Civil Rights Movement

Many women are pillar of the civil rights movement.

Today, (January, 18th.) is the celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. He was one of the main black activists in the United States of America who claimed equal rights for the black community. Besides him, there were lots of women who also played a crucial role as strategists and advocates in the Civil Rights Movement. Here is a list of 10 brave women:

Septima Clark (1898-1987)

She was an educator in South Carolina who evolved the Citizenship Schools, which taught and motivated Black Americans to learn literature, education, and citizenship rights to empower their communities. She also fought for equal pay for black teachers and was one of the persons who accompanied Martin Luther King Jr. to the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony.

Amelia Boyton (1911-2015 )

She was a key figure of the Civil Rights in Selma, Alabama and one of the leaders who convinced MLK Jr. to march in from Selma to Montgomery on March 7th, 1965. This is known also as “Bloody Sunday”. On the Edmund Pettus Bridge, over the Alabama River in Selma, the protesters were attacked by policemen, Boyton was brutally beaten.

In 1964, she ran for a seat in Congress, being the first African American woman and first female Democratic candidate from Alabama to postulate for this position.

Dorothy Height ( 1912-2010)

She is known as the “Godmother of the Civil Rights Movement”. Her activism started in the 1930s, which advocated for women’s rights such as unemployment, illiteracy and voter participation. For over 40 years, she was the president of the National Council for Negro Women and one of the organizers of the March on Washington. Moreover, she had a big influence on leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr. and John Lewis.

Jo Ann Robinson (1912-1992)

She was a teacher who became an active member of the movement after having been attacked verbally by a bus driver in 1949. Disgusted by this action Ann led the Women’s Political Council, which focused their work on the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Following the arrest of Rosa Parks (she refused to give her seat to a white man), Ann immediately acted by distributing over 50,000 flyers calling for a boycott on the 5th of December, which was a success. 

Daisy Bates(1914-1999)

Bates was an activist, journalist, and publisher in Arkansas. Together with her husband, she founded The Arkansas Press, which was published on May 9, 1941, and mainly supported African American stories and advocated civil rights. In 1954, the Supreme Court landmarked segregation as unconstitutional in Brown v. Board of Education. Bates played a significant role in the desegregation at schools, after this decision by mentoring and organizing the “Little Rock Nine”students to integrate Little Rock Central High School in 1957.

Photo by Malu de Wit on Unsplash

Georgia Gilmore (1920-1990)

She was a cook at the National Lunch Company who was fire for participating in the bus boycott. She embraced her talent to cook from home and support the movement. She founded the Club From Nowhere, which motivated African women to cook and bake goods to be sold outside their houses and at protests gathering. The fund from this action was used to support the bus resistance.

Ruby Dee (1922-2014)

Dee was an actress who used her profession to outspeak the subservient roles given to African Americans in the film industry. Together with Ossie Davis, her husband supported the movement through the arts and demonstrated positive portraits of African Americans in their works. She also was one of the masters of  ceremony at the March on Washington.

Corretta Scott King (1927-2006)

While studying music at the Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, she experienced segregation, which motivated her to join the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP). She married Martin Luther King Jr. in 1953, to whom she gave her support as a wife and mother. However, she continued her quest for civil rights in and out of the United States of America.

Claudette Colvin (1935-)

She was a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Claudette’s parents didn’t own a car, so every day she depended on a bus to get to and from school. One day in 1955, at age 15, she resisted giving up her seat on a crowded Montgomery bus to a white woman who was standing ( by law, Claudette supposed to give her seat, even though she was sitting in the black section). For this act, she was forcibly removed from the bus and arrested.

A year later, she gave her testimony at the court case Gayle v. Browder, which, intended to end transportation segregation in the state.

Diane Nash (1938-)

Nash got involved in the civil movements in Nashville, Tennessee, while studying at the Fisk University. She was a leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), organizer of the Freedom Rides where Martin Luther King Jr. participated.

Feature photo by Unseen Histories on Unsplash

Afro Women Day

“Being black is a pride for those who understand their roots”. Shira Miguel D.

