Giving Thanks For The Mothers of the Movement
They’ve faced down suppression, racism, and sexism to ensure their descendants have equality
My mother is a mother of the movement.
Because my grandmother died in childbirth, Eleanor Barber had to raise her siblings amid enormous pressures. At 12 years old, she finished high school in Indiana, went to a leading Black business school, trained as a concert and church pianist, and became a government employee — all before 1960. After marrying my father, she came to the South to challenge a school system that was still segregated 12 years after the Supreme Court ruled that “separate but equal” was illegal.
Here, in the face of resistance to justice, my mother decided to birth and nurture transformation. I was her only child, and she could have easily stayed where facing the reality of segregation would not have been necessary. But she came to the South and enrolled me in segregated kindergarten. She and my father took jobs at the all Black school — she as a secretary to the principal. My mother called together parents in the community and offered their children concert piano lessons, whether they could afford them or not. When my mother was asked to be the first Black woman to serve as the secretary of the formerly all-white high school, she broke the color line to birth a new reality in a rural Southern community.
My mother, who grew up without a mother, became the mother of desegregation in Washington County, North Carolina. When she retired after 53 years of serving, mothering, fighting, loving, and persevering in that system, she said to me, “When I began, some people called me ‘nigger,’ but now their children’s children call me ‘Mother Barber!’”
My mother’s story is exceptional, but it is not unique. Many women through the years have been mothers of the movement for love, justice, and civil and human rights. Some of these women are known by the masses while many are only known by a few, catalogued in the memories and…