- The Washington Times - Monday, July 24, 2006

While the renewal of key sections of the 1965 Voting Rights Act is named in honor of three strong black women, black women have a long way to go when it comes to leadership roles, even within black organizations.

The Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks and Coretta Scott King Voting Rights Act Reauthorization and Amendments Act passed the U.S. Senate on Friday at the urging of President Bush.

However, journalist Hazel Trice Edney notes, “Black women have yet to be elected president of either the NAACP, the National Urban League, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference or any other national grass-roots civil rights organization.”

The Washington correspondent for the National Newspaper Publisher’s Association (NNPA) wrote a pointed special report, “Black Women Leaders Still Pushed to the Back of the Bus,” which was released last week, just as Mr. Bush was addressing the oldest civil rights organization in the nation, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, for the first time in his two-term presidency.

While others were chastising the president and his party for their Johnny-come-lately stewardship of civil rights issues, Ms. Edney challenged the black community and its leaders to look within.

“Despite the historic contributions made by civil rights pioneers Rosa Parks, Vivian Malone Jones, C. DeLores Tucker, Judge Constance Baker Motley and Coretta Scott King, all of whom died during the past year, black women say they struggle for opportunities to demonstrate their leadership, largely because of deep-seated sexist attitudes in the black community,” she writes.

Some folks might bristle at the timing of Ms. Edney’s soul-searching story, which can be read in more than 200 black-owned newspapers nationwide and on the NNPA Web site, www.blackpressusa.com. However, she stands by the report because “it’s about justice, and we should not have to wait for a specific time to write about justice, especially in the black press.”

“It had to be done,” she said yesterday of her prickly examination of “the plight and frustrations of black women leaders,” many of whom offer candid comments of their experiences.

Airing dirty laundry is usually considered taboo in the black community. Witness the family feud between entertainer Bill Cosby and scholar Michael Eric Dyson.

“Dirty laundry is what it is, and it needs to be cleaned up,” said Ms. Edney. “The point is that across the board, black women are feeling oppressed, which is a strong word, but it’s accurate.” However, she is quick to note that her purpose — and the black press traditionally has served an unapologetic advocacy role — is “not to denigrate” black males or leaders but to get everyone working side by side to move forward.

Ms. Edney hopes the “impact [from this report] will be to inspire women to reach for their dreams and to sensitize men, especially black men, to the problem.”

“Although there was plenty of talk about the Big Six civil rights leaders — A. Philip Randolph, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Whitney Young, Roy Wilkins, James Farmer and John Lewis — Dorothy Height was the only peer not allowed to speak during the 1963 March on Washington,” she wrote.

Quoting Ms. Height, president emeritus of the National Council of Negro Women: “There are still men who have not accepted women’s determination to have equality. They interpret it as being anti-men when women are even speaking for themselves.”

Ms. Edney also chronicles how Myrlie Evers-Williams, widow of slain civil rights leader Medgar Evers and former chairman of the NAACP board of directors, often was dismissed as “Medgar’s widow” despite her academic and corporate accomplishments.

Mrs. Evers-Williams traces the black male/female tension over sharing leadership back to slavery.

Wade Henderson, executive director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, a coalition of more than 180 civil and human rights groups, offers another explanation.

“So much of our leadership during the civil rights movement was drawn from the church itself, which has long been dominated by principles of male control. And I think that has been reflected within the politics of our community,” he said. “This is a problem of long standing. And in 2006, I don’t think the problem has been addressed and solved.”

Women comprise 61.1 percent of America’s black population. Yet, of those listed on Ebony magazine’s 100 Most Influential Black Americans and Organizational Leaders list last year, only 35 were women, including 11 members of Congress.

In praise of Ms. Edney’s courageous article, Democratic political consultant Donna Brazile, the first black woman to head a presidential campaign, said yesterday, “Hazel’s observations spoke volumes.”

Despite the successes of Oprah Winfrey and Condoleezza Rice, Ms. Brazile added, “I still believe black women to be the most invisible humans on the face of the Earth, and we have a long way to go before we are recognized for our worth, our talents and who we are as persons.”

Ms. Edney concluded that “we are constantly focusing on the problems with black males, and that’s a good thing. But we rarely look at the state of black females and their advancements, and it’s high time that we do.”


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