February 2001

  • The Women’s Times

    Volume 8

    February 2001

    African-American History Month Quiz

    by Jess Donald


    A. Maya Angelou
    B. Ella Baker
    C. Shirley Chisholm
    D. Ella Fitzgerald
    E. Dorothy Height
    F. Barbara Jordan
    G. Shirley Ann Jackson
    H. Mary Mahoney
    I.Constance Baker Motley
    J. Madame C. J. Walker
    K. Faye Wattleton
    L. Ida Wells-Barnett


    • One of the founders of the NAACP
    • First African-American woman to study and work as professionally trained nurse
    • Nation’s greatest jazz artist; first woman to receive Award of the Los Angeles Urban League
    • First African-American congresswoman of Texas; first African-American woman to serve as a Texas State Senator
    • First woman elected to New York State Senate, 1965;she first woman to be chosen as Borough; President-Johnson named her the first African-American woman as a Federal Court Judge
    • Considered to be one of the first African-American millionaires
    • First African-American woman named President of Planned Parenthood in 1978; held title until 1992
    • She is a noted physicist and head of United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission(NRC);first of two African-American women to receive her doctorate in physics in the U.S. ;first African American woman to receive doctorate in any field from Massachusetts Institute of Technology
    • First African-American woman elected to the U.S. Congress
    • A powerful writer who has inspired generations of women
    • Cofounder of Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) headed by Martin Luther King Jr.
    • President of National Council of Negro Women

    Answers can be found at the end of this newsletter.

    Solemn Words

    by Jess Donald

    Writers hold our hand and watch us dream. They can speak their lives in one word. They fascinate us with language that is so beautiful but also, sometimes, so horrifying we cannot believe we are reading it. Our minds are taken into their lives with our eyes we see as theirs did.

    There are many contemporary writers and poets that have had an impact on the lives of the people living within our society. One such woman was Gwendolyn Brooks, who was a well-known poet and author. She was also just recently entered into The Women’s Hall of Fame. Unfortunately, she recently passed away on December 3, 2000. Born in Topeka, Kansas in 1917 and raised in Chicago, she is the author of more than twenty books of poetry, including Children Come Home(1991), Blacks(1987), To Disembark(1981), The Near-Johannesburg Boy and Other Poems(1986), The Bean Eaters(1960), and Annie Allen(1949), along with many others. She was named Poet Laureate for the state of Illinois, and from 1985-1986 she was the Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress. She was also honored with many awards and recognitions including, The American Academy of Arts and Letters Award, the Frost Medal, A National Endowment for the Arts Award, the Shelly Memorial Award, and fellowships for The Academy of American Poets and the Guggenheim Foundation.

    Many of her poems can be found on numerous websites and in classrooms everywhere. Selected poems show her struggle with life as an African American woman. The words written upon the steady page portray her as a well-rounded woman, who had seen many changes in our society occur during her lifetime. She will be greatly missed by the literary world, but her writing will always resound with her memory as it is read, spoken aloud and discussed by people everywhere.

    Here is an excerpt of one of her poems:

    A Sunset Of The City

    Already I am no longer looked at with lechery or love.
    My daughters and sons have put me away with marbles and dolls,
    Are gone from the house.
    My husband and lovers are pleasant or somewhat polite
    And night is night.

    It is a real chill out,
    The genuine thing.
    I am not deceived, I do not think it is still summer
    Because sun stays and birds continue to sing.

    It is summer-gone that I see, it is summer-gone.
    The sweet flowers indrying and dying down,
    The grasses forgetting their blaze and consenting to brown.

    It is a real chill out. The fall crisp comes.
    I am aware there is winter to heed.
    There is no warm house
    That is fitted with my need.

    I am cold in this cold house this house
    Whose washed echoes are tremulous down lost halls.
    I am a woman, and dusty, standing among new affairs.
    I am a woman who hurries through her prayers.

    Tin intimations of a quiet core to be my
    Desert and my dear relief
    Come: there shall be such islanding from grief,
    And small communion with the master shore.
    Twang they.
    and I incline this ear to tin,
    Consult a dual dilemma. Whether to dry
    In humming pallor or to leap and die.

