Our Women Who Make Us Proud

Since the month of March has been designated Women’s History Month, allow me to take this opportunity to brag on some of the very outstanding women of color that we have right here in San Antonio, Texas. Now I don’t mean to offend my fellow brothers of color, but we have to admit that over the centuries we’ve had some awfully dynamic sisters. As far back as Phyllis Wheatley the great 18th Century poet through the 20th Century, our women have always been out front in our struggle to overcome prejudice, racism and bigotry. I’ll refrain from trying to name them all, for fear I might leave out too many.

ObamasWith the advent of the 21st Century that trend of strong, charismatic women continued. First Lady Michelle Obama has given this country a real lesson in class, dignity, brains and a compassion for all people. And I am proud to proclaim that we do have a number of women who emulate First Lady Obama right here in San Antonio. Allow me to share with you, the reader, a few of those outstanding women.

PierceThe two matriarchs of the Black culture in San Antonio are Aaronetta Pierce and Ruth Jones McClendon. These two pillars of the community have been leaders in the arts and in politics respectively for over thirty years in this city. Ms. Pierce has been a strong advocate for arts and has served on numerous boards over the years. She was a very close friend to the late great Maya Angelou, who loved to come to San Antonio to write. Ms. Pierce was the first Chair of the Martin Luther King Commission that organizes the march every year on the great man’s birthday. Because of her outstanding leadership on that committee, San Antonio has the largest and most effective King Day March in the country.

Former State Representative Ruth Jones McClendon has been the premiere Black office holder in the city. She served on the local city council for two terms and has been State Representative for District 120 of the Texas House of Representatives since 1994. In those years she established an impeccable record as an effective legislator for the Eastside of San Antonio, which encompasses a high percentage of the Black population. She recently retired because of failing health.

RuthJonesMcClendon

Following in the footsteps of these legendary women are two new and refreshing Black women ready to take over the helm of leadership, both acknowledging that they follow on the shoulders of giants. Mayor Ivy Taylor accomplished the unthinkable when she won the office of Mayor in a hotly contested race in a city with only a 7% Black population. I have written about her accomplishments in a previous post on this blog in which I pointed out how proud she made us with her victory.  Mayor Taylor has an excellent career in front of her that could possibly lead to the governor’s seat in Austin.

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Barbara Gervin-Hawkins, sister to the legendary great NBA Basketball star, George Iceman Gervin, is the other woman of color who is a rising star in the political world. She is now in a two-person runoff for the vacated Legislative seat previously held by Ms. McClendon. Her opponent is an ex city councilman who has been removed from the political scene in the city for many years. You might call it his “last hurrah” for notoriety. Ms. Gervin-Hawkins has a proven track record as an effective organizer of a number of successful operations that have been of great help to the residents of the district. She is the Executive Director of the George Gervin Academy, a school that has welcomed young people who have been removed from the public school system, and need a helping hand to get their life in order. The Academy has graduated over one thousand students with high school diplomas and now these young people have gone on to build productive lives.

Mayor Taylor and Ms. Gervin-Hawkins are only two of a larger number of women of color in San Antonio who are making a difference in the lives of the young people in the African American community. Hopefully, as these two new dynamic leaders move forward in their careers, they will never forget that they are the recipients of the dedicated work by such women as Fanny Lou Hamer, Ella Baker, Shirley Chisholm and of course Barbara Jordan. If they prove to be as competent leaders as these stellar women of color, then we all can be assured that our communities are in good hands.

Barbara

A Woman of Dignity and Integrity

Since March is Women’s History Month, I thought I might reflect back over the past century to consider what one particular woman best personified the beauty, morality and dignity of the Black Woman within the public arena. There is a very large selection of my beautiful sisters that meet my criteria. But I have chosen the one individual who I believe easily passes the test and that is Lena Horne. One would be hard pressed to argue with my selection. What makes her such an important figure is not necessarily her beauty and her talent, but the position she took regarding the kind of roles she was willing to play on stage and in movies, and the positions she took in opposition to apartheid in this country and imperialism and colonialism internationally.

lhorneLena Horne placed the perception of Black women above her own career growth. She moved to Hollywood, California in 1940 and became the first Black actress to sign a seven-year contract with Metro-Goldwyn Mayer studio. However, unlike many Black actresses today, she made it quite clear that she would not play any roles she felt were demeaning to Black women in any way. In 1943, she accepted the role of Georgia Brown in Cabin in the Sky. This is the same role performed by Katherine Dunham on stage. That same year, she would also star in the film, Stormy Weather, a musical based on the life of Bill Bojangles Robinson and celebrates the Black music of the Harlem Renaissance, with appearances by Fats Waller, Cab Calloway, and Katherine Dunham.

During World War II Ms. Horne agreed to perform for the troops but when she protested against segregation in the military, her performances came to an abrupt end. In 1946, she participated in a rally held in Madison Square Garden protesting against colonialism. She was also the target of the infamous Senator Joseph McCarthy’s red baiting Senate communist investigation of the 1950’s. Her name, along with great entertainers like Paul Robeson, was placed on the black list of performers accused of aiding communists. She and Robeson spoke out against the atrocities of segregation in this country, and as a result both their careers suffered. Again, she put the interest of her race above the advancement of her own career. How many Hollywood stars today would make the same sacrifice?

One of the real ironies that can exist within a historical context happened when, during the 83rd Academy Awards, a tribute was paid to Lena Horne but the actress chosen to make that tribute was Halle Berry. What makes this ironical is that Berry received an academy award for a role that Lena Horne, undoubtedly, would have refused to play. It takes a stretch of the imagination to visualize Ms. Horne playing the role in Monster Ball that won Berry the award. For that matter, it would also take a stretch of the imagination to see that great lady playing Olivia Pope in Scandal or Cookie in Empire. Can you just imagine, Ms. Horne turning her hind side up to someone and exclaiming, “You don’t have this,” and then popping her butt.

Integrity must be a key consideration in the evaluation of one’s fitness to be considered great. More than any other attributes, Lena Horne possessed an inordinate amount of integrity when she considered her responsibility as an image-maker for Black women. When she sings, “Believe in Yourself,” to Dorothy in the Wiz, she is really singing to young girls of all races and cultures and the words ring true in terms of her life. She did not have to sacrifice her ethics or morals in order to become a star; she only had to believe in herself.