The Year of the Black Woman

Article excerpt

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. …