BY ANN CARROLL As we begin our celebration of Black History Month I’m reminded of just how short a month really is. It’s not nearly enough time to highlight all the stories of African-American contributions to our country that normally fall between the cracks. Throughout the month, Women AdvaNCe hopes to bring attention to some of the women unjustly overlooked by history. We’ll start with a couple of living heroes who were brave enough to speak out against injustice.
Elaine Riddick was one of thousands of women – of which 60 percent were black – sterilized by the state of North Carolina between 1929 and 1974. Riddick was raped at the age of 14 in 1968. The state deemed her “feebleminded” and took away her right to reproduce any more children after she gave birth to her baby. She only found out what had been done when she tried later to have a child with her husband. Riddick has been quoted as saying, “they took my spirit away from me.”
But she summoned the spirit to become one of the first of North Carolina’s sterilization victims to speak out about her ordeal. She testified before lawmakers and became an advocate for all of the state’s sterilization victims. Last year, North Carolina set aside $10 million to compensate those victims.
There’s also Rosanell Eaton. Seventy-one years ago, Eaton became one of the first African-Americans in her county to register to vote, but the right was only won after she passed a literacy test. She’s now one of several suing the state of North Carolina over the state’s new Voter ID Law.
The 92-year-old is one of those who will be impacted when the Voter ID Law takes full effect. Eaton’s name on her birth certificate is different from the name on her driver’s license and voter registration card. It will be costly and time-consuming for her to resolve the issue, and on top of that, this habitual early voter will have one week less to cast her ballot – since lawmakers also voted to limit the early voting period.
Riddick and Eaton stand as inspirations to all North Carolina women and as reminders that we can all make a difference by standing up and speaking out.
Celebrate Black History Month in North Carolina by attending an event in your area.
Find LOCAL EVENTS and other action items on the Women AdvaNCe website!