Claudette Colvin

Claudette gave all of us moral courage. If she had not done what she did, I am not sure that we would have been able to mount the support for Mrs. Parks.

–Fred Gray, Alabama civil rights attorney

When I attended the Underground Railroad Conference at Russell Sage College in Troy, NY on February 27, the participants were treated to a performance by the group the Matie Masie Ensemble, who blended spoken word and song with African and jazz music. This particular series of story-songs included a narrative about a 15-year-old young black woman named Claudette Colin, who, nine months before Rosa Parks’ act of defiance, “refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery city bus the same and was arrested for violating segregation law, disorderly conduct, and assault.”

So, as the Matie Masie narrative asks, Why does Rosa Parks get all the credit? What about Claudette?

She wasn’t considered the right symbol. She was young, impulsive, occasionally loud, wore her hair in cornrows rather than straightening it. It didn’t help that she subsequently got pregnant from “what she said was a non-consensual relationship.”

Rosa Parks, by contrast, was a good middle-class woman of a certain bearing with the right hair and the right look who would be a much better symbol for the Montgomery bus boycott.

However Claudette is part of legal history. It was four women… — Aurelia Browder, Susie McDonald, Claudette Colvin and Mary Louise Smith — who served as plaintiffs in the legal action challenging Montgomery’s segregated public transportation system.

In their case — Browder v. Gayle — a district court and, eventually, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down segregation on buses.

There’s a 2009 book on Claudette Colvin by Philip Hoose which tells this underreported part of the story.
Civil Rights in America: Racial Desegregation of Public Accommodations


20 Women I Admire

I have opted to list just American women, merely as a way to limit it. It is NOT a list of THE 20 Women I Most Admire. Actually, it was the first 20 that came to mind.

Abigail Adams
The wife of the second U.S. president and mother of the sixth used her “intellect and lively wit” to prod progress for women “in her many letters which were preserved.”

Jane Addams (pictured) “founded Hull-House in the 19th century and led it well into the 20th. She was also active in peace and feminist work.”

Clara Barton
She was a “pioneering nurse who served as an administrator in the Civil War, and who helped identify missing soldiers at the end of the war, is credited as the founder of the American Red Cross.”

Rachel Carson
With Silent Spring, she “wrote the book that helped create the environmentalist movement in the late 20th century.

Judy Collins
“Part of the 1960s folk revival and still popular today,” her music affected me greatly even before I received “Who Knows Where The Time Goes” for my 16th birthday – 40 years ago! I also had a chance to see her live, which was a true joy.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg (pictured)
A progressive voice on the Supreme Court in spite her recent cancer.

Katharine Graham
She was the Washington Post publisher who “took over the family business after her husband’s suicide and saw it through the Watergate scandal.”

Billie Jean King
Not only a fine tennis player, she worked hard to get women players better pay.

Laura Linney
My favorite working actress. Here’s a tease for the award-winning John Adams miniseries on HBO, which I have not yet seen. It features Linney as Abigail Adams – a twofer!

Jessica Mitford
She wrote The American way of Death, an expose of the funeral industry, which has a profound affect on my view of life…and death.

Mary Tyler Moore
The star of two of my favorite television shows ever (The Dick Van Dyke Show and her eponymously-named show), she has also been a speaker on what they used to call “juvenile diabetes” and stem-cell research.

Toni Morrison (pictured)
Possibly the author I’ve read the most.

Rosa Parks
There’s so much myth around her defining act. She wasn’t just tired, as this narrative shows.

Eleanor Roosevelt
The wife of FDR took “positions on issues like civil rights…often ahead of her husband and the rest of the country. She was key in establishing the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights.”

Margaret Sanger (pictured)

She responded to “seeing the suffering caused by unwanted and unplanned pregnancies among the poor women she served as a nurse” by taking up “a lifetime cause: the availability of birth control information and devices.”

Gloria Steinem
The editor of Ms. magazine. I was a charter subscriber. What more is there to say?

Harriet Tubman
The “Underground Railroad conductor during American slavery was also a Civil War nurse and spy, and an advocate of civil rights.”

