With toxic tongues they hurled hate from their hearts as four large federal marshals parted the sea of venomous white parents and escorted little Miss Ruby Bridges into the all-white elementary school in the racist Deep South. Her first day was spent in the principal’s office, for her own safety. As was the second. For the next year, precious little Ruby and Mrs. Henry sat alone in an otherwise empty classroom as Mrs. Henry — whose contract would not be renewed the following year — was the only teacher who would teach Ruby…and spiteful white parents had withdrawn their children from the classroom. Ruby was only allowed to eat food from home because the federal marshals overheard white parents threatening to poison her to death. She saw a counselor for nightmares that developed when white Christian parents waved in her face a tiny coffin with a little back doll lying inside.
Thirty years a slave, Sojourner Truth plowed and planted and gathered into barns and bore the lash and bore children who were taken from her and sold into slavery. White male preachers told her that women didn’t have the same intellect as men; that the manhood of Christ made men superior.
At the Occoquan Workhouse in Virginia, 54 years after slavery ended, 33 white women were brutally beaten and tortured and had mashed-up food pumped into their stomachs through rubber tubes shoved down their throats, as punishment for silently holding up signs in front of the White House, begging for the right to vote.
She convinced Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., to come to Selma; she and her husband gave sanctuary to members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee; and on Bloody Sunday, Amelia Boynton was beaten unconscious by police batons and left lying in the street.
Her roommate at Princeton was transferred out of her room at the request of the roommate’s mother who complained to school administration, “We’re from the South; our daughter’s not used to living with blacks.” They sneered at her husband, robbing him of unprecedented accomplishments, assigning his successes to white men who came after him, blaming him for failures of white men who came before him. They mocked her strong physical presence, said she was really a man, edited her pictures to make her look like an animal — anything to deny her legitimacy as an accomplished female.
It began with Adam blaming Eve for his own shortcomings.
It continued with the actual enslavement of black women and the virtual enslavement of women of all colors.
It reared its ugly head in workplace harassment; unequal pay; patronizing-mansplaining.
It wreaked havoc on young women on college campuses; stewardesses on planes; waitresses in restaurants; anchorwomen on TV.
It put at risk women denied contraception by men too irresponsible to take their own precautions and too impulsive to keep it in their pants; it gravely endangered women left with the options of bearing the burden placed on them by men or enduring the shame and life-threatening horror of back-alley remedies.
Yes, generations of women have been enslaved, beaten, tortured, force-fed, patronized, mocked and harassed.
Yet, they prevailed.
They prevailed because they kept their eye on the prize; pressed forward towards the mark of a higher calling; refusing to be silenced; counting the costs small, compared to eventual equality.
All of which is summed up in a simple creed.
A creed emanating from their determined hearts; a creed whispered quietly in sisterhood solidarity; a creed chiseled in the bedrock of their principles and on stones marking their passing…