WASHINGTON–The annual King holiday observance is a time when we celebrate, commemorate and honor the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. But we also honor the generations of Black women who influenced, educated, and supported King and so many others through what the poet Nikky Finney calls the “motherload” of knowledge.
In her 2022 MLK Day keynote address for Vanderbilt University, Finney spoke about what she called the long and invisible lists of Black women at the center of so many fights for civil and human justice.
“The combined forces of race, sex and economic discrimination have imposed upon Black women a severely disadvantaged status, but nevertheless Black women have created and cultivated a set of ethical and moral values that defy the status quo,” Finney said.
The civil rights movement of the 1950’s and 1960’s emerged from church groups and led largely by women. Black women’s organizations became the backbone of the civil rights movement and Black women were at the forefront of Dr. King’s fight for equality. Along with his wife Coretta Scott King, campaigners for justice alongside Dr. King included Dorothy Height, the key organizer of the 1963 March on Washington; Ella Baker, who established the NAACP’s Atlanta office: and Dorothy Cotton, an educator and community organizer, among others.
Today, we see Dr. King’s legacy being carried on by Black women at the forefront of the struggle for an intersectional feminist agenda. Black women are transforming Southern politics, turning out new generations of voters and winning elections, and safeguarding abortions in states like Georgia, Kansas, and Kentucky.
Black women helped stop the extremist “red wave” in the midterms and elect an exciting group of Black women to Congress, like Summer Lee, the first Black woman to serve in Congress from Pennsylvania. And, in next month’s special election, we are supporting Jennifer McClellan, who could be the first Black woman to serve in Congress from Virginia.
Black women have always been the first on the front lines and it’s time we rally to uplift their efforts in our fight for equality. As we observe MLK Day, NOW members reaffirm our commitment to direct action, grassroots activism, and continuing the work of racial justice. And on this MLK Day, as every day, we lift up and honor Black women, who pushed Dr. King, stood by Dr. King, and are still continuing his work.
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The National Organization for Women (NOW) is the nation’s leading membership-based advocacy group dedicated to defending women’s rights, advancing equality and combating injustice in all aspects of social, political and economic life. Through educating, mobilizing, and convening a vast network of grassroots activists across the country, NOW advocates for national, state and local policies that promote an anti-racist and intersectional feminist agenda. Since its founding in 1966, NOW has been on the frontlines of nearly every major advancement for women’s rights and continues to champion progressive values today. More about NOW’s efforts and resources is available at NOW.org.