Take your daughters and your sons, in fact, take the entire family and as many friends as you can round up to the Freedom’s Sisters exhibit at the Carter Presidential Library.
The exhibit, which runs now through Oct. 3, is a compelling audio-visual interactive depicting the lives of 20 African-American women who fought for the ideal that all men are created equal and changed the course of history. Their stories are stories of courage, sacrifice and devotion to the cause of freedom, justice and equality in America.
Most of the names are familiar – Shirley Chisholm, first African American women elected to Congress and a candidate for president of the United States; Harriet Tubman, who risked her life leading slaves to freedom; Coretta Scott King, civil rights activist and wife of Dr. Martin Luther King; and Barbara C. Jordan, gifted orator and first African-American woman elected to Congress from Texas. Others may not be as familiar – Kathleen Cleaver, secretary of the Black Panther Party turned college professor; Septima Clark, passionate educator who fought for pay parity among Black and White teachers in South Carolina schools; Ella Jo Baker, co-founder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC); or Frances Watkins Harper, abolitionist, acclaimed author and lecturer who used poetry and prose to inspire social activism.
The other extraordinary women are: Charlayne Hunter-Gault, Sonia Sanchez, Ida B. Wells Barnett, Myrlie Evers-Williams, Betty Shabazz, Mary McLeod Bethune, Fannie Lou Hamer, Mary Church Terrell, Frances Watkins Harper, Constance Baker Motley, Dorothy Irene Height, Rosa Parks and C. Deloris Tucker.
Ten of the 20 women I am proud to have had the pleasure of their company, either in a sit-down interview or a handshake at one conference or another. As a young reporter I interviewed Shirley Chisholm on the campus of Notre Dame. Small in stature, she had an intimidation factor that was six feet tall—fearless, un-bossed and un-bought.
I sat with Dr. Dorothy Height in the capitol Rotunda when Nelson Mandela received his Congressional Gold Medal of Honor. I had a rare one-on-one interview with Coretta Scott King and saw her usually stoic public demeanor dissolve into one of those belly roll laughs that makes your head hurt. An autographed copy of one of her early books of poetry is a prized possession from Sonia Sanchez. C. Delores Tucker, Frances Baker Motley, Myrlie Evers-Williams, Betty Shabazz were all encountered at one meeting or another. Spellbound by Barbara Jordan at a National Urban league conference when unabashedly she told the audience she ran on the FBI ticket as the first Black woman elected to congress from the South. FBI, in her words meaning, “fat, Black and intelligent.” What an assembly of awesome women. What a privilege to have been in their company.
A VIP reception held in advance of the July 24, opening brought out women movers and shakers from throughout metro Atlanta. Some were familiar – Shirley Franklin, Christine King Farris, Jovita Moore, Johnetta Cole. Some were perhaps not as familiar but nonetheless influential—Angela Robinson, Lois Keith, Ruby T. Williams, Bettye Davis, Willie Coleman and Pat Lottier.
Several elected officials were spotted, including Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, Sen. Donzella James, Sen. Ron Ramsey, Rep. Earnest “Coach” Williams and DeKalb Commissioner Kathy Gannon. Leadership DeKalb Director Sara Fountain is a member of the esteemed Atlanta Honor Committee for the exhibit, which was created by the Cincinnati Museum Center and organized for national travel by the Smithsonian Institution.
The exhibit, its national tour and related programs are sponsored by the Ford Motor Company Fund. The climax of the tour is the picture booth that instantly prints a “Freedom Leader Pledge” page with the visitor’s picture and space to write ways she can maker her hometown a better place. Freedom’s Sisters is educational and entertaining and well worth the hour or so it takes to visit each one of the 20 exhibits.
Steen Miles, The Newslady, is a retired journalist and former Georgia state senator. Contact Steen Milies at Steen@dekalbchamp.com.