The Great Divide

A grainy photo of a child,

a beloved grandmother.

Survivor of the Holocaust.

Deceased.  God spared her

from witnessing the hatred

that has gripped the nation–

the country that she had

called home for so many

years.

 

It was the same kind of hate

which had invaded, occupied

her country and imprisoned

her and over 400,000 Jews

in the Warsaw Ghetto.  Taken

from their homes, they were

forced to live in an area cut

off from the world, topped

with barbed wire.  It was soon

decimated by outbreaks of

infectious diseases, mass hunger

and regular executions.

 

Then in the summer of 1942,

she and her family were among

the 254,000 residents of the Ghetto

who were sent to the Treblinka

Extermination Camp.

 

Tears spilled down her cheeks

as she remembered the horrors

her grandmother described to

her when she was in the camp.

She and her father were together.

Men were told to go to the right

and the women to the left.  She

never saw her parents or little

brother again.  They were

taken straight to the gas chamber.

 

Today, the same hate that had

driven Hitler and those who

shared his ideology has reared

its ugly head and was revealed

to the entire world in the VICE

video of the rally in Charlottes-

ville, Virginia.  The sight of

the burning torches and the

“Jews will not replace us”

and “Blood and soil” chants

filled her with disgust. And

the president’s failure to

lead was dangerous and

may lead to disastrous

consequences of the United

States and the world at large.

 

It was her hope and prayer

that the people of America

would do something about the

great racial divide before things

escalate even further.

 

woman with grandmother

Sources:  Wikipedia;  CNN

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Feminists’ Remarks Spark Outrage

I saw this on CTV Newschannel here in Toronto just earlier today and had to blog about it. Gloria Steinem and Madeleine Albright rebuked young women for supporting Bernie Sanders and their bid to to turn the tide in favor of Hilary Clinton has backfired.  Their outrageous remarks have offended many, including Zoe Trimboli, a feminist who supports Sanders.  “Shame on Gloria Steinem and Madeleine Albright for implying that we as women should be voting for a candidate based solely on gender.  I can tell you that shaming me and essentially calling me misinformed and stupid is NOT the way to win my vote.”

Dana Edell, Executive Director of SPARK Movement, a gender justice advocacy group, said, “While the historic aspect of the first woman president is hugely powerful and important and would set a really powerful image for young boys and girls to look up to, she might not be the right first woman.”

I agree that while it would be a historic moment for Hilary Clinton to become the first female Commander in-Chief much as it was when Barack Obama became the first African American to take that Oval office, women should not vote for Hilary Clinton simply because she is a woman but because they believe that of all the candidates, she is the most qualified or the best choice to run the country.

Some feminists, like Steinem and Albright want to see Hilary in office, regardless of whether or not she is the right choice. They want her there because she is a woman.  Albright talks about the importance of electing a woman to the country’s highest office but what about electing someone who is competent and who will be president for ALL Americans.  I have always believed that some feminists make feminism a hindrance rather than a help in the fight for equality.  Here are two icons causing divisiveness and undermining feminism because they are dictating how women should vote.

What sort of message are Steinem and Albright sending to young girls when they say that if women vote for a man they go to hell because they are not helping a female candidate?  Or if they vote for a man they are doing it because they want to be where the boys are?  This looks bad on women.  It’s sending the message that we vote with our emotions rather than with our heads.  Albright talks about women’s equality but what about the young women’s right to vote for whom they want, regardless of gender, race or age?  I have never seen a campaign where people are urged to vote for a candidate because he is a man.  Feminists would be up in arms if that were to ever happen.  So, when it comes to equality, a candidate should be voted for based on his or her merit and not on gender.  Wouldn’t putting the right person in the Oval office be a true revolution, even if that person turns out to be Bernie Sanders?  I am not a feminist but as a woman, I am offended by the thought that Hilary Clinton who is running for the presidency, should be entitled to the female vote.  I would vote for the most competent person to run the country.

As feminists, Steinem and Albright should focus on areas of inequality and leave the younger generation to vote as they choose. True feminism is not about forcing people to do what you want them to do or to do as you do but it is allowing people to make their own informed choices, even if you don’t agree with them. That’s what America is all about, isn’t it?

 

Source:  New York Times

Sojourner Truth

Empowered by her religious faith, the former slave worked tirelessly for many years to transform national attitudes and institutions. According to Nell Painter, Princeton professor and Truth biographer, “No other woman who had gone through the ordeal of slavery managed to survive with sufficient strength, poise and self-confidence to become a public presence over the long term.”
(Painter, Sojourner Truth: A Life, A Symbol, page 4)

In celebration of Black History Month, Notes to Women salutes Sojourner Truth, a devout Christian, abolitionist and Women’s Rights activist.  She was reputed to be the most famous African American woman in America in the 19th century.