I am a proud Afro woman from the North Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua, Central America. I don’t like people to call me brown, chocolate, blackish, or woman of colour. I prefer to be called a black woman, just who I am. So please don’t try to wash away the colour of my skin. 

Today we celebrate International Afro-Latin American, Caribbean, and Diaspora Women’s Day, which was established in the Dominican Republic on July 25th, 1992, and  where women from 32 countries gathered to discuss issues related to their fight and resistance. 

Currently, the campaign Black Lives Matter is viral around the globe. As an Afro woman, we live double or triple discrimination because of our skin colour, physical characteristics, and being a woman. 

Many brave women before us also lived discrimination, some even worse than today. However, they are our backbone and heroines. 

You have surely heard of famous activists and writers like Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Rosa Parks, Daisy Bates, Ella Baker, Fannie Lou Hamer, Coretta Scott King, Angela Davis, Alice Walker, Mari Evans, Toni Morrison, Shirley Campbell Barr, Audre Lorde, Roxane Gay, Lucía Charún–Illescas, Marion Bethel, Veronica Chambers, Maya Angelou, and others. 

It may be endless to compile in a single list all the distinguished black females who have played and are playing a pivotal and heroic role in the struggle of civil rights and the rising of black movements.

During my years as a feminist and activist, I have met great Afro women from different countries with whom I  attended manifestations, summits, worked together, learned, grew up, danced, laughed, etc.

I am happy to list and celebrate this day with Christine Green-Hayes, Londa Brooks, Shira Miguel, Hilda Davis Wilson, Shakira Simmons, Marnianela Carvajal Díaz, Maura Mosquera, Jara Lacayo, Elizabeth Suarez García, Sonia Viveros, Nora Newball, Dolene Miller, Yvette Modestin, Noelia Maciel, and many other badass women that I know are not giving up our fight. 

Elizabeth Suárez García

Shira Miguel Downs and I grew up in Bilwi, a town next to the Caribbean Sea. We shared, in common a lot of things together. First, we were part of the young people group from the Moravian Church. Second, both of us are black and became activists and feminists. Third, we both have a non-stop energy which, we demonstrated on many 25th of November (International Day for the Elimination of Gender Violence), by shouting slogans and marching together on the streets along with other women from a different cultures.

Shira said, ” I am proud to be a black woman, feminist, defender of human rights of women and girls, and also of the Nicaraguan Caribbean Autonomy”. She was born in Corn Island and raised by her mom and grandparents. She grew up in the aisles of a church where she learned that being a Christian goes hand in hand with human rights. 

Shira is an attorney and has several post-degrees such as Gender Violence, Criminal and Family Law, Gender Ethnicity and Intercultural Citizenship, and others. She has over 20 years working on women’s and girls’ human rights and currently, she is the director of the Nidia White Movement.

Even though there are cloudy days in the Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua regarding women’s and girl’s rights, Shira never gives up and does not regret continuing to fight. When I asked her who are heroines, she did not hesitate to answer; “my grandmother, mother, ancestors, and all the other women that I meet daily because regardless of their pain they are resilient”. 

Shira Miguel Downs/Photo Courtesy

Being a black woman is not easy. However, during the years, I have learned that it’s not enough to say ” I am a proud black woman.” I think we need to continue researching our ancestors’ history, being clear of who we are, and not being ashamed. 

Shira recommends “not to lose the line of feminist history and to always rescue its main value by questioning, especially of inequalities. We should not fall into homogenization of struggles but rescue the particularities of black women, especially by unifying efforts, recognizing talent, respecting the processes among us, and not to repeating patriarchal roles that we have criticized as submission and unequal power. Being black is a pride for those who understand their roots”.

I believe that black woman power will continue, so we will continue celebrating and learning. 

I would like to share with you the poem Rotudamente Negra from the Costarican poetess Shirley Campbell Barr.

Me niego rotundamente

A negar mi voz,

Mi sangre y mi piel.

