorothy Ferebee, born in Norfolk and reared in Washington, D.C., replaced Bethune as the second NCNW President. She raised money and organized expeditions of Blacks to the Mississippi Delta to provide healthcare for poor rural Blacks in that state.