For over forty years she traveled around the country, passionately and forcefully speaking for the abolition of slavery, women’s rights and suffrage, the rights of freedmen, temperance, prison reform and the termination of capital punishment.  She changed her name from Isabella to Sojourner Truth, a seeker after truth, becoming a traveling itinerant preacher so that she could tell the truth and crusade against injustice.  She was not intimidated by convention or authority.  She was known for her sense of humour which she used to squash self-righteousness.  She once derided some of the women social activists who wore frivolous clothing, saying to them, “What kind of reformers be you, with goose-wings on your heads, as if you were going to fly, and dressed in such ridiculous fashion, talking about reform and women’s rights?” (Narrative, Book of Life, p.243).

She made her most famous address, Ain’t I a Woman at a Women’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio where she asserted that women deserved equal rights with men because they were as equally as capable as men.  She testified, “I have plowed and reaped and husked and chopped and moved, and can any man do more than that?”  She concluded her speech saying, “And how came Jesus into the world?  Through God who created Him and the woman who bore Him.  Man, where was your part?” (Anti-Slavery Bugle, June, 1851).

Watch this video of this remarkable woman.

We celebrate the “world’s oldest lecturer” who, as a woman of faith could not keep silent when those created in God’s image were denied their human rights and equality.  Her memory lives on in the many local memorials and tributes established in her honor in Battle Creek.  In 1997, a year long celebration marked the 200th anniversary of Sojourner’s birth.  One day was not enough to celebrate this special lady.  She has left behind a legacy survival, strength, courage and the passion to transform attitudes and and institutions.  She inspires us to speak out against injustice, inequality and oppression and to stand up for truth and to act instead of talk.

If women want any rights more than they’s got, why don’t they just take them, and not be talking about it.

Truth is powerful and it prevails.

Religion without humanity is very poor human stuff.

“Does not God love colored children as well as white children? And did not the same Savior die to save the one as well as the other?” (Sabbath School Convention, Battle Creek, June 1863)

Sources: YouTube;  Sojourner Truth; Brainy Quotes

 

 

 

 

Fanny Kemble

If you stand up and be counted, from time to time you may get yourself knocked down. But remember this: A man flattened by an opponent can get up again. A man flattened by conformity stays down for good – Thomas J. Watson

I never heard of Fanny Kemble until I recently read a devotion, The Unlikely in Our Daily Bread which mentions her work as an Abolitionist.  She was a British actress in the 19th century who married Pierce Butler, an American fan.  Fanny didn’t know that he was soon to inherit two plantations.  Had she known, most probably she would not have married him.  Little did she know that she would soon be fighting her own civil war.

Fanny Kemble was born in England in 1809 into a prominent family of actors.  Although she was very accomplished in her acting, it was not her true love.  Writing was her passion and throughout her she would write plays, journals, poetry, letters and memoirs.  Her most famous authorship would be that of Journal of a Residence on a Georgian Plantation which many consider to be the closest, most detailed account of the harsh conditions of plantation slavery.

Fanny was a strong, spirited woman with no formal training in acting but she managed to captivate audiences.  She had what were considered to be masculine traits: she was independent, physically strong and highly intelligent.  She was talented, spoke French fluently and was accomplished in music.  She embraced life and enjoyed exercise, specifically riding.  To her the best way to was to break “my neck off the back of my horse at a full gallop on a fine day”.  This reminds me of my former boss whose wish was to die being mauled to death by a polar bear.  Whatever happened to wanting to die peacefully in one’s sleep?

Fanny met her future husband Pierce when she and her father went on a two-year theatre tour in America.  It wasn’t her desire to experience life in America but she did it to please her father.  She was well received by the Americans and captured the ardent attention of Pierce Butler, a man born into wealthy and prominent family from Philadelphia.  His grandfather was Revolutionary War veteran Major Pierce Butler.  Major Butler was a U.S. Senator from South Carolina and the author of the Constitution’s fugitive slave clause.  He owned two plantations in Georgia, one was on St. Simon’s Island where sea-island cotton was grown and the other was on Butler Island where rice was grown.  One day, his grandson would inherit this mass fortune, making history as one of the largest slaveholders in the nation.

