During Black History Month, I’m also thinking of the future. I am committed to continue being part of the struggle to end white supremacy. But the past can be powerful, too—a reminder of our collective power, and the legacies that shape our lives.
Most of us know the name of Harriet Tubman—once enslaved herself, she acquired freedom and never stopped helping others who were in bondage, risking her life to do it. She carried a gun and made forays from her safety in Massachusetts back to plantations where she freed her family members, and many others. She was brave, unstoppable. I honor her memory and hope I have some of her courage.
Marie La Veau(x) and Mary Ellen Pleasant you may not know as well. (Although La Veau does appear in my novel, The Road Not Taken!) Mam’zelle La Veau was known as the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans, a stunning beauty who used that, along with spiritual healing powers, to amass great authority.
She found a partner in Mary Ellen; together, they freed huge numbers of the enslaved, bringing them to California. Both were adept at accumulating money—not for finery or luxury, but to buy freedom for those in chains, and get them from Louisiana to the free state of California. The loopholes of a racist, sexist nation abided them in this mission: Mary Ellen often passed for white; Marie was so stunning that the men of New Orleans often gave her powers in the city that were unheard of for women, and especially Creole women.
I cannot do justice here to these three heroic women here, although I want to say their names to honor them. I can just say that when I look at Stacy Abrams, Kamala Harris, Letitia James, Fani T. Willis—I know that Harriet Tubman, Mary Ellen Pleasant and Marie La Veau are alive and well, and continuing to ensure their work to end injustice is seen to completion.
Please read more than I can fit here—during Black History month and beyond—about our Black foremothers, and their many struggles for freedom and equality.
I certainly need to know more. How about you?