SOMETIMES change goes unnoticed in the dizzying pace of daily living. It is as hushed as a ballot being cast, as quiet as the turn of a page, as silent as a lone tear rolling down the cheek of a triumphant athlete.
Yet, these ordinary events have taken on extraordinary significance this year-- a year that may very well come to be known as the year of the Black woman. For this year, perhaps unlike any other, time before, the power and presence of Black women is being felt in politics, literature, sports, entertainment, science, education and religion.
The proof is everywhere. Voters are casting ballots for unprecedented numbers of women. Bestselling books by Black women authors are all the rage. Black women Olympians--their eyes glistening with tears of joy--were among the most hailed champions of the Summer Games in Barcelona.
Not only are these accomplished women bringing intelligence, creativity and spirituality to their respective fields, but they are also bringing their unique sensibilities.
Nowhere is this more in evidence than in the field of politics, where a bumper crop of Black women are seeking national and statewide office.
Leading the charge for political change for all women, Black, White or Brown, is Carol Moseley Braun, the Illinois Democratic Senate nominee who defeated two well-financed White male opponents in a primary race last spring.
If Braun wins the general election in November, she will become the first Black woman, and only the fourth Black American, to serve in the Senate. Whatever the results, she has already made history by becoming the first Black woman to be nominated to the U.S. Senate by a major political party.
Like many Black women seeking office, Braun won the nomination by putting together a coalition of inner-city Blacks seeking a political voice, Whites, angry with incumbents, and women, irked by the Senate's handling of the sexual harassment case involving then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas and University of Oklahoma law professor Anita Hill.
Brauns upset primary victory over incumbent Sen. Alan Dixon, who voted for Thomas, turned what was first considered to be a bering Senate race between a likeable Democratic incumbent and former Reagan and Bush adviser Richard S. Williamson--into a race worthy of national attention.
"Historically Black women have been the matriarchs of political families," says Eddie N. Williams, president of the Joint Center for Economic Studies. Black women always have been out campaigning, raising money and registering new voters, he points out, but the effort was usually on behalf of a male candidate. "But now, more and more, it's for themselves. They are more competitive and assertive than ever before."
The reverberations of the Thomas-Hill case are also being felt this year in numerous congressional races. Democrats Eddie Bernice Johnson of Texas, Eva Clayton of North Carolina and Cynthia McKinney of Georgia are all vying for seats in the House of Representatives. Black women candidates are also running for Congress from Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Rhode Island, South Carolina and Mississippi.
Black women are also stumping in state and local races. Fulton County Public Safety Director Jackie Barrett, for example, stands to become the first Black woman sheriff ever. Also in Georgia, Leah J. Sears-Collins, 37, was recently elected to the Georgia Supreme Court, making her the first woman, second Black American and youngest justice in the history of the state's high court.
The tragedy of the Los Angeles riots also cast into the limelight a new political Maxine Waters, D-Calif., who as the central advocate for urban renewal (See story page 35).
Black women have been no less active in the high brow, though fiercely competitive, world of literature. This summer, three of the country's best-known novelists--Toni Morrison, Alice Walker and Terry McMillan--created a sensation by simultaneously muscling their way onto the New York Times Best Seller list and jointly holding sway there for three weeks. It was the first time in history that novels by three Black women concurrently appeared on the weekly listing of the nations top-selling books.
The warm reception given to the works of Pulitzer Prize-winners Morrison (Jazz) and Walker (Possessing the Secret of Joy) was expected. Both are darlings of the literati and their books have the lofty language, serious intentions and historical settings that generally result in critical acceptance (Jazz is a ruminative riff on Black life and love circa 1925 and Possessing is a novel-long crusade against the horrors of the African practice of female genital mutilation).
The surprise success story in the field was McMillan's Waiting To Exhale, a contemporary sister-to-sister novel that charts the lives of a quartet of professional Black women in search of love in Phoenix, Ariz. McMillan's four, funny, foul-mouthed protagonists have touched a chord in many Black women (and other readers) who quickly made the book one of the biggest sellers of the summer.
In major urban centers such as Chicago, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., fans of the work flock by the thousands to readings and book signings to hear McMillan fire off some of the witty and often profane one-liners that give the dialogue-driven book the zesty feel of actual conversations between girlfriends.
Waiting To Exhale, McMillans third novel, has catapulted its creator to fame and wealth, The novel's paperback rights sold for $2.64 million, one of the largest sums ever paid for reprint rights. With more than 350,000 copies in print, Waiting, is still firmly holding down a spot on the the best seller list. And film studios are bidding for the right to bring the story to the screen.
On another front, Black American women athletes continued their dominance in track and field at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona. Heptathlon champion Jackie Joyner-Kersee and sprinters Gail Devers and Gwen Torrence all mined Olympic gold at the world meet. African-American women collected 32 Olympic medals, eight of which were gold.