Pierce, infatuated with Fanny, followed her while she toured and she fell in love with this charming and attentive man.  She married him as a way of escaping life in the theatre which was beset with her family’s unstable financial future.  She was marrying into wealth but didn’t find out what the source of that wealth was until after they got married.

It was a marriage that was doomed from the beginning.  She believed that he would always be devoted to her and he believed that he could control her.  And their differences on slavery did not help matters.  He thought he could get her to see the benefits of the institution while she thought she could get him to free his slaves.  When she tried to publish an antislavery treatise she had written, Pierce forbade her to do so.  After he and his brother John inherited the Georgia plantations, Fanny wanted to see the plantation and begged but Pierce to take her with him but he refused.  Then in December of 1838 he took her and their two daughters and their Irish nurse to Butler Island.  Nothing could have prepared Fanny for  what she witnessed at this place.  Inspite of the beautiful surroundings, she could not escape the ugly presence of slavery.  She said, “I should like the wild savage loneliness of the far away existence extremely if it were not for the one small item of the slavery.”

Fanny and Pierce clashed over their views of slavery and their marriage began to deteriorate.  In 1845 Fanny left Pierce and children and returned to England where she resumed her stage career.  Pierce sued for divorce, claiming that she had “willfully, maliciously, and without due cause, deserted him on September 11, 1845”.  Three years later, on April 7, 1848, he filed for divorce.  Fanny returned to America to defend herself against his charges and after a long and painful court battle, the divorce was granted a year later with Pierce having full custody of the girls.  Fanny was allowed to spend two months very summer with them and receive $1500 yearly in alimony.

While Fanny was able to support herself in the U.S. and Europe with her Shakespearean readings, Pierce fell into financial ruin, gambling away his fortune.  He ended up in huge debt which led to the selling of the mansion in Philadelphia and the liquidation of other properties.  Unfortunately, this was not enough so the trustees turned their focus on the property in Georgia where the slaves were.  This led to the largest single sale of human beings in United States history and the event known as “the weeping time” as slaves were separated from their families.

After the war Pierce and his daughter Frances returned to Butler Island where he arranged for former slaves to work for him as sharecroppers.  He later contracted malaria and died.  Fanny moved to Philadelphia where she continued to perform dramatic readings.  She travelled and published her journals.  On January 15, 1893, Fanny died peacefully in London.

Notes to Women want to acknowledge this woman who spoke out against an institution and practice which violated the rights of people based on their race.  Moved with compassion and a sense of decency, Fanny set out to reform the plantations.  She set up a hostel and nursery for those in need and paid the slaves who personally tended to her.  She improved the hygiene of the slave children by rewarding cleanliness with small prizes.   Her critics saw her efforts at reform as foolish and sided with her husband but we applaud Fanny for the stance she took against slavery and her resolve to do what she could to help the slaves and for raising awareness through her firsthand observations.  If you are interested in reading about her experiences, you can read them in her diary here.

In Fanny’s eyes, acquiring wealth from the forced labor and enslavement of others is unconscionable. She was convinced that slavery was wrong and inhumane and refused to be silenced on the matter.  She stuck to her convictions and today, her journal continues to be a primary source of education on the reality of slavery.

[On disagreeing with her husband about his slave-holding:] I cannot give my conscience into the keeping of another human being or submit the actions dictated by my conscience to their will.

I have sometimes been haunted with the idea that it was an imperative duty, knowing what I know, and having seen what I have seen, to do all that lies in my power to show the dangers and the evils of this frightful institution.

In the north we could not hope to keep the worst and poorest servant for a single day in the wretched discomfort in which our negro servants are forced habitually to live.

I said I thought female labour of the sort exacted from these slaves, and corporal chastisement such as they endure, must be abhorrent to any manly or humane man.

The Southern newspapers, with their advertisements of negro sales and personal descriptions of fugitive slaves, supply details of misery that it would be difficult for imagination to exceed. Scorn, derision, insult, menace – the handcuff, the last – the tearing away of children from parents, of husbands from wives – the weary trudging in droves along the common highways, the labor of body, the despair of mind, the sickness of heart – these are the realities which belong to the system, and form the rule, rather that the exception, in the slave’s experience.

A good many causes tend to make good masters and mistresses quite as rare as good servants…. The large and rapid fortunes by which vulgar and ignorant people become possessed of splendid houses, splendidly furnished, do not, of course, give them the feelings and manners of gentle folks, or in any way really raise them above the servants they employ, who are quite aware of this fact, and that the possession of wealth is literally the only superiority their employers have over them.

