THEY Persisted

I don’t know about you, but I work with a bunch of men, and most are fairly outspoken. It’s hard enough getting a word in, and it’s even harder conveying my opinion on whatever matter before being interrupted. In a previous job some years ago, I interrupted my boss’s boss about a matter and he was so boiling mad about being interrupted that he literally had to leave the room and go for a walk. I was then told to never interrupt this man ever, even if he was wrong. No, I was not working for Donald Trump, but this sounds eerily familiar, right? In the history of history… women have been interrupted by men or reprimanded for interrupting men in the work place. This is nothing new, although extremely unfortunate.

Senator Elizabeth Warren was essentially “Kanye-ed” by a turtle Senator McConnell last night while attempting to read a letter during the Jeff Sessions examination for Attorney General.

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How often do you think women are interrupted in the work place? Go ahead and guess. One study by George Washington University concluded men interrupt women 33 percent more than men.

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There are two things wrong with this recent event. 1) Invoking a rarely used rule in the senate on a woman, but allowing her male colleagues to read the same document is problematic, if not outright sexist. 2) Silencing a woman who was referencing Coretta Scott King, a civil rights activist and woman of color who has since passed, is a double whammy especially during Black History Month.

Coretta Scott King is typically referred to as the wife of the late and great MLK, but Coretta Scott King carved out her own legacy and was involved in civil rights well before marrying Martin Luther King Jr and well after his assassination.  Mrs. King took part in the Montgomery Bus Boycott, worked to pass the Civil Rights Act, performed in Freedom Concerts, established the Full Employment Action Council, moved mountains to cement MLK’s legacy and made his birthday a federal holiday, and founded the Martin Luther King Jr. Nonviolent Center for Social Change.

Yet, her legacy has been largely overshadowed by her husband. An article in the Washington Post by a reporter and friend of Ms. King explained that the film Selma misrepresented Coretta Scott King.

But this image of Coretta, as a strong-willed woman independently committed to the global struggle for human rights, is often missing in characterizations of her. It wasn’t perpetuated only by the media and outsiders. After her husband’s death, Coretta bravely and graciously warded off attempts by the male-dominated black leadership to sideline her. This was characteristic of the civil rights movement, which often obstructed women from public leadership roles. The flawed narrative that marginalized Coretta in life continues to diminish her role after her death.

Unfortunately, Coretta Scott King’s misrepresentation persists to this day, and Mrs. King was acutely aware of her own public image.

During my 30 years knowing her, Coretta made it clear that she was troubled by her wholly incomplete public image. “I hope someday people will see Coretta,” she told me. “Often, I am made to sound like an attachment to a vacuum cleaner: the wife of Martin, then the widow of Martin, all of which I was proud to be. But I was never just a wife, nor a widow. I was always more than a label.”

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It’s important to acknowledge the efforts and work of Coretta Scott King so that they don’t become footnotes in the history of today’s Attorney General nomination or opposition. Senator Warren may have been hushed this week, and while it was wrong, Senator Warren is alive and well and has multiple platforms to speak her mind, something that is not afforded to the late Mrs. King.

I believe all Americans who believe in freedom, tolerance and human rights have a responsibility to oppose bigotry and prejudice based on sexual orientation. – Coretta Scott King

Coretta Scott King passed in 2006 and left us more than a letter condemning Jeff Sessions, although we should be grateful for what this document is raising awareness about today. Coretta Scott King was the very embodiment of persisting through the injustices of our country, through the tragic death of her husband, and for later on securing MLK’s history. It took 15 years to make MLK Day a national holiday. Like many fierce women today, Coretta Scott King truly persisted.

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