A Contemplation of Black History | Render Free
It’s my birthday week. While hosting a hoopla in a pandemic is not an option, the quiet nature of winter in Minnesota and the routine of what life has become since 2020, offers a unique opportunity for reflection.
Recently in a meeting, after sharing the genesis story of Render Free, I was met with a question: What will your legacy be? As I contemplated this question, I was taken aback by the audacity of what arose in me. I could not help but to think of the vitality of women like –
Ida B Wells
Mary Church Terrell
Nellie Griswold Francis
4 hundred years ago white European settlers incited a social construct of race upon the people of this land. This iteration of race classified human life based on physical features as an indication of societal rank. This framework was motivated by the development of global capitalism which was backed by enslavement. Doctrine was created and perpetuated to justify violence, oppression, murder, and debauchery upon Black and Brown bodies in order to maintain the prescribed hierarchy of human life. This framework propagated an ideology among white Americans that the ascension of Blackness in America, must be met swiftly with unrelenting violence lest whiteness loose its position of perceived superiority.
But still, we rise.
1 hundred years ago Black communities were rising to higher levels of prosperity. Fenced in by laws of segregation, Black communities across the country generated miniature metropolitans. Artists of influence, doctors, entrepreneurs, inventors, intellectuals, trades people and thought leaders lived within the same parish in cities across the country. In places like Bronzeville of Chicago, Jackson Ward of Richmond, and Greenwood of Tulsa, also remembered as Black Wallstreet, the Black dollar circulated up to ten times, building local prosperity and financial freedom. This freedom afforded the cultivation of Black livelihood to flourish in new ways.
And still, we rise.
However, in harmony with the preestablished ideology of white supremacy, the ascension of Black life in the 1900s was met with violence.
“Hanging, shooting, and burning black men, women and children in the United States have become so common that such occurrences create but little sensation...”
- Mary Church Terrell
Evoked by grief, after the racial terror lynching of three men from her own community, Ida B Wells joined the legacy of Mary Church Terrell in the National Association of Colored Women (NACW). The growth of the Black women’s social club movement was spurred on by efforts to end lynching. Members called for reform through advocacy, community service and Black feminist activism. By 1916 the NACW had 300 clubs across the country including the Everywoman Suffrage Club, the first Black woman suffrage organization in Minnesota.
We will keep on rising.
Today, in 2021, as I consider my sisters, the women who live now in the legacy of Ida B Wells, Mary Church Terrell, and Nellie Griswold Francis. I anticipate her work, as she advocates for her children, calls for change in her community, resists white supremacy in her workplace, or challenge the ideology of white superiority by simply living in her power. My legacy will be making a space for her to rest.
A new social and wellness club, Render Free is a place of respite for the Black and Brown women in our community who are healing from the grief of yet another racial terror lynching in our streets. We will rest as resistance at Render Free. We will practice taking up space and remind one another that we are worthy of the dreams our ancestors imagined for us.
Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard’
Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own backyard…
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
- Maya Angelou, Still I Rise
COURTESY OF THE VIRGINIA STATE UNIVERSITY ARCHIVES
Related Black History Resources
Mary Church Terrell
Growing up in Bronzeville
Rare Footage All-Black Towns
The Other Black Wall Streets