As I walked neighborhoods of the Mississippi Delta last summer, I thought about you.
I thought about the determination and resilience it took you to travel those same roads nearly 60 years ago. I wondered how you managed it, without the luxury of retreating to an air-conditioned hotel room every evening or the assurance that you were safe to go about your business during the day.
As I sat in the street, on my cellphone making calls to community members to line up the day’s organizing efforts, overwhelming gratefulness for your efforts rushed through me. I thought about you. I’m thankful you were so thoughtful in the work you left for us. Your passion, your purpose, and your power are forever graphed into the fabric of Mississippi, into the mantras still sung, and even into the work still undone.
You return to my thoughts often. When I was in the middle of a hospital emergency room, nearly shouting and doubled over in pain, I caught the stares of white attending nurses and doctors. I had unintentionally used the buzz words that trigger their lack of concern: abdominal pain.
I thought about your tenacity to continue to be a force in this world, which you possessed even after your ability to bring life into this world was taken from you. I thought about you as the doctors explained a hysterectomy was my only option and path forward. I thought about you having to bear the burden of all the people you advocated for, and how no one was there to advocate for you.
I thought about you this week as I walked the halls of the Mississippi capitol. What fierce strength you must have had to meet the hostility of the white men that lorded over that place and still do. I am grateful for the picture embedded in my subconscious of you in front of the microphone addressing a congress that hated you. It’s the visual I search for when I close my eyes before addressing crowds of folks who 60 years later, hate me because I love us, and the work to liberate us.
While presenting, organizing, and relentlessly advocating for voting rights, free and fair elections, access to health care, and pushing back on redistricting that nearly 60 years later, seeks to undo the work you selflessly devoted yourself to, I think of you.
I wonder if you’re proud. If you’re saying “keep going.” I’d care to know if you find the time we spend educating, empowering, and engaging smart and strategic. I wonder if you could advise me, would you? Would you prioritize your health over the continual stressful fight to liberate Black folks? Isn’t the fight to liberate Black folks the healthiest thing I could do for myself?
I wonder if you know how grateful we are to you. Do you feel the adoration of generations of women to follow you? Did you ever imagine nearly 60 years later we would still be calling on your strength, your strategy, your resilience, your tenacity, and your fierce uncompromising love for your people?
As long as there is still work to do, I know I’ll continue to think of you. I’ll think of you, and let your work ground me on those celebratory days when legislation passes that protects us. I’ll think of you and let your work inspire me on those days when Mississippi fails to adequately answer the question you asked nearly 60 years ago: “Is this America?”