Unlike Aurin Squire, who wrote “MLK’s Mother Was Assassinated, Too: The Forgotten Women Of Black History Month” for Talking Points Memo, I am not of African descent. However, Squire and I are alike in having thought we were “fairly well-versed in African-American history.” What’s more, I was (and Squire perhaps was not) alive and adult and paying some attention to the news in 1974. But I had no idea that Martin Luther King’s mother, Alberta Williams King, was assassinated six years after her son was killed. Although her death was apparently a result of anti-Christian violence rather than racial violence, she was a key figure in American black history and should not be forgotten.
Taking black women’s activism beyond Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth, Squire brings up activist black women like Ida B. Wells and Fannie Lou Hamer. He could equally have mentioned Rosa Parks, and dozens of others, but it’s a short post. He frames the issue in terms of activist women:
When female stories are muted, we are teaching our kids that their dignity is second class and the historical accounts of their lives are less relevant. This lowered value carries over when women face sexual objectification and systemic brutalization from inside and outside the community. When we can’t see ourselves in our history, we begin to think that we are disconnected and suffering alone. Historical ignorance always precedes cultural imbalances and individual despair. Too many lives are still lived in the blank space, too many march for racial equality while subjugating their gender and even sexual orientation.
Kameron Hurley’s “It’s Always Been Awful Under the Boot: On the Fatigue of Everyday Horror,” also taught me a piece of black history that I didn’t know: the Tulsa massacre (more commonly, but no more accurately, frequently referred to as the “Tulsa race riot”) of 1921, in which a mob of angry white people burned a neighborhood of Tulsa to the ground:
More than 800 people were admitted to local hospitals and police arrested and detained more than 6,000 people. The riots left 10,000 homeless and destroyed 35 city blocks. Up to 300 people died during those 16 hours. … It was not until 1996 that the state even bothered to commission a proper history (.pdf) of the event that would be available to everyone, instead of relying on a spoken oral history maintained by survivors who were now dying.
Wikipedia also informs me that the 1996 report ” included the commission’s recommendations for some compensatory actions, most of which were not implemented by the state and city governments.” The names of the dead may be memorialized somewhere; a few, but no list, can be found in the deeply chilling official report.
Here’s the part of Hurley’s conclusion that sticks with me:
And this is what gets me with folks who are fatigued with the shit, and I get it, I do, I get fatigued and I have to take a fucking break too, but I don’t want people to shut up, I don’t want to close my eyes, because whether or not I heard about it Tulsa still happened. And I cannot sit on my hands and cheer for Katniss burning down the Capital and the folks walking away from Omelas and then say, “Shit, could the rest of you just shut up about your problems because it sure makes me uncomfortable.”
It should make me uncomfortable. It should get me to question everything I’ve been taught. It should rouse me to take action, to not be silent, to amplify voices, to, above all, help ensure we do not erase this shit.
Black lives matter.
Thanks to supergee for the pointer to Hurley’s essay.