Recently, I was considering how far we have come as Black women in these United States in 2021. I realize that we’ve come this far by faith — that was one of my grandmother's, Ruth Westcott James (1913-1998), favorite songs. She never forgot that she was the granddaughter of former slaves.
She was the daughter of John Arthur Westcott Sr. and Georgie Anna Gunter (Gunther, in some censuses). She was also the granddaughter of John Gunter (born 1857) and Mary Ann Mears (born 1860), and Frank Wescott (born 1857) and Ruth Savage (born 1860). Ruth Westcott James was raised and loved by formerly enslaved people who knew the value of freedom. They instilled in her a drive to improve not only her life but the life of those around her. Her kindness and love was memorialized and written about in a book, Backward Glances, by Margaret Boole Downing.
When I think about her sacrifices and how she endured being sharecroppers’ daughters, and then being a sharecropper herself, she didn’t have much, yet she gave all she had to those around her. When I think of how she was viewed as less than because of her skin color, I am saddened to think about how we are still enduring this same racial hatred over 100 years later.
Yes, I acknowledge that we had a Black president for eight years. I also am keen on the fact that his very existence in the highest position in the nation caused white backlash. To add insult to injury, we elected the first Black/Indian woman vice president, Kamala Devi Harris. This backlash is not new.
After the end of the Civil War in 1865 — and the ratification of the 13th Amendment that ended slavery, the 14th Amendment that deemed Black people as U.S. citizens and the 15th Amendment allowing voting by all men — white people in the country essentially decided this was an affront to their hold of power over former slaves.
Many were against Reconstruction (1865–1877). The goal of Reconstruction was supposed to assist freed enslaved people in gaining equal rights and the ability to be self sufficient. Unfortunately, many communities became too wealthy and too independent to the chagrin of white people. This ushered in the white backlash and the destruction of several Black towns — such as in 1873 Colfax, Louisiana, and Wilmington, North Carolina, in 1898, where approximately up to 300 Black residents were killed.
I am certain my grandma never would have dreamed that her grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and now great-great-grandchildren, are still navigating a country where over 74 million people are blatant racists and continue to feel that our Black lives do not matter. We’ve seen the blatant violence of police officers in the killing of Sandra Bland and, recently, the murder of Breonna Taylor. We've also witnessed the abuse of Black girls by racist school police officers, who man-handle and body slam them for no reason other than to intimidate and harm.
Our foremothers, such as Audre Lorde, Toni Morrison, Dr. Maya Angelou, Anna Julia Cooper, Angela Davis, Nikki Giovanni and so many more, set the example for us. They fought the good fight for the times they lived in, and we have to carry that mantle and continue the fight. In that same vain, we must teach out daughters to speak up against injustice in the classrooms and in our communities. The fight must continue.
Yet, the questions still remain:
Have we progressed when we had a president who applauded and cheered on white supremacist groups?
Have we progressed as a nation when we consider the white nationalists siege on the United States Capitol in broad daylight?
Have we really overcome when elected senators acquitted him (Trump) after his impeachment trial?
Have we really progressed when a nine-year-old Black girl is maced while a white women insurrectionists is released to attend a work retreat in Mexico?
When I think about my grandmother and her hope for our future, I am saddened that we are continuing to attempt to convince others that our Black lives matter.
This makes me wonder, how far have we really come?