Women’s Panel Explores Black Solidarity

Monday, November 13, 2017

Black Solidarity Day 2017 was ushered in by a lively discussion at MEC on the role of women in the pursuit of civil rights and social justice. The Nov. 6 discussion, hosted by the Center for Women’s Development, featured three panelists who referenced Harvard University Professor Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham’s ground-breaking book Righteous Discontent: The Women’s Movement in the Black Baptist Church, 1880-1920.

The panelists for the discussion, held in the MEC Café in the AB Building, were Dr. Maria DeLongoria, an Associate Professor of Social and Behavioral Sciences, the Rev. Flora Wilson Bridges, pastor of Rendall Memorial Presbyterian Church in Harlem, and Ashley Davis, an artist and healer based in Philadelphia.

As women and as African-Americans, the panelists emphasized that they could not abandon any part of their identity. Or as Professor DeLongoria put it: “We need brothers to support the cause of gender.”

Professor DeLongoria and Rev. Bridges agreed that the black church has played a key role in developing black economic, spiritual, and political independence. But although the church has always been a predominantly female institution its leadership has been dominated by men, Rev. Bridges said.

“The Black Church is still run by a few roosters with a whole bunch of hens,” Rev. Bridges said.  The Black Church is “still primitive” when it comes to gender issues and the bible has been deployed to keep women servile, docile and in their place, she charged.

Professor DeLongoria saw a black church with a shorter reach than in the past. She explored the “politics of respectability” (Higginbotham’s term) that blacks embraced after slavery to prove that they were worthy of freedom. In doing so, African-Americans strived for and mimicked the norms of white society, including the church.

As African-Americans adopted the paradigm of the people who colonized and enslaved them, the bible was used to oppress women, the professor said. She likened current times to the rollback of rights during Post-Reconstruction.

“That’s where we are now – the unraveling,” Professor DeLongoria said.  African-Americans must redefine themselves and not yield to a false dichotomy between being respectable and being revolutionary, she asserted.  

Davis portrayed herself as being in a mode of “questioning everything, even our understanding of the word woman and who can identify as a woman,” she said.  As an educator and an artist, Davis said she had to learn to reject structures that do not work for her and to forge a new path. 

Black Solidarity Day was founded by Dr. Carlos E. Russell, a professor at MEC and Brooklyn College. It was first observed in 1969 at Brooklyn College. Dr. Russell and his collaborators created the day of black solidarity after drawing inspiration from the play “A Day of Absence,” which depicts a small southern town in which all the African-Americans disappear for a day.