They Lived "Til Death Do Us Part"
In honor of Women's History Month, "Legends" is pleased to re-publish "BLACK WOMEN IN THE STRUGGLE" as a tribute to all Black women who have borne the pain during the struggle alongside Black men, often times unrewarded.
Black women have always sacrificed and shared the burden of responsibility along with their husbands throughout the Black Liberation Struggle. They suffered equally through tragedies and triumphs, and in some cases, they did so "silently." Sometimes they never received the recognition and the respect that equal partners deserve. These are Black women whose husbands have helped to secure a bigger space and a better place for Black people the world over, and have left large footprints in the sands of time. And though much has been done, there is still a lot left to do.
Harriet Scott: When Dred Scott sued his master in the landmark case, Dred Scott v John Sanford, his wife, Harriet was also named as a co-plaintiff in the lawsuit. Since they were co-equals as husband and wife, they shared the same fate as slaves who jointly sued their slave-masters. She had also been denied her freedom along with her husband.
Harriet Robinson and Dred Scott were married during the time that Scott accompanied his master in the territories that Congress had prohibited slavery under the rules of the Missouri Compromise. (Their marriage observed all the legal trappings since they were in free territory). They had two children whom Harriet took care of while Scott was away working; the children were Eliza and Lizzie. After their slave-master died in 1843, his (the slave-master's) wife took over ownership of the Scotts and hired them and their children out to work for other White families. It was the widow of John Emerson, Irene Emerson, whom Harriet and Dred Scott first sued for their freedom in 1846. Ms. Emerson eventually turned over her position to her brother, John F. A. Sandford (Sanford) and he continued the legal action until it ended with the infamous landmark case, "Scott v Sanford" in 1857, commonly known as the Dred Scott decision. Harriet Scott and her children survived her husband and lived beyond the Emancipation Proclamation in 1865, when they became legally free.
Shirley Graham DuBois: Born Shirley Lola Graham in 1896 on a farm in Indiana, her birthplace was part of the Underground Railroad that served as a stopping-off point for slaves escaping to Canada. She became a playwright, composer and an author, and had received her master's degree before she married W.E.B. DuBois, her second husband. Graham had two sons during her first marriage: Robert and David. As an avid historian, she wrote biographies about Phyllis Wheatley, Frederick Douglass, George Washington Carver, Benjamin Banneker and Paul Robeson. Her role as an activist paralleled that of her husband who was a well-known Pan-Africanist, educator and social activist.
During the first ten years of their marriage, they were engaged in many legal battles with the U.S. government over his/their involvement in the Communist Party that ended when they moved to Ghana, Africa at the reported request of its president, Kwame Nkrumah and became citizens of that country. After her husband's death in 1963, she moved to Cairo, Egypt, where she lived for many years. The U.S. State Department refused her a visa to return to this country but eventually allowed her brief visits in 1971 and 1975. She died in Peking, China in 1977 after having gone there for treatment of breast cancer.
Amy Jacques Garvey: She was the second wife of Marcus Garvey and, like him, she was born in Jamaica around 1885. Amy Garvey was a pioneer Pan African emancipator and the mother of Marcus Garvey's two children: Marcus, Jr. and Julius. She was a lifelong toiler for the Universal Negro Improvement Association and a dedicated international organizer and race leader in her own right. In the fight for Black liberation, her spirit and devotion was equal to that of her husband's for she was genuinely concerned with the plight of her fellow "Africans"–Blacks in Africans and in the Diaspora. And it was for that reason she became the secretary general of the UNIA in 1919 where, she toiled unceasingly from youth to old age helping to spread the teachings of African solidarity and independence.
Amy Garvey was described as an exemplary politician and a devoted wife to the Honorable Marcus Garvey. One of her best roles was as a publicist for Garveyism and as one of the editors of the "Negro World" newspaper. Her activism, during and after the death of her husband in 1940, clearly demonstrated the indispensable role she played in the disintegration of the colonialism system. In 1945, she was instrumental in convening the fifth Pan African Congress (PAC) and later on, she visited West Africa at the request of President Kwame Nkrumah. She co-sponsored the sixth PAC in Dar Es SalaamAmerica, and the Impact of Garvey in Africa and Jamaica. She died as she lived, as a fighter for the Liberation Black people, in 1973. and in her final years, she wrote and published "Garvey and Garveyism," in addition to her collection of essays on Black Power in
Clara Muhammad: When the voice of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad stirred, teaching Islam to Black people, Sister Clara Muhammad was always his perfect helper–mother and wife–and the best example and purposeful witness to all Black women. She was born Clara Evans in 1899 in Georgia and they were married in 1917. She had eight children for the Honorable Elijah Muhammad: six boys and two girls. They were named Emmanuel, Nathaniel, Ethel, Lottie, Herbert, Elijah Jr., Wallace and Akbar. Like most Black families at that time, she and her family migrated North (Detroit) in search of a better quality of life and a higher standard of living than the South (Georgia) was able to produce for Blacks. She was there when her husband received his mission to lead the Nation of Islam, and also when he was accused, convicted and sent to prison.