    Somebody muffed it? Somebody wanted to joke.
    —Gwendolyn Brooks

    Celebrating Culture and History: An Interview with Veronica Watson

    by Claudette Dolan

    February is here, and with it comes the chance for us all to celebrate Black History Month. No matter what color your skin is, I believe each of us has a social, if not moral, obligation toward every human being on earth, which involves trying to get along with one another and treating others as we would like to be treated ourselves. The best way to accomplish this, it seems to me, is through the knowledge and understanding we can acquire in regard to people who share a culture that is not identical to our own. This is one of the most wonderful things about Black History Month—the fact that it calls attention to a rich heritage—one with the power to intrigue anyone who has the opportunity to study its many facets.

    In line with this celebration of culture and history, I made a trip over to Sutton Hall to speak with Veronica Watson, the coordinator of Pan-African studies and a member of our English faculty. The fact that she was born and raised in Houston, Texas makes her a Southern Woman just like me. This was an aspect that made us both realize we have shared many common experiences, especially in our connections to other women. While pointing out that it is important to learn about and hold value for the differences that exist between persons from separate cultural backgrounds, the truth remains that there are always going to be basic aspects of humanity traversing ethnic boundaries. She spoke to me about the ways women communicated with one another in her home, and her words took me back to my own grandmother’s kitchen, “It’s good to know that it crosses cultures . . . the way women talk and the way I’ve always heard women talk around me. All we need to do is sit in the kitchen, it was either over food, or you were doing each other’s hair.” Since she has come to Western Pennsylvania, she has connected in much the same way with her friend, Carolyn Princes, who is IUP’s director of the African-American cultural center, “Carolyn and I are personal friends, so we get together and we talk endlessly about the challenges of being at IUP…There are some days when you really need that. I guess one of the things that I’m beginning to experience as I’ve become a woman (and I still sort of think of myself as growing into that role), and this comes up in a lot of African American Literature, is that there’s a really nice way that women connect with each other—provide support for one another,” she says.

    Yet, the preservation of cultural difference becomes a sacred drive to prevent its loss. I expressed my concern about the difficult task of approaching education within a realm that is unfamiliar, asking for a strategy to avoid the tokenizing of other cultures. Dr. Watson feels that IUP’s location puts many people at a cultural disadvantage. She explains, “I think it’s very difficult not to fall into the pattern of, ‘Ooooh, exotic other!’ I think there is a real desire to preserve that which makes us different—that which sets us apart—and to value that. Around people who are pushing, ‘Oh, you are just like I am,’ I find that my instinct is to say, ‘Well, there are also some things that are very different about us, and that means that, perhaps, we see some things very differently. And for people who are around me saying, ‘Oh, you’re so different,’ I find the desire to try to establish some common ground, so that they don’t see me as being that foreign-person entity.” As she describes, sometimes there can be difficulties in striking a balance within this type of educational process, many times hinging upon a myriad of conflicting individual interactions and situations.

    Dr. Watson does much on campus to educate others about African American culture, though, in her role as coordinator of Pan-African Studies, “It’s about programming classes and making sure the content is being delivered in a particular type of way to students. As a coordinator, I have also tried to bring in some speakers. Like last February, we had three events that happened, and they came primarily from Pan-African studies. . . We had an exhibit that was in the library for the whole month of February, and it was called, “Painted Voices.” Those were twenty portraits of African American intellectuals and thinkers. . . At another event, there was a film screening of Ill Gotten Gains, and the producer and writer, Joel Marsden, came. Then, our last person was Diane White, who came and did “Sunday Vespers,” which was a musical performance done with all the IUP choirs.”

