I am sure I am not the only one who has been thinking a lot this week about courage, race, gay rights, and the role of women in fighting for what is right. What a roller coaster of emotions!
I was horrified by the Charleston massacre and offended by Dylan Roof’s rant about African Americans raping “his” women. I celebrated and watched Facebook turn into a rainbow after the Supreme Court decision. President Obama’s eulogy for Rev. Pinckney gave me hope. And Bree Newsome inspired me when she climbed the flagpole to take down the Confederate battle flag from South Carolina’s capitol grounds.
Here are four more women whose stories give me hope and inspiration — all of them North Carolinians:
- When we talk about race and rape, we really should be talking about the history of white men raping black women. Harriet Ann Jacobs (1813-1897) was one of the first to do just that. She was an African American writer, abolitionist, and feminist from Edenton, NC. Born a slave, her autobiography details the reality of rape and sexual abuse facing slave women. Her mistress’s father sexually harassed and threatened Jacobs for years. She escaped to Philadelphia and became active in the abolition movement, despite her fears that her abuser would claim her and take her back to Edenton. After the Civil War she joined the American Equal Rights Association which supported voting rights “irrespective of race, color, or sex,” and promoted education for freedmen.
- Jessie Daniels Ames (1883-1972), a white woman, believed that lynching and the myth of chivalry served to oppress black men and to demean women. A native Texan, she moved to Tryon NC in her final years. In 1930, a black man in Sherman, Texas was lynched after being accused of raping a white woman. Ames responded by founding the Association of Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching. As she said later, “the men were out making studies and surveys of lynchings and so the women had to get busy and do what they could to stop lynchings.” In the first two years of operation, Ames personally investigated 20 lynchings that allegedly involved sexual assaults on white women.
- In 2001, the Netherlands became the first country to legalize same-sex marriage. But for years before that, Sharon Thompson, a Durham-based attorney, was working on legal issues affecting LGBT people and their families, including those who use assisted reproductive technology to create their families. A member of the NC House of Representatives from 1987-1990, she was a fearless advocate for the women of NC – including successfully fighting for the State Abortion Fund for low income women. She was one of four women who founded the NC Association of Women attorneys and one of the co-founders of the NC Association of Gay and Lesbian Attorneys.
- Pura Fe is a Tuscarora/Taino musician who is doing more than just worry about climate change. She uses her music to educate audiences about major issues for Native Americans – especially environmental issues. A Durham based musician and songwriter, her music pairs Native traditional and contemporary music, including the blues, Tuscarora chants, hand drums and the lap steel slide guitar. She marched in the front line of the People’s Climate March in 2014 where she said that indigenous people “took our rightful place as the protectors … we are these lands … we have never stopped fighting for her life, we are one and the same.”
So, as we head into the 4th of July weekend, let’s not just celebrate the founding fathers, but also the “Sheroes” who fought and are fighting against the prevailing tide, moving our country forward on its promise of “liberty and justice for all.”