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Women’s History Month offers opportunity to reflect, fight

Brenda LawrenceBy Brenda Lawrence, Mayor of Southfield
Special to the Michigan Citizen

As a young girl growing up on Lumpkin Street near the historic Conant Gardens community on Detroit’s north east side, I, along with so many others, learned African American women, like white women, were active in the women’s suffrage movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

In fact, Sojourner Truth, a former slave, became legendary as both an abolitionist and an advocate of woman suffrage. She offered in 1851 a passionate declaration titled “Ain’t I a Woman.”

Similarly, many know the history of Susan B. Anthony and other women in the suffrage movement. Lots of people know of Ida B. Wells Barnett, but may not know about her efforts to help secure a woman’s right to vote — especially at a time when Blacks, both men and women, were denied that right.

Wells was a Black journalist, newspaper editor, suffragist and sociologist. She and her husband, newspaper owner Ferdinand L. Barnett were early leaders in the civil rights movement. With precision, Wells documented lynching in the United States, showing how it was often a way to control or punish Blacks who competed with whites. She also helped to establish several women’s organizations throughout the country.

She and Mary Church Terrell, founder of the National Association of Colored Women, worked with white women to see to it the 19th Amendment to U.S. Constitution was realized and ratified on Aug. 18, 1920.

As we understand that history, we need to fight for issues currently being debated in Congress on Capitol Hill.

In January, I announced my run for Michigan’s14th Congressional District. The S-shaped, 75 miles-long district includes 18 cities and villages including Pontiac, Southfield, Farmington Hills, a portion of Detroit, Harper Woods, the Grosse Pointes and Hamtramck.

There are several issues that are important to me and thousands of southeastern Michigan voters.

They include:

n Increasing for job training and education funding

n Fighting for additional equal pay for equal work legislation  (Women only earn 77 cents for every dollar earned by a man)

n Defending a woman’s right to choose

n Enacting sensible gun laws

n Opposing any cuts in Medicare and Social Security

As I grew older, I graduated from Pershing High School, married my high school sweetheart; and bought our first home on Detroit’s northwest side, I would reflect from time to time on the work and the struggle of Ida B. Wells Barnett, Susan B. Anthony, Mary Church Terrell and others.

I’ve been fortunate to have been a union member as a U.S. postal carrier, a Southfield school board member; and a legislator on the Southfield City Council.

In 2001, I became the first female and first African American Mayor of Southfield and I’m serving in my fourth term as the chief executive officer of the 72,000-resident city.

Each day, I remember the struggle our ancestors have carried out on our behalf. March is Women’s History Month. It is a great time to not only reflect but also to reinvigorate.  It’s time to fight congressional conservatives who are hell bent on turning back the clock on civil rights and women’s rights. Strong women like Sojourner Truth, Susan B. Anthony, Mary Church Terrell, Harriet Tubman, Ida B. Wells Barnett and others would not have it any other way.

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