Y me niego rotundamente

A dejar de ser yo,

A dejar de sentirme bien

Cuando miro mi rostro en el espejo

Con mi boca

Rotundamente grande,

Y mi nariz

Rotundamente hermosa,

Y mis dientes

Rotundamente blancos,

Y mi piel valientemente negra.

Y me niego categóricamente

A dejar de hablar

Mi lengua, mi acento y mi historia.

Y me niego absolutamente

A ser parte de los que callan,

De los que temen,

De los que lloran.

Porque me acepto

Rotundamente libre,

Rotundamente negra,

Rotundamente hermosa.

A list of some black female writers you should read (3)

III Part

A lot our writers are great editors of books, newspapers, and essays. Veronica Chambers, our previous author, was an editor at Newsweek, Glamour, and The New Times Magazine, been the first black woman with that title. Yvonne Vera (1964-2005), also edited several anthologies by African women writers.

She was born in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, studied and imparted English Literature at Njube High School. Years after, she immigrated to Canada where she completed her higher studies and worked. 

While she was studying her first collection of short stories Why Don´t you Carve other Animals (1992) was published in Toronto Magazine. A year later her novel Nehanda, was printed followed by Without a Name, Under the Tongue, Butterfly Burning, and The Stone Virgins. Her writing discloses topics of colonialism, sexism, racism, war, oppression, and others. 

Many of her works were shortlisted and won awards like Commonwealth Prize for Africa, Germany Literary Prize, Macmillan Writer’s Prize for Africa, the Swedish Pen Tucholsky Prize, and others.

Yvonne Vera

Vera was the director at the National Gallery, a similar position that Victoria Santa Cruz (1922-2014), had at the National Folklore School in Peru. 

This Afro-Peruvian poet, choreographer, composer, and activisthad 10 siblings who were taught the Afro-Peruvian culture by her parents who were a painter, dancer, writer, and playwright. Along with her younger brother, they cofounded Cumanana the first black theatre. 

At an early age, children rejected Victoria in her neighbourhood because of her colour skin; they shouted at her: “Black, Black”. This gave her the courage, braveness, and creativity to write her emblematic poem Me gritaron Negra (They called me Black) was dramatized. 

She received awards and honours from the Peruvian and French governments. Her works had been exhibited in museum and festivals in several countries. Her peak moment was in 1968, when her group Teatro y Danzas Negras del Perú performed at the Olympics in Mexico City. Her art pieces are collected on CD or web platforms. 

Santa Cruz used lyrics and music as instruments to declare her poems. Likewise, Elcina Valencia Córdoba (1963), used these same techniques years later in her works.

She is a writer and musician from Buenaventura, Colombia (South America), She learned her artistic interest from her mother who was a musician. At the age 17, she wrote her first poem for one of her high school teachers. 

During her career she participated in several local, national, and international events. In 1991, the Roldanillo Rayo Museo organized an even to present her poetry. This made a huge impression on the directors of the museum, so they decided to publish her first book entitled Todos somos culpaples (We Are all Guilty). 

Other literary works attributed to her are Rutas de autonomía y caminos de identidad, Susurros de palmeras, Analogías y anhelos, Pentagrama de pasión. 

She had received the Almanegra equivalent to Almamadre given to the most prestigious writers, National Prize of Erotic Poetry a recognition plaque; and recently she was listed between the most outstanding women of Valle de Cauca.

Córdoba is part of the committee of Buenaventura to preserve the folklore from the South Pacific same role Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960), played for the USA folklore collection. 

She was inborn in Eatonville, Florida (USA), she was the fifth of eight children from a marriage of a carpenter-preacher and a schoolteacher. She attended school at a late age (13); however, she achieved a Bachelor’s Degree in Anthropology. 

She was a great novelist, playwright, and researcher. From 1921 to 1935 she published in magazines several stories and essays, for example, John Redding Goes to Sea, Spunk, Muttsy, The Fire and the Cloud, The Great Day etc.