Picking up where she left off in 1988, Joyner-Kersee won her second consecutive Olympic gold medal in the two-day, seven-event heptathlon. She made it look easy, even though she was competing against world-class competition, and, perhaps, the best of her old self. In the process, she reclaimed the title of worlds greatest woman athlete, prompting 1976 Olympic decathlon champion Bruce Jenner to describe her as "the greatest multi-event athlete ever, man or woman."
Joyner-Kersee has dominated the heptathlon since the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, when she missed an Olympic gold medal by a scant .06 seconds. She twice set a world record in 1988 and that same year captured her first Olympic gold medals in the heptathlon and the long jump at the Summer Games in Seoul.
At 30, Joyner-Kersee can take a moment to enjoy her stunning accomplishments with Bob Kersee, her husband and coach. In between the numerous international track and field competitions, she is busy overseeing operations at a community center in her native East St. Louis, Ill.
Perhaps the most moving Black women's success story to come out of the Olympics was the surprise victory of Gail Devers, who once thought she would never walk again, much less sprint her way to the title of worlds fastest woman.
Complications from Graves disease, a degenerative muscle disorder, forced the 25-year-old Seattle native to choose between living with the side effects of radiation treatments or taking a drug banned by track and field officials. She refused the medication and almost lost her swollen feet to amputation after doctors misdiagnosed the side effect of her treatment.
But Devers bounced back. In 1991, she won a silver medal at the World Championships in Tokyo and qualified for the U.S. team by placing second to the nation's then-top sprinter, Gwen Torrence. In Barcelona she blew away Torrence and five of the world's top-ranked sprinters in a dramatic photo finish. Once given little chance of winning a gold medal, Devers now has reason to celebrate. "You can use me as an example," she said after winning the gold. "Don't give up on your dreams or your goals."
While Black women athletes have captured spectators' imagination with their earthbound feats, Dr. Mae C. Jemison, 35, made news in another world when NASA announced that she has been scheduled to become the first Black woman in outer space as one of a seven-member crew aboard the space shuttle, Endeavor. The Chicago physician was scheduled to monitor the development of frog eggs into tadpoles, study the loss of bone cells in a weightless environment and collect data on space motion sickness during the September mission.
Back on earth, Black women in the glamorous though topsy-turvy world of entertainment, also fared well this year. Perhaps the major Black woman star of the year is actress Halle Berry, who emerged as a fresh new face on television and in the movies and who has proven to be just as versatile as she is attractive.
The former Miss Teen All-America and runner-up in the 1986 Miss USA pageant gave impressive performances as an exotic dancer in The Last Boy Scout, an aspiring businesswoman in Strictly Business, a crack addict in Spike Lees Jungle Fever and an advertising executive in Eddie Murphy's Boomerang. Many in Hollywood feel that Berry, who has a recurring role on the night-time soap, Knots Landing, has the talent and good looks to forge a long and prosperous career in the movies.
Berry's next project is the lead role in Queen, Alex Haleys story of his paternal grandmother, who was the daughter of an Alabama slave and a slave owner's son. The six-hour, CBS-TV miniseries promises to stir the emotions as it deals with controversial issues such as voluntary love between a Black slave woman and a White man, as well as ill feelings between fair-skinned Blacks and those of darker complexions.
But the 23-year-old Berry, whose interracial parentage may have helped her win the part, seeks such challenges in her acting career. In Jungle Fever, she so immersed herself into the role of a crack addict that fans of her later roles failed to recognize her.
In addition, a number of other young Black actresses are making their mark in films and on television this year including Holly Robinson, Robin Givens, Anne-Marie Johnson and Vanessa Williams (See story page 42). And supersinger Whitney Houston will make her acting debut co-starring with actor Kevin Costner in the soon-to-be-released film, The Bodyguard.
Earlier this year, Natalie Cole won six Grammy Awards for her multi-platinum recording, Unforgettable, which has won her new fans and respect in the music industry. The singer also picked up two American Music Awards for the recording.
Actress Tonya Pinkins was presented an Antoinette Perry (Tony) Award by the League of American Theaters and Producers for her performance in Jelly's Last Jam, one of the hottest musicals to hit Broadway in years. The actress also has a recurring role on the daytime drama All My Children.
And this year, Black women are presiding in corporate board rooms, leading national professional organizations and heading major colleges and universities more than ever before.
"This is indeed the year for many women, and African-American sisters are racking up victories and receiving long-overdue recognition in many fields," says Johnnetta B. Cole, the first Black woman president of Spelman College. "What dynamics have come into play to make this possible? Surely it is a complex of factors, but among them must be: The role of law professor Anita Hill in bringing the issue of sexual harassment before the eyes of millions of Americans; the fact that large numbers of Americans are tired of the antics of so many politicians and are interested in seeing if women can do any better; and the coming of age of Black Feminisim as a connector between the modern Black Liberation and Women's movements."
The age of the new Black woman has dawned, opening the doors of opportunity and bringing a new voice into the public debate. The Black woman of 1992, like her ancestors, who invented the women's liberation movement, is charting a new path of creativity and leadership. Today, she stands in the forefront of the struggle of the women--and men--of the world.…