As we move into the holiday season, let us celebrate the many achievements of Black women who created safe spaces, defended the culture, embarked on radical civil rights journeys and survived attempted murder. Let’s take a look at three incredible historic events and the incredible Black women who made them happen!
Mary McLeod Bethune creates the National Council of Negro Women
You might recognize the names Mary McLeod Bethune and National Council of Negro Women, but few truly know how important the NCNW has been in the success of Black American women throughout history.
Best known for being an educator and an innovator, Ms. McLeod Bethune created the National Council of Negro Women on Dec. 5, 1935 — and the organization has been on the forefront of social justice and civil rights concerns ever since. Its mission “is to lead, advocate for and empower women of African descent, their families and communities” The NCNW remains the storehouse for pro-women, pro-Black social and community organizations across the country; bringing together Black women from coast to coast.
Rosa Parks and the Women’s Political Council launch the Montgomery Bus Boycott
Mostly attributed to the young preacher who would become the Nobel Prize-winning, non-violence Sherpa of the United States, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the Montgomery Bus Boycott was coordinated by the Women’s Political Council of Montgomery, an organization with which Rosa Parks was affiliated. Mrs. Parks was more than a tired seamstress, she was a tireless race woman — a rape investigator for the NAACP — with an insatiable desire for justice for her sisters in Montgomery who were being raped, beaten and otherwise molested in and out of the shadow of the Montgomery city bus system.
More than an issue of racial justice, Mrs. Parks’s strategic arrest that December 1st in 1955 sparked the year-long boycott of the powerful bus system and ushered in two decades of civil rights struggles, defeats, victories, and heroic energy. From Dec. 5, 1955 to Dec. 20, 1956, Black women and men refused to patronize the city bus company, and instead relied on one another to rideshare, walk, and caravan in an effort to bring to light the physical abuses faced by Black men and the physical and sexual abuses against Black women on the public buses and in the streets for years. For a full year, Black people galvanized to resist second-class citizenship, physical and mental torture and to declare “We believe Black women, we will follow Black women. We will win.”
Deborah Johnson survives the assassination of her partner Fred Hampton
At just 21 years old, Fred Hampton rose to the chairmanship of the Illinois Black Panther Party. His words of revolution and class-based coalition-building across racial lines terrified the federal government under J. Edgar Hoover because it threatened both the racial capitalism that under-girded the status quo of white supremacy and the economic oppression of people of color and poor whites. Hampton and his co-conspirators skillfully articulated the deceptions of racism and American capitalism through the fallacy of meritocracy, and galvanized a multi-ethnic cadre of revolutionaries. His platform, his charisma, and his race made Hampton a target of federal and local authorities. Deborah Johnson, his life partner and the mother of his child, was a strong presence in the party as well. Their partnership would end in a hail of bullets.
On Dec. 4, 1969, the Chicago police department fired over 80 shots into Hampton and Johnson’s Chicago apartment murdering Hampton while Johnson laid by his side. Johnson would survive the assassination, give birth to Fred Hampton, Jr. and both would become powerful activists in their own right.
This week in Black women’s history is full of acts of resistance, sisterhood and survival. We bless the sisters who came before us, who paved the way for our acts of resistance, sisterhood and survival. We honor them this week and always.