In 1934, she published her first novel John’s Gourd Vine, which was acknowledged by the critics. Following were Mules and Men, Their Eyes were Watching God, her masterpiece, Tell My Horse, Moses, Man on the Mountain, Dusk Tracks on the Road and Seraph on the Suwanee

Hurston won several literary and alumni awards during her career. In 1956, she received an award for Education and Human Relations at Bethune-Cookman College. 

Zora Neale Hurston/BBC

During her career, Hurston traveled to several countries to compile the history of the black communities. Angela Nzambi (1971), born in Lia, a district in Bata, Equatorial Guinea (Africa), also collected oral history of her community to be used in her books.  

This writer, feminist and human activist who reside in Valencia, Spain is actively campaigner for the black community and migrants.

Nzambi literature work includes Nguisi, based on an oral tradition from her village and stories of her personal life. Biyaare (Stars) describes different characters that had shown like stars. Her third book Mayimbo (Wanderings) won the International Justo Bolekia Boleká Prize for African Literature.

She also participated in the production of a collective literature Navidad dulce, Navidad (Nativity, Sweet Nativity) and 23 Relatos sin Fronteras (23 Stories without Borders)

A lot of the authors listed before are considered feminists, so is the case of our last recognized author who is an energetic writer and art producer from Brazil. Jenyffer Nascimento’s (1993), born in Paulista, Pernambuco; desire to write started at an early age, but it wasn’t until she completed her teenage that she got to express her anger, anguish, and hopes true her rap lyrics. 

Nascimento describes in her poems social issues, relation with the land or city, black pride, love, black woman experiences, among other topics. 

Her book Terra Fértil (Fertile Land) is a collection of poems that demonstrates the experiences of black women from the outskirt of São Paulo. Her works have also been published in Pretextos de Mulheres Negras (Pretext of Black Women), which, compiles the work of 22 contemporary black writers.  

Jennyfer Nascimiento
Photo by Elaine Capmos

Race and gender: Being same -being different

Black women facing racism in two countries across the Atlantic Ocean.

Currently, a lot of discussion and debate are taking place about black matters in  society, on media, social networks, and panels. The varieties of topics go from racisms, discrimination, human rights, movie, music, to fashion. One day for example, I came across with an article that developed how it is being a black woman in a liberal city. While reading it I realized that things described by the writer didn’t suit me but others did. So it was an affirmation that a black woman does live similarities and differences labelling in Africa, America (continent), or Europe. Have you ever stop to think about this? 

People have the perception that Finland being a European Nordic country doesn’t have a black population, but it’s a mistake Finland has a native and immigrants black community that is active in society in different scenarios such as, performance, art, politic, activism, music, etc. 

The Finnish organization Anti-Racism Media activist Alliance (ARMA) is a three years project sponsor by Kone Foundation that combines academic research and activism. It aims that both be an equal tool to discuss racism in Finland thought innovated way in media, arts, and pedagogy. This is done through three pillars: creative publishing, international networking, and knowledge exchange. 

Monica Gathuo works at ARMA along with Leonardo Custódio. She is a native black Finnish woman, student, activist, freelance writer, who has been influenced by her mother regarding topics such as justice and equality witch, are hard-core elements that aligned her daily life and work.

As part of the international exchange programme from ARMA Monica flew to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. She admits that it was a great opportunity to learn, debated different topics, had lifestyle experiences in the community, and most importantly she collaborated with their partner organization Criola. 

Months after with the coldness and beauty of Finnish winter Silvana Bahía arrived to Helsinki to have her exchange. She describes herself as a journalist, writer, actress, filmmaker, but most of all a curious person who likes to experiment and learn. 

Silvana’s is delightful to meet people and hear stories. Previously she worked on human rights in one of the biggest favelas in Rio de Janeiro. They are a city by itself stigmatize for its violence, sadness, injustice, lack of basic quality services for the people such as education, health, and opportunities. However, they “are also happiness, live, innovation, and a lot of people are looking for solutions toward problems they are facing day by day” confessed Silvana.

