Still Waiting on the Lady to Set Things Right
by Kathleen Murphey
My Fellow Americans,
Although I’ve been dead for nearly 140 years, my spirit won’t rest because what I see in the United States of America is an utter tragedy.
After being a slave and walking to freedom, I became an abolitionist and a suffragette, and at that Ohio convention in 1851, I told them, among other things, “I can’t read, but I can hear. I have heard the Bible and have learned that Eve caused man to sin. Well if woman upset the world, do give her a chance to set it right side up again.”
It is nearly 170 years since that Ohio speech, rand there is a racist in the White House, Black children being killed by the police, Black people (not slaves and not living under Jim Crow) but perpetually discriminated against and getting the short end of economic and educational opportunities. Why is that? What is wrong here?
Langston Hughes published “Let America Be America Again” in 1936 and “What happens to a dream deferred?” in 1951. And then there was the Civil Rights Movement, and Americans (White and Black) fought to dismantle Jim Crow—but, oh, how racial bigotry lingers.
Black Lives Matter—now there are some women worth noting, Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi, started something special in 2013. Unfortunately, more Black deaths have catapulted the BLM Movement to a long overdue discussion on systemic racism in America. Poor George and poor Breonna and too many other Black babies. And though the racists try to blame the victims, there are loud and persistent voices calling for justice and equality. I’ll try to send some of my spirit energy to their aid. Lord knows they’ll need it.
What we need is a uniter—someone like Martin Luther King, Jr., with “I Have a Dream” or Bobby Kennedy with his speech announcing the assassination of Martin.
Martin’s powerful 1963
speech is too long to quote here, but these few lines seem like so little to demand.
“I have a dream that my four little
children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the
color of their skin but by the content of their character.” Is it really so hard to make Martin’s
dream come true?
Imagine a uniter calling Americans to come together as Bobby did in Indianapolis that horrible night in 1968:
need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is
not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence or lawlessness; but love
and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those
who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or they be black…. say a
prayer for our own county … for understanding and that compassion.”
Bobby’s words so different from the vitriol that spills from the mouth and fingertips of the current president. Just a disgrace. Black Lives Matter, and that man is a dangerous fool! Poor Bobby, they shot him too.
On a more upbeat note, I heard a snippet of song the other day by a singer named Beyoncé.
I can’t move
Freedom, cut me loose
Where are you?
‘Cause I need freedom, too
I break chains all by myself
Won’t let my freedom rot in hell.”
It’s a crying shame that so many have to call for freedom and justice and we are still so far from achieving them. I am still waiting on the Lady to set things right, but we seem to have a whole lotta women all hot and bothered, and men with them, too. So I am hoping they will be the tipping point because we have been asking for the same dang things for way too dang long! Maybe we don’t need to wait for another version of Eve to set things straight. Maybe we can do it ourselves—together with love and compassion and empathy.
In 1867, I said, “I have been forty years a slave and forty years free and would be here forty years more to have equal rights for all. I suppose I am kept here because something remains for me to do; I suppose I am yet to help to break the chain.” How could I know that my spirit would be called back because “something remains for me to do”!
Something remains for all Americans to do—make justice and equality a reality for all Americans—Black, White, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, male, female, no-binary, LGBTQ+, Muslim, Jew, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist. And let’s not forget equal pay for equal work (I was talking about this back in my day) and women’s rights are human rights (and that includes women’s reproductive rights). As a former slave, I know first-hand that being able to choose to have children or not is a fundamental right. Recently, I saw a picture of a woman protester with a sign that read “Keep Your Laws Off my Uterus.” Now that should be Gospel.
It is about time that these words from the Declaration of Independence rang true for all: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all [human beings] are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Well, I say, “Amen to that!” I have all along. Let’s get to work, my fellow Americans, because my spirit could use some rest.
Yours very sincerely,
* * * * *
Kathleen Murphey is an Associate Professor at Community College of Philadelphia. She had her first play performed as part the Philadelphia Fringe Festival, P Pan and Beyondland, with performances at the German Society of Pennsylvania on Saturday September 15th and Sunday September 16th, 2018. More information about her and the play can be found at her Website, www.kathleenmurphey.com.