Sojourner Truth
Best “known as an abolitionist…she was also a preacher and spoke for women’s rights. She was one of the most in-demand speakers of the mid-19th century in America.”

Madam C.J. Walker (pictured)

She was the first great black entrepreneur, turning her hair care product sales into a business empire.

Babe Didrikson Zaharias
A multi-sport athlete, she excelled in most of them.

Quotes from


November Ramblin’

After careful consideration, listening to all sides of the issue ad naseum, I’ve decided that I support the bailout of the US automobile industry. There are just too many jobs down the line that depend on those companies. So, Exxon Mobil, Shell, BP, et al: pony up. If those auto companies fail, you’ll have only those more fuel efficient foreign cars to fill, and your prices will keep dropping like a stone. Oh, you didn’t think I was coming out in favor of the GOVERNMENT bailout, did you? BTW, the idea’s not original with me – read it somewhere – but it does seem to operate on a win-win basis. Maybe the car makers will actually come up with a PLAN for what they’ll do with the money; at the rate they’re losing cash now, $25 billion will be gone by April Fools’ Day, appropriately.
The axe has fallen on three shows on ABC-TV prime time schedule, and wouldn’t you know it: two of them are shows I like to watch. I loved both Pushing Daisies and Dirty Sexy Money. Daisies was whimsical with an undercurrent of melancholy. DSM was soap opera trash, and I mean that in a good way; Nick George (Peter Krause), the main protagonist, is being sucked more palpably into the dark side. I never saw Eli Stone, mostly as a matter of time, but based on the previews, I think I might have liked it. What is unwatchable is the one show that apparently survived on ABC Wednesday, the Grey’s Anatomy spinoff Private Practice.

But to be fair, all three of the shows would likely have been canceled last season if not for the writer’s strike, based on ratings.

The only thing I have to look forward to on ABC now are Life on Mars, which IS interesting, even if it’s a Brit retread, Grey’s Anatomy, Brothers & Sisters, and, eventually, the last season of Scrubs.
Reasons to hate the interregnum. Interregnum: great word, that.
A scary video that a female friend sent me called Instructional Film for Women:
or here.
A young woman I “met” through ABC Wednesday named earthlingorgeous, who is 30 but looks 20, is having a blog anniversary giveaway at her site, Earthly Explorations. I’ve never gotten swag from the Philippines before, so by mentioning her contest (and having previously registered), I get “points” towards chances of winning prizes. Or something like that.

"Right is of no Sex – Truth is of no Color"

On February 24, 2007, Carol and I I attended a conference on the Underground Railroad: Uncovering the Voices of Women, organized for the sixth year in a row by our friends Paul and Mary Liz Stewart. It was excellent.

One of the sessions was “From the UGR to Women’s Rights: Historic Sites in Central NY” by Judy Wellman, Ph.D. From the program: “Nationally, abolitionism provided one of the most important roots of the early women’s rights movement. In central NY, a survey of sites relating to African Americans and European Americans involved with the UGR suggests powerful connections between the UGR and early women’s rights movement.” One finds a number of suffragists at the forefront of the anti-slavery movement, described well here. The quote in the title is by early feminist Frederick Douglass.

I can’t help but notice the parallels between the 19th and 20th Century women’s movements. The article cited above notes how a major anti-slavery convention in London in 1840 did not seat or hear from women delegates, two of whom were Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. I recall the discussions during the civil rights and antiwar movements of the 1960s, where women (rightly) complained that they were being relegated to the sidelines, expected to do the cleaning and cooking, while the menfolk did the “important” organizing.

The toughest part of the conference had to be in the opening plenary session, in which Delores M. Walters, Ph.D. described “The Narrative Life of Margaret Garner’s Life and Beyond”. Margaret Garner was a slave who, with her family, attempted to escape, but was recaptured. Rather than letting her two-year-old be brought back into slavery, she killed her. Margaret was put on trial, and returned to slavery, but died soon thereafter.

There is now an opera, written by Toni Morrison, author of the book “Beloved”, which has a narrative section that parallels Margaret Garner’s life. It has been performed a number of times already, and it will be performed again in New York City in September 2007.

The conference ended with a responsive reading of a litany, found here.

The conference is already planning for next year, so if you’re in the area, please consider attending.

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