Though the Negroes are fed, clothed, and housed, and though the Irish peasant is starved, naked, and roofless, the bare name of freemen-the lordship over his own person, the power to choose and will-are blessings beyond food, raiment, or shelter; possessing which, the want of every comfort of life is yet more tolerable than their fullest enjoyment without them.

When marriage is what it ought to be, it is indeed the very happiest condition of existence.

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Sources:  PBS, Pabook Libraries, New Georgia Encyclopedia; Brainy Quotes; AZ Quotes; Stand Up Quotes

Zora Neale Hurston

Dubbed “America’s favorite black conservative” and “Genius of the South”, Zora Neale Hurston was an American folklorist, anthropologist, and author during the time of the Harlem Renaissance.  She is best known for her 1937 novel Their Eyes Were Watching God.  Zora was born on January 7, 1891.  She was was the fifth of eight children.  Her father, John Hurston was a Baptist preacher, tenant farmer, and carpenter and her mother, Lucy a school teacher.  She was born and grew up in Notasulga, Alabama.  When Zora was three, the family moved to Eatonville, Florida, one of the first all-Black towns to be incorporated in the United States.  Life was great in Eatonville.  It was the place Zora felt more at home and sometimes called her birthplace.  It was the town where her father became the mayor and the place where African Americans could live as they desired, independent of white society.

In 1901, some northern schoolteachers visited Eatonville and gave Zora a number of books which opened her mind to literature which explains why she sometimes describes her “birth” as taking place in that year. She spent the remainder of her childhood in Eatonville, and describes the experience of growing up in Eatonville in her 1928 essay “How It Feels to Be Colored Me”.

Three years later in 1904, Zora’s mother died and her father remarried.  The immediacy of this second marriage to Matte Moge caused a bit of a scandal and it was even rumored that John had relations with Matte before his first wife died. Zora and her step-mother violently quarrelled.  She was sent away to a boarding school in Jacksonville, Florida.  Eventually her father and step-mother stopped paying her tuition and she was expelled.  To survive, Zora worked as a maid to the lead singer in a traveling Gilbert & Sullivan theatrical company.

In 1917, Zora attended Morgan Academy, the high school division of the African American Morgan College in Baltimore, Maryland.  It was at this time that the 26 year old began to claim 1901 as her date of birth possibly to qualify for a free high-school education and to reflect her literary birth.  She graduated from Morgan Academy in 1918.  That same year Zora began undergraduate studies at Howard University, where she became one of the earliest initiates of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority and co-founded The Hilltop, the university’s student newspaper.  While she was there,  she took courses in Spanish, English, Greek and public speaking and earned an Associate’s Degree in 1920.  In 1921, she wrote a short story, John Redding Goes to Sea, which qualified her to become a member of Alaine Locke’s literary club, The Stylus.  Zora left Howard University in 1924 and a year later she was offered a scholarship to Barnard College, Columbia University where she was the college’s sole black student.  In 1927, at the age of 36 Zora received her B.A. in anthropology.  She worked with the likes of  Franz Boas of Columbia University, Ruth Benedict and Margaret Mead.  After graduating from Barnard, Zora spent two years as a graduate student in anthropology at Columbia University.

On a more personal note, Zora was married twice.  In 1927, she married Herbert Sheen, a jazz musician and former classmate at Howard who would later become a physician, but the marriage ended in 1931.  In 1939, while Hurston was working for the WPA, she married Albert Price, a 23-year-old fellow WPA employee, and 25 years her junior, but this marriage ended after only seven months. 

Zora’s love for anthropology took her on some extensive trips to the Caribbean and the American South.  In 1936 and 1937, she traveled to Jamaica and to Haiti with support from the Guggenheim Foundation from which her anthropological work Tell My Horse published in 1938 emerged.  She also lived in Honduras, at the north coastal town of Puerto Cortés from October 1947 to February 1948.  She travelled to Central America fuelled by the idea of locating either Mayan ruins or ruins of an undiscovered civilization. While in Puerto Cortés, she wrote much of Seraph on the Suwanee, a a story of two people at once deeply in love and deeply at odds, set among the community of “Florida Crackers” at the turn of the twentieth century.  Zora was noted for writing primarily about blacks in Florida yet in this book, her characters were a “cracker” couple.  Perhaps it was being in a Honduras, surrounded by a culture different from her own that inspired her to write this book.  She was interested the Miskito Zambu,  a mixed-race (African-Indigenous American) population group occupying the Caribbean coast of Central America, focused on the region of the Honduras-Nicaragua border.and Garifuna, descendants of Carib, Arawak and West African people.

