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On Great Black American Women

I'm really pleased (and I confess, a little surprised) by the extent to which Rosa Park's passing is being acknowledged, and her bravery is being lauded around the country. I've become a bit of a cynic in the last couple of years regarding the average American's values and priorities, so this is nice.

Nevertheless, I would have liked to see more attention given to Constance Baker Motley, a civil rights lawyer and the first black woman federal judge, who passed away last month. Although she may not have been as iconic as Parks, she was every bit as courageous, and her work on many (or possibly most) of the outstanding civil rights cases of the era have left our country forever changed for the better.

In 1961, when a black man from Mississippi named James H. Meredith wanted assistance getting admitted to the University of Mississippi, Thurgood Marshall (who was the chief counsel at the NAACP at the time) sent Mrs. Motley on the grounds that "only a Negro woman would be safe in the south". History tells us that this supposition wasn't entirely correct, but she went and she won the case, despite derision and ridicule. She was referred to as "the Motley woman" in the local press. In 2002, she was honored in a ceremony at Ole Miss celebrating the 40th anniversary of Meredith's enrollment. To which I can only give a Nelsonian "HA ha!"

And while we're on the subject, I have to mention my life-long hero, Texas Senator Barbara Jordan. She was an inspirational stateswoman, whose famous speech before the House Judiciary Committee during the Nixon hearings inspired people from all over the country to write letters urging her to run for President (audio is available at that link, and seriously guys, listen to it if you can; parts of it take on an uncanny significance today).

Ms. Jordan was a devout Constitutionalist, and she personally opposed the Equal Rights Amendment as an unnecessary revision to an document that already acknowledged women by implication. On a personal note, there was an occasion when she and my mother (who was the president of NOW at the time) where both speaking at a conference on a college campus, and she was asked about her opposition to the ERA. She said she would refuse to discuss it out of respect for my mother's presence on the campus.

Wow. I'm still humbled by that. Barbara Jordan passed away from multiple sclerosis in 1996. She was great, and I miss her.

Comments

rionnkelly
Oct. 28th, 2005 06:24 pm (UTC)
fenriss
Oct. 29th, 2005 03:00 am (UTC)
My Gods, that's huge! Thanks, my dear. I didn't know. I bet a lot of folks don't know this.

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