Black Women’s Stories

About a week ago, I gave my mother an assignment. I asked her to write about her most vivid childhood memory. She accepted my challenge. Still in a teaching mood, I assigned a writing task to my husband. He was to write his mother a letter expounding upon his love for her and how much he appreciated having her as a mother. (Quiet as it is kept, he was supposed to do this for Mother’s Day in lieu of a commercialized greeting card. He didn’t get around to it. May is a big month in our family…so much going on). He laughed and gave me the, “I’ll humor you with this acknowledgement, but no,” look.

My mom began her writing task, but she didn’t stop there. She enlisted some of her siblings to do the same. Three aunts and one uncle were asked. She wrote her memory out longhand even though she has a computer. I encouraged her to e-mail it to me. She did. I enjoyed reading her memories of playing with her two brothers. A couple of days ago, I was surprised by a thick envelope from my aunt. Inside were the handwritten pages of her childhood memories written on lined paper in red ink! There were quite a few memories. Her writing had me transfixed. I wanted more.

I’m reading, Beloved Sisters and Loving Friends: Letters from Rebecca Primus of Royal Oak, Maryland, and Addie Brown of Hartford, Connecticut, 1854-1868 by Farah Jasmine Griffin. The book is a compilation of letters written from Addie to Rebecca with commentary from the author. They were free 19th African-American women living in the north during the Civil War era. Addie was a domestic and Rebecca was a school teacher sent south to educate newly freed slaves. They became friends and shared a deep affection for each other as revealed in the one way correspondence–Rebecca’s letters were never recovered–from Addie to Rebecca. A great deal is gleaned about the lives of free blacks during this time, their daily lives, social status, entertainment, religion, and much more. These lives are of great interest to me because they are valid and need to be known. I am thankful and grateful that the author took the time and care to resurrect their story.  I feel a deep desire to resurrect stories too, especially black women’s stories. As the author notes, because of the portrayal of black women as either mammies or jezebels, there is a sort of silence, secrecy, or whitewashing of black women’s stories. All three are problematic. I will discuss this more in my review coming later.

I am committed to telling black women’s stories in their fullness and complexity.

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