Little did Zora know that when she returned to her native country in 1948, she would face a terrible scandal.  She was falsely accused of molesting a ten-year-old boy (another writeup says there were three boys) and even though the case was dismissed after she presented evidence that she was in Honduras when the alleged crime took place in the U.S., her personal life was seriously disrupted by the scandal.

Zora was a Republican.  She supported the presidential campaign of Senator Robert A. Taft.  They both were opposed to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal policies and Roosevelt’s and Truman’s interventionist foreign policy.  In the original draft of her autobiography, Dust Tracks on a Road, she compared the United States government to a “fence” in stolen goods and to a Mafia-like protection racket and thought it ironic that the same “people who claim that it is a noble thing to die for freedom and democracy … wax frothy if anyone points out the inconsistency of their morals…. We, too, consider machine gun bullets good laxatives for heathens who get constipated with toxic ideas about a country of their own.” She had a lot to say about those who sought “freedoms” for those abroad, but denied it to people in their home countries: Roosevelt “can call names across an ocean” for his Four Freedoms, but he did not have “the courage to speak even softly at home.” When Truman dropped the atomic bombs on Japan, she called him “the Butcher of Asia.”

She opposed the Supreme Court ruling in the Brown v. Board of Education case of 1954 because she was of the opinion that if separate schools were truly equal, educating black students in physical proximity to white students would not result in better education.  She worried that integration would bring about the demise of black schools and black teachers which were the means through which cultural tradition would be passed on to future generations of African Americans.  She wrote of her opposition in  in a letter, stating, “Court Order Can’t Make the Races Mix”.  She opposed preferential treatment for blacks.  “If I say a whole system must be upset for me to win, I am saying that I cannot sit in the game, and that safer rules must be made to give me a chance. I repudiate that. If others are in there, deal me a hand and let me see what I can make of it, even though I know some in there are dealing from the bottom and cheating like hell in other ways.”  She opposed what is now referred to as Affirmative Action.

Zora has had her share of criticism from her literary contemporaries, most notably, Richard Wright. In his review of Their Eyes Were Watching God, he wrote: … The sensory sweep of her novel carries no theme, no message, no thought. In the main, her novel is not addressed to the Negro, but to a white audience whose chauvinistic tastes she knows how to satisfy. She exploits that phase of Negro life which is “quaint,” the phase which evokes a piteous smile on the lips of the “superior” race.  For decades,  Zora’s work slid into obscurity due to a number of cultural and political reasons but thanks to Alice Walker’s article,  “In Search of Zora Neale Hurston”, published in the March 1975 issue of Ms. magazine interest in Zora’s work has been revived.

Zora spent her later years as a freelance writer for magazines and newspapers.  When she moved to Fort Pierce, she took jobs where she could find them, such substitute teacher and maid.  During a period of financial and medical difficulties, Zora was forced to enter St. Lucie County Welfare Home where she suffered a stroke.  She died of hypertensive heart disease on January 28, 1960, and was buried at the Garden of Heavenly Rest in Fort Pierce, Florida.  Her remains were in an unmarked grave until 1973, when novelist Alice Walker and literary scholar Charlotte Hunt found an unmarked grave in the general area where Hurston had been buried, and decided to mark it as hers.  What a sad end for this remarkable woman whose true happiness came from her work.

In celebration of Black History Month, Notes to Women salute Zora Neale Hurston who had the courage to disagree with the philosophies supported by many of her colleagues in the Harlem Renaissance.  Her hometown of Eatonville, Florida, celebrates her life in an annual festival.  Her home in Fort Pierce is a National Historic Landmark.  In 2002, scholar Molefi Kete Asante listed Zora Neale Hurston on his list of 100 Greatest African Americans.  She poured herself into her work and left a legacy of literary work that would hail her as one of the most important black writers of the 20th century.

Sometimes, I feel discriminated against, but it does not make me angry. It merely astonishes me. How can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company? It’s beyond me.

When one is too old for love, one finds great comfort in good dinners.

Someone is always at my elbow reminding me that I am the granddaughter of slaves. It fails to register depression with me.

I feel most colored when I am thrown against a sharp white background.

“I don’t know any more about the future than you do.  I hope that it will be full of work, because I have come to know by experience that work is the nearest thing to happiness that I can find. . . I want a busy life, a just mind and a timely death.”

Sources:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zora_Neale_Hurston; http://zoranealehurston.com/; http://www.legacy.com/ns/news-story.aspx?t=zora-neale-hurston-genius-of-the-south&id=211