Happy Mother's Day to the Women who Turned their Grief into Political ActionRoundup
tags: African American history, womens history, Mothers Day, Protest
Keisha N. Blain is an award-winning historian and writer. She is an associate professor of history at the University of Pittsburgh and has written extensively on race, gender, and politics in national and global perspectives. She is the author of the multi-prize-winning book Set the World on Fire: Black Nationalist Women and the Global Struggle for Freedom.
On April 26, a group of mothers gathered in Chicago, Illinois to hold a vigil for families who have lost loved ones to police violence in the city. These women — including Dorothy Holmes, the mother of Ronald Johnson, who was shot and killed by Chicago Police in 2014 — demanded police accountability. The women pointed out the string of violations by the Chicago Police Department and called to defund the police.
The activism of these women in 2021 follows in the footsteps of many mothers who came before them, including Mamie Till-Mobley, the mother of 14-year-old Emmett Till, who was lynched while visiting relatives in Mississippi in 1955. In the aftermath of her son’s tragic death, Till-Mobley became one of the leading voices demanding justice and calling for an end to state-sanctioned violence in the United States.
Much like Till-Mobley, many of today’s activist-mothers are working to bring about policy changes to improve the lives of all Americans, especially marginalized groups.
A few weeks before the April Chicago vigil, Katie Wright, the mother of 20-year-old Daunte Wright, who was fatally shot by a veteran police officer during a traffic stop in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, called for police accountability at a press conference. It was one of several public appearances that week as Wright sought to bring greater national awareness to the tragic shooting of her son.
Mother’s Day is the opportune moment to acknowledge the vital role mothers play in shaping American politics. Because throughout history, and in the most difficult circumstances — especially after experiencing great personal loss — mothers have often turned their grief and despair into political action.
This is reflected in the mass political organizing of Mothers of the Movement, a group of Black mothers whose sons and daughters have been killed by police officers or by gun violence. This group, which includes Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, Lezley McSpadden, the mother of Michael Brown, and Gwen Carr, the mother of Eric Garner, have been working tirelessly to push for legislation to fundamentally change American policing.
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