    Another project that Dr. Watson has been working on with local historian, Christine Catalfamo, is The Underground Railroad Project, which was featured in an article of the September, 2000 Times. She is very excited about the efforts she has put into this endeavor, which proves to be challenging at times. “We’re recovering the local Underground Railroad history, but in addition to being able to really outline the lives of the abolitionists and rural people who were working against slavery in this area,” she told me. Most of the escapees who were involved have little or no information left behind for anyone to find, as Dr. Watson describes, they are simply “nameless.” They have found information regarding three men, who happened to be in the area for an extended period of time, due to one man, Charlie’s, involvement in a court case. “You can’t look in the normal venues. Things like, for example, he wasn’t paying any property taxes.” The pair’s search for this former slave’s history took them to Moorefield, West Virginia, where they tried to find Charlie’s owner. The name they had listed as the owner turned out merely to be the name of the executor for the owner’s estate. There were even more entanglements, when they discovered that there were five men with the same name—identical to the one they were looking for. “We then had to start doing some deduction, ‘Ok, this one was too young in 1845, and this one wasn’t even born in 1845,’’ exemplifying perfectly the fact that not all of us have an easy time recovering our family’s heritage, something many of us could take for granted.

    Dr. Watson remembers visiting the home of her brother’s white mother-in-law about ten years ago and personally feeling this sense of loss, which can accompany this stumbling block. “Everything in her home is about 100 years old, and she can tell you, ‘It came over with my great-great grandparents.’ I know my grandparent’s names. I don’t know anything about my great-great grandparents. It’s unfair, but you know, that’s the first time I got angry about it. There are people who know so much about themselves. I don’t know that much about my history. I couldn’t find out that easily, and that’s the first time I realized that, Boy, there are some people in this world who are quite different from me in some very obvious ways…She had all this stuff surrounding her that just constantly reminded her of family, and we didn’t—we never would...”

    You can delve into history yourself during Black History with Veronica Watson’s Must Read Book List:

    • Richard Wright’s Native Son
    • Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man
    • Zora Neal Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God
    • Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye
    • Frederick Douglass’ The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass
    • Edwidge Danticat’s Krik? Krak! (short- stories) and Breath, Eyes, Memory

    Museings—On Fall Entremesas

    by Brenda Mitchell

    “Thank You” to the women who offered a wide range of perspectives on diverse issues, both local and national, during our fall Entremesa colloquium series, “Women in Politics.” I learned a lot from these discussions and they served as a reminder of the many strong women who live and work in Indiana, and who continually strive for positive social change in this community, statewide, nationally, and internationally. Chris Catalfamo and Carolyn Thompson opened our series with a presentation on issues concerning women and the huge Feminist Expo event held the previous April in Washington, D.C. They showed a video clip exploring the relationships between prominent political candidates and the “Religious Right,” which many feminists view as anti-woman in their opposition to many social programs and legal issues concerning women.

    The Indiana County League of Women Voters, including President Aida Shotts and members Nancy Fricke, Vonnie Hunter, Pepita Jacobs, and Sandy Whitson spoke about the importance of voting, especially for women, who have been able to exercise this right of enfranchisement only since 1920. Related issues came up, such as voter turnout, individual responsibility in becoming informed about important issues and where to get information, and obstacles and roadblocks that make voting difficult --little did we know how timely that discussion would be!! Participants were shocked by the revelation that more people tuned in to see who won “Survivor” than voted in the 1996 presidential election. One student commented on the powerful impact of their presentation, saying “I can’t imagine the horror that Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Ida B. Wells, Alice Paul, Carrie Chapman Catt, and every other woman who fought for our right to vote would feel if they knew that [we take for granted] what they fought so hard for.”

    Yvonne Redd and Pat Heilman spoke about their personal experiences as a member of the Borough Council and President of the IUP ASPSCUF, respectively. Both women grew up as minorities in their communities –Redd grew up in a predominantly white community and the majority of Heilman’s home community were people of color. An Assistant to the Associate Provost at IUP and a pastor’s wife, Redd is serving her second term on the Borough Council. She is the second woman to be elected to the Council and first African-American to be elected to any office in the borough of Indiana. Noting that the “Borough has always been run by a group of men,” Redd explained her first-term strategy as waiting, listening, and eventually expressing her opinion. But in her second term, “I have spoken up, I have been confrontational and ---it surprised me!!” She sees a need for more women to be involved in local politics and encourages more women to come to the Council meetings. Pat Heilman is the third woman to serve as the president of the local ASPCUF. She cited her father, a union member who died as a result of contact with chemicals in his workplace, as a major influence on her commitment to labor unions. Heilman is encouraged by what she sees as improving circumstances for women in APSCUF – four women were elected as officers in the union and “nobody noticed!!” On the other hand, she observed that the makeup of IUP’s management is less diverse now than it was ten years ago.

