The Unnamed Women

The recent election of Senator Kamala Harris to the Vice-Presidency of the United States of America has elicited many remarks about a woman, a black woman, a child of immigrants, being elected to such a position. In her speech last night,  Madam Harris paid tribute to her mother who inspired her, and she applauded the possibilities for young girls made possible by her election.

The list of women mentioned as trailblazers for such a moment is long, and there are too many names to list here. But rest assured that it is a list of female warriors who fought for their rights and the rights of all who would follow them. They are legion.

As I watched and listened to the celebrations yesterday and the two speeches last night, I named names of all the female warriors I could remember. But one name kept returning, and I scanned a bookshelf for In Search for Our Mothers’ Gardens. The 1972 book is the first of non-fiction by Alice Walker, and I was searching in it for a particular poem that Walker introduces by these words: “This poem is not enough, but it is something, for the women who literally covered the holes in our walls with sunflowers.” She then shares her poem titled Women.

They were women then

My mama’s generation

Husky of voice—stout of

Step

With fists as well as

Hands

How they battered down

Doors

And ironed

Starched white

Shirts

How they led

Armies

Headragged generals

Across mined

Fields

Booby-trapped

Ditches

To discover books

Desks

A place for us

How they knew what we

Must know

Without knowing a page

Of it

Themselves.

Madam Harris said in her speech last night that while she is the first female to achieve the Vice-presidency, she will not be the last. The path she and all the other females is lined with the names known, but Walker’s poem reminds us that there were many “Headragged generals” who led their children across fields “To discover books” and to find “A place for us.”

So yes, let the known names be called across the land. Their work and success needs to be recognized and celebrated. However, let the battles of the unnamed be remembered as well. They, too, contributed, and Madam Harris stands on their shoulders.

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