Silent Voices: The Southern Negro Woman Today [MultiFormat]
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eBook by Josephine Carson
eBook Category: General Nonfiction
eBook Description: In a tribute to the unheard and often not understood Negro women of the
south, Josephine Carson explores the lives of women with whom she lived,
and interprets the voices that had been silenced for so long. She paints
a detailed picture of the teachers, middle-class housewives, young
college girls, nurses, domestic servants, and workers who struggled with
the juxtaposition between their own identities and those society created
for them. Carson shows what a significant contribution each made to the
American Scene and how these women had their futures, religions,
friends, jobs, and culture--but above all, they had a voice.
eBook Publisher: E-Reads, Published: 1969
Fictionwise Release Date: December 2001
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This work is an impression and the search for a silenced voice, a crucial part in the chorus of American voices.
Black woman, silent, almost invisible in America, has been speaking for three hundred years in pantomime or at best in a borrowed voice. She has moved silently through the mythological roles forced upon her--from chattel to Mammy to Matriarch. She has solaced and fortified the entire South of the United States, black and white, male and female, a South which reveres and heeds her in secret, which confides in her and trusts her to rear its children, black and white, yet which--like the rest of America--has never asked her to speak, to reveal her private history, her knowledge, her imaginings, never asked her participation in anything but maintenance of humanity by way of the back door. The few rare cases of her rise to influence have been almost entirely in the fields of service, public, private, or domestic; she is teacher, nurse, social worker, sometimes lawyer, sometimes physician, even representative in state government, but this rise has occurred against great odds and in the face of a double restriction: she is woman and black.
A few have spoken as poets but--woman, black, and poet? Americans do not heed them, only sometimes indulge them. Few of us today could name even one Negro woman poet; fewer could recite her lines or define her meaning.
Who has asked for more than her body's labor and succor? Who has sought her wisdom, her ideas, her advice?
And who is this Black Woman, now, today? How did she move through these three centuries out of slavery, labeled and known mainly as servant, chick, whore, blues singer, spoiler of sons, but transcending all names and myths? (It is still more or less impossible to find reference to Negro Woman in our standard American historical and sociological works; one must still seek her by such devious headings as "rape complex" or "White Southern Womanhood," that famous exalted role in a myth that made woman, white, and purity synonymous words, a myth now in decay but still influential in Southern mores.)
Who remembers that she came here naked, shorn sometimes of royalty, of maternity; a sister severed from siblings, a peasant, a poet? Who remembers or ever knew of her as Margaret Garner, a slave caught escaping in the night, who slashed her own daughter's throat to keep her from slavery and who begged the white judge to kill her for she would "go singing to the gallows" rather than be returned to slavery?
Who remembers her as Sojourner Truth, the suffragette who, baring her breast before a convention of white male politicians who had ridiculed her femininity, asked, "Ain't I a woman?"
Chattel ... meaning to live and die as mere bone and muscle, meaning to survive as a good body, a breeder, a worker. Chattel is something, not someone. The soul took exile in secret inside the naked somethingness. In Black Woman, modesty was spiritual; to survive, the body succumbed to its conquerors.
Chattel the color of black was made to work fields and to breed more marketable pounds of chattel by the plantation stud or his master, following no natural taste or cycle, following market requirements. Chattel was first like a sterile womb. Out of that sterility she managed to be reborn American and to bring forth Black America--to hold it together as a people--and to feed and solace, besides, her white masters. Cotton and tobacco and sugar fed on black sweat; children, black and white, on black milk and black love. How shall that Southern white have eaten, have strengthened his bones without this black chattel? His hardiness is still his shame.
History is drama. In the familial drama of Southern history there are four characters: two who speak in words and two who speak in action. These are (1) White Man, author, villain, patriarch; history's stud perhaps, for he fathered most of the mulatto and all the white population of the South; (2) White Woman, symbol of virtue and racial purity in whose name were committed the most perverse crimes in Western history; (3) Black Man, tragic hero and animal sacrifice; and (4) Black Woman, heir to the spoils--from the charred remains of her lynched mate or son to the living rapacious body of White Man and the mulatto generations he sired. Nothing she gave could secure the manhood, dignity, or safety of her black mate; nothing she gave could humanize his white tormentor, but she gave it all the same.
Today she has inherited this cast and the stage in the final moment of that drama and still she has not been given lines but makes her statement almost entirely by her physical presence on that stage. Plainly, if given lines, she could only use them to tell it like it is and was, and the playwright and the world do not yet want it told that way.
And so she takes a body's position in the midst of a disintegrating drama, a historical pageant. As Rosa Parks she sat on the bus and with her body said "No"; and by that she bore that thing, already buried they say, called the Movement. She bore movement silently, letting the body's verboten presence tell it all, where fervent speeches before her had brought no movement.
She stands there still. She is the only person in the South today who greets all Southerners. That unsolicited history of matriarchal power has cast her into confrontation with all of society where if one language does not communicate, another will. She stands there still, receiving the wounded into her care--child or man. There is no South without her. She moves as envoy in her white uniform of caretaker from her black ghetto through the neutral zone of the city to the white ghetto, in the dawn, alone on the bus, working for white families to feed black families; her business is to tend, to heal, to endure, to support, to know, and to keep the story silent. One of her daughters, the young poet, Laverne Miranda, still sees her there alone and still hears her silence:
The Moving of the Mama Out of Bed
The moving of the mama out of bed
First the body then the head
Two foot down
Three foot taken
One step ahead
The movement of the body on the feet
The leaving of the children in wet beds
Bunion footed children
Left in bed
It should be me
In the kitchen singing no song
First the head on the bus
Then the body
Eyes wide open on the town
It should be me
Leaving man at home
Waking everybody in the house
Army of the black headed
Only women ride the buses in the dawn
Unseen women, hungry women
Black women ride the buses in the dawn.
But let her speak now. The houselights are already going up. That old ritual drama of race is ending in America now. Where it is resurrected there is a hollow sound. The lights go up, and we must look into each other's faces.
"Is she a matriarch?" my neighbor asks.
And I say, "Is she not a human, a woman, evolved out of tragedy and the body's inventiveness, the soul's patience? Do you still believe she has nothing to say?"