    Maddy Ross, a graduate of IUP and the managing editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, is one of the few women who hold this position in the nation. She is responsible for the content of the paper excluding the editorials, and so must consider all sides of an issue and “keep her opinion to herself.” Nevertheless, she did share with us the perspectives of a veteran journalist and asked stimulating questions (still keeping her opinions to herself) that provoked discussion and reflection on various topics. Ross compared her days at IUP in the late 1960s to the present. “In 67-71 we were protesting the Vietnam War. We were very concerned about the African American enrollment. When I graduated there were 13 African American Students out of ten thousand, and we were very concerned about that, and there were a lot of hot issues we were involved in including, and this is one you’ve never heard before, an editorial in The Penn that said that too many resources were going to foot ball instead of to academics. What was different about today [when she drove to Indiana] was, I stopped in to get gas and there were two young people who looked like they were probably students, they of course were not talking about Vietnam and integration and all of that, but about what happened with the Nasdaq today. They looked like they were eighteen and they were talking about the stock market. Now something has changed.” Noting the “leadership issue” and the media’s role in election coverage as two main concerns during the election, Ross asked, “How many here watched the last debate? You had to be looking at that screen saying to yourself, is this my leader? … I mean you had one who was rolling his eyes and making faces and sighing, and another one who could barely complete a sentence.” Ross believed that journalists learned a lesson from the Monica Lewinsky hype and concentrated on “the issues.” “But what’s missing, I think, is the journalistic media delving into the characters of these two people in trying to avoid chasing after scandal. So we really don’t know, and I mean we’ve had ample opportunity. I mean George Bush doesn’t know what he did in the Reserves?…You know we wouldn’t let Bill Clinton wink at somebody without doing a full-blown investigation. These two guys who don’t know where they were, don’t know why they were at the temple, and they don’t know what they were doing in the Reserves and the media blinks. I think that’s a real disservice.”

    Sara Steelman, Representative, 62 Legislative District, Linda J. Moore-Mack, Prothonotary and Clerk of Courts in Indiana County, Patricia Streams-Warman, Register of Wills and Recorder of Deeds, and Carol Hanna, Attorney organized and participated in our final Entremesa of the semester. They discussed their ideas concerning gender issues in local and state government, and represent a number of firsts for women in local and state government. Steelman has been elected to the PA House of Representatives five consecutive times in the last decade and she serves on the House Education, Agriculture, Rural Affairs, Environmental Resources and Energy Committees. Linda Moore-Mack has also been elected five times after serving as county auditor and is only the second woman to hold the position of prothonotary in Indiana County. She holds a dual office responsible for all civil and criminal records since 1807. Patricia Streams-Warman is the first woman elected in her own right to the office of Register and Recorder and is currently serving her second term in this office. She has also worked as a county auditor. Carol Hanna is the first woman to run for Common Please Court Judge in Indiana County. She is the Assistant District Attorney responsible for child support enforcement, was a delegate to the 2000 Democratic National Convention, and is the first child custody mediator of Indiana County.

    “Women in Politics” highlighted the progress women have made in politics, law, and government, and demonstrated the hard work and seriousness of purpose shared by the participants. It provided a forum for learning, discussion, and connecting with women in our community.

    In retrospect, however, the bizarre, history-making presidential election, complete with chads -- dimpled, pregnant, and hanging –and the major obstacles created for citizens trying to exercise their right to vote (early poll closings and lost ballots)-- which seemed to affect mostly members of certain ethnic “minorities” – seems to overshadow the positive changes and progress achieved by these women. Last week businesses in Indiana were sprayed with swastikas. Where are we headed in the 21st century?

    Answers to the Quiz:
    1. L
    2. H 
    3. D 
    4. F
    5. I 
    6. J
    7. K
    8. G
    9. C
    10. A
    11. B
    12. E