Martyrs are Made or Forgotten

Dear Millicent Fredericks,

You are not forgotten. I repeat. You are not forgotten.

You may not be found in my history books like America: A Narrative History, American Story, or other ‘American’ history texts. These books are written by white, upper class men armed with a privileged lens that systematically undermines ethnic minorities in order to sustain a patriarchal society. American is a term I use loosely because within this word are barriers prohibiting brown, black, and red voices from entering the narrative.

Although discouraged by the books that plague our public and private learning institutions, I am thankful for the feminists who grant voices to the unknown. I am grateful for the collection of essays published in 1981 by radical women of color called This Bridge Called My Back. Instead of minorities operating in the margins, these radical feminists created a platform for women of different ethnic, racial, and sexual backgrounds to be heard.

Gabrielle Daniels found you in the creases of the diaries of Anais Nin. Anais Nin was a Spanish- Cuban woman born in France in 1903 who grew up in the United States where she became an established author. It’s funny how a woman who didn’t understand your color or class paved the way for your voice to be discovered so people like me and Gabrielle could write about you… simply because we look like you.

Your dark brown cocoa skin, rough callused feet from long work days and little sleep, the deep wrinkles in your hands from washing too many dishes, folding too many clothes,washing too many plates filled with food that could feed your entire family, you were discouraged. Even though you worked until your skin turned charcoal grey, it was never enough to satiate your brilliant mind. The life you intended to lead was a life you never saw. You were uprooted from your home in Antigua and sought freedom in America where you married a black man and birthed four beautiful babies.

You witnessed your son be gunned down and killed by a gang. You saw your husband stumble home after late nights of drinking. Still, you were a certified teacher who taught kids how to do math, read books, and to grow up with dreams.

It’s funny how history can leave people like you out. It says something about who writes our history and who controls it. Maybe you are the solution for feminists and women of color to take ownership of our history. To commit our stories to paper so our children can understand their ancestry.

I imagine that if you were here, sitting next to me, you would be writing the same thing about another woman you knew that is not woven into the fabric of our memory unlike Thomas Jefferson, The Pledge of Allegiance, or Declaration of Independence. All things that are supposedly important to our freedom. I say it’s a bunch of fallacies and inconsistencies that deprives us of the truth.

Just know that I tried to capture you with words and recreate you in a painting. I attempted to paint your cocoa skin that breathes Antiguan sands and I tried to capture the fluidity of your beautiful body. I tried my best to give you the life you deserved through oil paints and brush strokes.

But the truth is, martyrs and saints are made or forgotten. You are not forgotten even though history chose to forget you.

Sincerely,

a feminist that chooses to remember

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