Nowadays, she works at Olabi as project coordinator of Preta Lab witch, works with black and indigenous women base on teaching them technologies and innovative tools such as server security. This lab was created when Silvana’s realized that she was the only woman of race in programming and coding space.

At Preta Lab besides, imparting workshops to women they also have discussions with different actors from the society about new technologies production because it is believed that everyone should acquire knowledge of the new technology. 

Photo: Heljä Franssila/Kone Foundation

The black society in Finland-Brazil 

What have you heard about Brazil or Finland? For sure, that they are spotted in two different continents, thousands of miles across the Atlantic Ocean. Both are completely diverse in too many elements such as territorial area, population, language, culture, governmental structure, weather, and others. However, they also have far more similarities and differences in the black community. 

In Brazil, the black-skinned people represent more than 50% of the population distributed around the country. On the other hand, in Finland statistic is not defined yet, they are also spread in the different cities.

Silvana and Monica are part of this minorities group that day-by-day live blackness challenges. After sitting, laughing, and chatting about the exchange experience with these two strong women confirmed that there are differences but also likenesses among black persons in both countries.

Monica expressed that the meaning of equality is different “in Brazil is said out loud, there are overt, but in Finland is done in a Nordic way silence and covert”. 

In Finland there a lot of things that are not said regarding the minorities community because most people rather keep their emotions for they self or it is demonstrated by offensive microaggressions by using hateful language, gesture, comments, etc.  

On the other hand, in Brazil people discuss the issue openly even though they know it’s a high risk of being assaulted, threat or dead.  For example, in March 2018 Marielle Franco da Silva who was a political, feminist, and human rights activist was killed in her car on a street in Rio de Janeiro. 

Both Silvana and Monica coincide that black women are more safely in Finland. Walking on the street of Helsinki or Rio de Janeiro is totally not the same for black- skinned women. Being a black woman in Brazil means facing a vulnerable reality of sexual and racial harassments, rape, thread, or to be murder since the social iniquities have colour and gender. 

Is obvious that there is a huge gap in percentage regarding the figures concerning this social problem. According, to a study released in November 2018 by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) shows that 4 women dead for each group of 100 thousand women. 

On the other hand, a resemblance between Finnish and Brazilian black women is that they are “constantly fighting for the rights, there is an inequality no matter where you are whether it is in a Scandinavian country or in Latin-American” said Silvana. 

There are different countries far away yet, it matters that the black women movement and community can find ways that connect them, understand one another, and work toward the unification of a stronger black community.  

In Brazil black women have a history of long slavery struggle, hierarchical, and invisibility.  They had been marginalized by race and gender. They don’t have the same background as white women; they had been working long before. Thus, they have a lot of challenges in reality, such as be recognize as a human being and not being stigmatized like party women and sexual objects. They need to have more opportunities in society. The black feminist looks toward including more women “we need to take care of our self since we always take care of everyone” manifested Silvana. 

Take away

During her visit, Monica was taken away with the black community in Rio de Janeiro. She admitted, “is the first time I feel in the correct place as a black woman. It was funny for me because I never feel that I fit anywhere because of being mix-black. {…} when I go to Kenia witch is my other home country I am white, but in Brazil people think I was from there, they didn’t believe me”. She also added that the warm welcome of people is something she loves. 

On the other behalf, Silvana considers being a privileged woman during her three months stay in Finland by learning a lot of new things. When I ask her what she is taking with her back to Brazil, she laughed and said that is a good question. Silvana said, “is a bigger country than I thought, we need to stop looking at things in a small way there are more possibilities out there”. 

Black-skinned women day by day are looking for stories that match the lifestyle, way to develop their race and gender identify, learn new methods to dismantle perception, and most of all have influencer or heroes examples. 

So when I ask from both women advice for other women Monica said: “take care of your self and support each other”. 

My advice to younger black women is “continue to dream for a better future, dreams make people move and change” expressed Silvana. 

It matters that young black people continue the core and believe that they can create a more fair-minded and humane world.