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Thinking about sisters in the struggle

Published Mar 9, 2005 3:35 PM

Excerpted from a talk at an International Women's Day event in San Diego on March 5, sponsored by the International Action Center.

hen we think of sisters in the struggle what comes to mind?

Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Ida B. Wells, Mary McLeod Bethune, Septima Clark, Fannie Lou Hamer, Ella Baker.

Black women of the civil rights movement and the Black liberation movement. Black women were a major part of the women's liberation movement.

Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), Southern Christian Leadership Confer ence (SCLC), Student Nonviolent Coor din ating Committee (SNCC), NAACP, Black Panther Party--all are organizations in which Black women played major roles.

Political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal devotes a chapter in his recently published book "We Want Freedom" to the Panther women.

Frankye Malika Adams said this about the BPP: "Women ran the BPP pretty much. I don't know how it got to be a males' party or thought of as being a males' party. Because things, when you really look at it in terms of society, these things are looked on as being women things, you know, feeding children, taking care of the sick, and uh, so yeah, we did that. We actually ran the BPP's programs."

One of the first women to join the party was Tarika Lewis. In her first year of service she advanced in rank and was appointed to teach political education classes. Regina Jennings, Rosemari Mealy, Kathleen Cleaver, Afeni Shakur (mother of rapper Tupak Shakur) and Assata Shakur (exiled in Cuba) are names of other women of the BPP.

Safiya Bukhari had this to say about the service of women in the BPP: "In its brief seven-year history (1966-1973) women had been involved on every level in the BPP."

When we think of sisters in the struggle the MOVE Organization women come to mind. Pam Africa, Ramona Africa and the women who are a part of the jailed Move Nine, imprisoned now for over 26 years: Debbie Sims Africa, Janet Holloway Africa, Janine Phillips Africa and Merle Austin Africa, who died in prison in 1998.

The MOVE Organization advocates natural childbirth, feeding children natural food, teaching children at home. As with the BPP, the women play an important part.

Black women socialists

Sisters in the struggle also include Black women who have embraced socialism, the struggle for self-determination, the struggle for a better world for all, for change. Lucy Parsons, Mabel Byrd, Capitola Tasker, Lulia Jackson, Louise Thompson, Claudia Jones, Louise Thompson and Angela Davis are just a few.

Lucy Parsons, born in 1853, joined the Socialist Labor Party and fought for the rights of labor, Blacks and women until her death in 1942. She started as an anarchist demanding the abolition of all forms of political authority. In the early 1900s she worked in the radical Chicago Work ing Women's Union and the Socialist Labor Party, and she was one of the first women to join the International Workers of the World (IWW). At the founding convention of the IWW, Parsons dealt with the subjugation of women by noting "wherever wages are to be reduced, the capitalist class uses women to reduce them." In 1939 Lucy joined the Com mu nist Party (CPUSA) and spent the last years of her life building that party during its militant days.

In 1934 three Black women joined the U.S. delegation that traveled to Paris for the International Women's Conference. Mabel Byrd was elected one of the conference secretaries. Capitola Tasker and Lulia Jackson stunned the conference with their eloquent testimonies about Afro-Amer ican struggles for human dignity.

When delegates at the convention called for a "peace" resolution, Lulia thundered, "Ladies, it has just been said that we must not fight, that we must be gentle and kind to our enemies, to those who are for war. I can't agree with that. Everyone knows the cause of war, it is capitalism. We can't just give those bad capitalists their supper and put them to bed the way we do with our children. We must fight them." Lulia Jackson was active in the bitter Penn syl vania miner strikes and was familiar with the violence perpetrated by the owners.

Louise Thompson studied Karl Marx and V.I. Lenin and emerged as a leader in the Harlem Branch of the CPUSA. In the 1930s her apartment became a forum where Black intellectuals and activists discussed the Bolshevik Revolution and the party's position on African Americans in the South. In 1932 she went to the Soviet Union with a group of Black writers and actors. Louise was known throughout Harlem as "Madame Moscow" for her support of Russia. She formed the Friends of the Soviet Union. She also worked with party leaders in ending job discrimination and demanding unemployment relief during Harlem's Depression years.

Claudia Jones was born in Trinidad and became one of the most respected members of the CPUSA. Jones joined after working with them in the defense of the Scottsboro Brothers. She was a firm believer in the CPUSA's political theory during that period that Blacks in the South constituted an oppressed nation, not just a discriminated race, and consequently they had the right to self-determination. She worked with CPUSA's Women's commission and led Harlem's Council of Unemployed.

An uncompromising fighter for black liberation, Claudia Jones's life was consumed with struggle. When corporate America exploited Black workers, she fought them. She was a militant defender of sharecroppers, domestics and laborers. She was declared a criminal during the frenzy of the late 1950s. She was indicted under the fascist Smith Act and sentenced to prison in New York State. After 10 months in jail, she was released and deported to England as an "undesirable alien." Soon after arriving in England, she fell ill and died. Her imprisonment, deportation and early death demonstrated the lengths to which America would go in silencing radical Black women.

Angela Davis's commitment to the struggle of Black people intensified on Sept. 9, 1963, when four Black girls were murdered in the racist bombing in a Baptist church in Birmingham. Denise McNair, Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley and Carole Robertson were playmates of Angela's sister, Fania. As part of her militant activism, Angela Davis organized rallies and demonstrations defending the political prisoners known as the Soledad Brothers and she herself became a political prisoner.

These are just a few. We are many.

We use this month as a spark, but history should be taught all year long--Black History, Mexican History, Asian History, Indigenous people's history, Women's History--the People's History. All people of all nationalities, all cultures have contributed to where we are today and we have to continue to acknowledge this.

We must study our history, what happened in our past to help us to move on to the future.