What the moms of three Civil Rights leaders have to show Black mothers right this moment

Anna Malaika Tubbs learned in November 2019 while researching her first book that she was pregnant with her first child.

Her relationship with the stories she revealed about Alberta King, Louise Little, and Emma Berdis Baldwin had already intensified the more she learned about her revolutionary role in the fight for equality, respect, and liberation for blacks.

The deep, emotional appeal of a new motherhood reinforced her connections with the women highlighted in The Three Mothers: How the Mothers of Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and James Baldwin Shaped a Nation. The book, published in February, reveals the forgotten story of how these women stood up to the dehumanization and death of black children at a crucial moment in the civil rights movement.

Tubbs, aware of the black maternal health crisis, felt almost immediately that she was “in a fight for us to survive to get through my pregnancy.” Given that black women are at least three times more likely to die from pregnancy than white women, she feared that prejudice against black women could endanger their lives.

That was before she even thought about how to protect her child outside of the womb.

Tubbs drew on the strengths of these matriarchs and urged himself to be “vulnerable to the fears that come with mothering a black child.” She began to think about the decisions she and her husband had to make. Are we trying to protect our children from the truth for as long as possible? Or are we exposing them to the realities of what is happening?

By illuminating the lives of three mothers whose own choices made their children transform a nation, Tubbs not only illuminates the path of her own motherhood journey, but also hopes to help us all, the care that can change the world , to understand better.

This conversation has been edited and condensed for the sake of clarity.

CNN: You have written that Martin Luther King Jr., James Baldwin, and Malcom X “became symbols of resistance by following their mothers’ instructions”. How have their mothers ‘teachings affected their sons’ writings, speeches, and protests?

Anna Malaika Tubbs: I got into this research and just wanted to talk about these three women. I was shocked to discover the obvious connections between the work of mothers and sons. Without knowing about these women, we cannot know the full story of these men.

Everyone familiar with Berdi’s Baldwin’s writing says it helped them think differently about their world and move through their own pain and darkness. James directly echoed his mother’s words when he referred to himself as a “witness of the power of light” and truth.

Alberta King and her parents, the leaders of Ebenezer Baptist Church, were the ones who helped MLK, Sr., Alberta’s future husband, grow as speakers. She had grown up – marching, boycotting, and seeing her parents as the first members of the Atlanta Chapter of the NAACP – to believe that social justice was a critical part of faith. Her son continued practices learned from his mother and maternal grandparents on how to stand up for your people.

Louise Little, meanwhile, had been raised to believe in independence, self-sufficiency, and black pride. Her grandparents and mother taught her not to rely on her white oppressor, and so she learned to hunt, grow her own food, and perfect her own profession. At the age of 17, long before Malcolm X was even on her mind, this highly educated woman left her home country Grenada to join Marcus Garvey’s international pan-Africanist movement. She wrote for the newspaper “Negro World” and fearlessly printed her name out despite the dangers.

CNN: All three sacrificed their own efforts to put their children first. However, they do mention that there is some kind of freedom to make that choice as well. What did you understand about societal expectations of motherhood?

Tubbs: Many mothers describe being suddenly treated as second class citizens when they become mothers. Mothers are often complimented on our selflessness. We often don’t get credit for everything we do for our families, both inside and outside the home. It’s like a magical servant folded clothes or put food on the table. We need to change attitudes towards motherhood, especially in the United States, by recognizing mothers and recognizing the power and influence of motherhood.

My siblings and I always made fun of our mother’s insistence that we thank her. If I took it for granted that she drove me to ballet training, she would blame me. “You must acknowledge that I did something for you. I am your mother i love you But I am under no obligation to do any of these things. “Now I see the effects of these lessons on our lives.

The history of black motherhood in the United States adds complexity. Much of white middle class feminism has been about how motherhood reproduces patriarchy – how women are forced to share our identities and not discuss our families at work, etc.

But many black women actually see our motherhood as an opportunity to recreate the world in a transformative and liberating way. The poet June Jordan said, “Children are the way the world begins again and again.” Often we see it less as a self-sacrifice to choose our children than as a rest of the world through them.

CNN: How did Baldwin, King, and Little protect their children through so much tribulation?

Tubbs: These three women have never accepted social circumstances as immutable. They saw what the world was like, but they also saw how incredible, powerful, beautiful and brilliant their children were. They were determined not to let themselves be defined or limited by the perspectives or the different treatment of others.

By the way I love them, these mothers have decided that they will always learn of their humanity, worth and dignity and respect. In addition, Alberta, Berdis and Louise have made ongoing commitments to do everything in their power to achieve their vision of a world where everyone is treated with dignity and respect.

For me and many black mothers, having a baby creates extra momentum to change all we can while we are on this earth and to teach our children how to join us in this struggle.

All three mothers spoke to their children about what was happening in relation to Jim Crow. They each told their children I was worried about you. They never hid this truth. But they continued to share the survival strategies of our people. As nice as that is, there is a lot of pressure when we feel like it’s our duty to change the world. I remember that we are not alone. We are part of a long line, a beautiful legacy of people struggling to make this world a better place.

CNN: Your own identity as a mother was informed through the process of creating this book. What advice did you get from the experiences of King, Baldwin, and Little?

Tubbs: All of them had family practices that I would like to emulate. Louise really took it upon herself to raise her children after school and re-teach what they had learned from their white teachers. She also taught her children how to garden, hunt, and gather their own food so they can support themselves.

Alberta and Martin Luther King Sr. had family dinners each evening, attended by elders in their ward, and greeted anyone who needed a meal. MLK Jr. and his sister Christine King Farris remembered these extended community dinners as important constants in their lives. I want to reproduce this as much as possible because motherhood should be a community effort that brings together more people who are invested in your child. This approach relieves so much pressure from the Western idea that the mother should do everything.

Berdis had nine children with a husband who became increasingly mentally ill and abusive. She realized that all she could do was control how she treated her children. All she could say was: I love you, I accept you, I forgive the people who did me wrong. Her children and grandchildren, whom I interviewed, kept telling how she was all about love, light and forgiveness. I don’t know how anyone does it, but that’s quite a powerful legacy to leave in the world.

CNN: So many social forces stand in the way of mothers trying to raise children to feel loved, so that in return they can give and spread love. However, resilience increases in line with the struggle. How has your research fueled your own stamina as a mother?

Tubbs: This book was such a gift for me. My son is only 18 months old and my second child is expected on August 23rd. Every time I read these stories I get new insights into motherhood based on what I go through that week. I know these women will continue to teach me.

One lesson that helps me through the stressful moments is to remember that all of these mothers willingly showed their vulnerability. Everyone shares something with their children like: I’m worried, I’m sad, I’m scared, or I’ve been hurt. Instead of having a smile on her face all the time and sending the wrong message that I can take anything, each mother had conversations about her own feelings. This added complexity to their relationships.

Vulnerability isn’t often celebrated in motherhood, but it does help children better understand the human condition. This deep understanding of humanity is surely one reason MLK, Jr., James Baldwin, and Malcolm X were so powerful.

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