By Donald M. Suggs
Publisher & Executive Editor, The St. Louis American
Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures (Psalms 117:22), the stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.”
Again, during still another of the country’s inflection moments when divisions in the country run even more deeply, it has been Black women (a group that has often been scorned as inferior outside of and even inside of its own community) who have helped ensure passage of a transformational legislative step that will help foster greater equity.
According to reports in the media, there was a seemingly immovable impasse between some reluctant Democratic moderates and a much larger group of progressives who were demanding passage concurrently with the $1.85 trillion social welfare and climate change bill. Black lawmakers’ proposed plan was deemed too mild and convoluted to have a chance to be accepted because it sought to pass the long-overdue infrastructure bill first, then hold a good faith procedural vote on the larger social infrastructure and climate control bill prior to a final vote in mid-November. Ultimately this proposal from the House’s largest caucus prevailed, and this huge public works bill passed with even some support from a few Republicans.
This Black woman-led Congressional Black Caucus (five out of the last chairs of CBC have been women in a heavily male caucus), whose 56 members include two non-voting delegates and five committee chairs and represents 25% of the Democratic House Caucus, brought this historic proposal across the finish line.
This is a dramatic recent example of the strong and growing role of Black women in the country’s elective politics. Many current Black women elected officeholders are helping guide the future of the country and, by extension, the lives and wellbeing of African-American people. Legendary African-American women from the past like Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Ida B. Wells, Mary McLeod Bethune, Mary Eliza Church Terrell, and, more recently, Shirley Chisholm, Fannie Lou Hamer, and Angela Davis into this era of Stacey Abrams, one of the most important women in the country are some of the best examples of strong principled leaders dedicated to helping others. Abrams helped win Georgia for the Democrats and achieve their narrow margin in the U.S. Senate and for Joe Biden to reach the White House.
Remarkable Black women have continued to rise to overcome the challenges posed by their sex and race that were compounded by other obstacles, like class differences, sexuality, and/or physical limitations. The history of their audacity, courage, and resolve against daunting odds personalized by Tubman and Truth’s faith and determination gave them the strength to resist slavery and demand emancipation. They are role models in the history of the continuing struggle for full and equitable participation for Black people in American society. Their lives served as an inspiration for later activists and educators like Bethune and Terrell, who dedicated their lives to the struggle for full social and economic equality.
Black people in America have continued to resist because they refuse to accept the dehumanization and systemic racism that seeks to deny them full access to the privileges of full citizenship in this multi-racial country.
Yet, this entire chaotic legislative process, whose outcome will determine the future of all America, was being fought with uncertainty before the successful passage of the first part of Biden’s historic legislation initiative. Undeniably, the role of the women-led CBC was essential to the eventual passage of this critical legislative package that was opposed by 90% of Republican House members. There is also a new generation of Black women elected officials across the nation who are asserting themselves at the local level as well. There are now at least eight Black women who are mayors of some of the nation’s largest cities.
The long fight for freedom and equality for Black people in the United States has been steadily led by Black women. They have been stalwart leaders of the Underground Railroad, under-recognized leaders for the suffrage movement, organized freedom riders, helped open the way for constitutional protections against sex discrimination, and now are the most consistent voting bloc in the country that stands up and organizes for the rights of all marginalized people. While they are no monoliths, their lived experience has given them a depth of understanding and feeling about the varied intersection of targeted oppression in all of its vile forms. They recognize the impact of intergenerational poverty, mass incarceration, and unaccountable police violence against Black people.
Most often, Black women leaders, beyond their strong determination and steadfastness, consistently bring empathy and commitment to the common good. More and more, there is recognition and appreciation of the unique value of Black women leadership. Although the experience of Black womanhood has been replete with multiple forms of oppression that denied them their full humanity, they have emerged, while strong, yet are still able to understand and share the feelings of others.
Whether Black women leaders are serving in public office or are making their presence felt in education, health care, legal, business areas, or many expressions of the arts as well as other pursuits, we agree that when Black women lead…everybody wins.