While he was away, Sister Clara Muhammad carried on his work; her leadership, courage and support proved invaluable to the preservation of the young Nation of Islam. During the time the Honorable Elijah Muhammad was away, she often faced virulent opposition especially when she took her children out of the public school system and pioneered home-schooling. She reportedly said, "I will die before I allow my children to attend public school." She lighted a virtuous path for Muslim women in general, and Black women in particular, as she sought the restoration of the Black woman as the Queen of the Universe. She departed from this world in 1972 and it was a fitting tribute to her that the Sister Clara Muhammad School system was named in her honor.
Betty Shabazz: She was with Malcolm to the very end–on the day he was assassinated. She was inextricably tied to her husband in life and in death. However, after he departed, she made an indelible impact on the Black Liberation Struggle, and created her own legacy, alongside her husband's. She was a nurse, an educator, a human rights activist, an inspiration and a mentor to women (especially women of color) all over the world.
As Betty Jean Sanders, she grew up in a middle-class home and attended the Methodist church. In 1956, she met Malcolm X, who was then a minister in the Nation of Islam, in Harlem, New York. She stated "I never 'dated' Malcolm," in the traditional way as expressed in society." She became Betty Shabazz in 1958 and during the next seven years, they had six children: Attallah, Qubilah, Ilyasah, Gamilah, Malaak, and Malikah–all girls. Their marriage ended abruptly on February 21, 1965, when Malcolm was killed. Thereafter, she made the hajj (pilgrimage) to Mecca. This was the start of her recovery process and of the reality that she had to raise her children as a single parent. Being the strong Black woman that she was, she returned to school and earned a PhD. in the field of education.
In 1976, she became an associate professor at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn. Though she was a private person, she became involved in civil rights issues and gradually began to pursue Malcolm's legacy that had been distorted and misrepresented by "instant experts." Almost 30 years after her husband's death, Shabazz spoke out against the Nation of Islam in response to questions about his death. In 1995, the Honorable Louis Farrakhan and Shabazz shook hands at a fundraiser at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, and she also spoke at the Million Man March.
In June 1997, Shabazz suffered third-degree burns in a fire that was allegedly started by her grandson, at her home in Yonkers, New York. She was in critical condition, and this became the final tragedy of her life–a precious life that was filled with hope and healing. She passed away on June 23, 1997.
Coretta Scott King: When Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was felled just before he was to lead a protest march in Memphis in 1968, his wife Coretta Scott King, despite her grief, continued his work by leading that march. She established the King Center for Nonviolent Social Change in his name and turned his burial place into a national shrine. She took the torch that he had lit, brightened the flame and became the First Lady of the Civil Rights Movement. She took their children: Dexter, Martin III, Yolanda and Bernice, and continued the fight, taking his legacy to the next level. Her commitment was unswerving and unyielding; her style was dignified and regal; her focus was uncompromising and total. According to the Rev. Jesse Jackson, "She was fundamentally a freedom fighter with Dr. King. Their home was bombed together. When he was stabbed, she absorbed the blow." She was a visionary who pushed for peace all over the world.
The ceremony she received at her funeral in 2006 signaled the quality of life she lived. She was afforded the honor of lying in state in the Georgia State Capitol–an honor denied her husband by the state governor back then–and flags were flown half-staffed. The President of the United States and his wife, along with three ex-presidents–Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush (No. 41) and Bill Clinton were there to bid her farewell. Many who walked with Dr. King were also there, including Rev. Jesse Jackson, former ambassador Andrew Young, Rev. Joseph Lowery, Dr. Dorothy Height, and Rep. John Lewis A final tribute by Evelyn K. Dudley, entitled 'The Journey' read like this, I'LL GLADLY ACCEPT AND SIT ON THE PORCH OF THE KINGDOM TO RECAP MY TRAVELS AND REALIZE THAT THIS JOURNEY WAS JUST AS IMPORTANT AS THE DESTINATION.
Myrlie Evers-Williams: Myrlie Evers was widowed in 1963 when a white racist gunned down Medgar Evers, her husband, in the driveway of their home in Jackson, Mississippi, leaving her to raise their three children. Her shattered childhood in Vicksburg, Mississippi–where she was born as Myrlie Beasley–seemed destined to prepare her for the violent realities of her adult life. For even after she opened her front door to find her husband dying on the front porch, she showed enormous courage in the face of her own possible death. Her husband was involved with the NAACP and she was determined to carry on after he was killed, despite threats on her own life.
After two mistrials of her husband's killer, Myrlie Evers moved with her children to California. She earned a degree from Pomona College and was eventually appointed to the Los Angeles Commission of Public Works. In 1975, she married Walter Williams. Myrlie Evers-Williams was relentless after justice for her first husband's killer and that materialized in 1994. Shortly after, her second husband died, she became the first woman to chair the NAACP. She had traveled a long way to becoming a community leader in her own right–and she wrote about it in her memoirs, "Watch Me Fly: What I Learned on the Way to Becoming the Woman I Was Meant to Be." With her help, three movies were made about the assassination titled, "For Us, The Living: the Story of Medgar Evers," "Ghosts of Mississippi; and also a documentary, titled, "Southern Justice: The Murder of Medgar Evers." After the final trial, she reportedly explained her reason for bringing up the pain and anger again, "I walked side by side with Medgar in everything he did."
Evers-Williams is now the lone member of the "Assassinated Husband's Club"–a club that does not seek new members.