February 23, 2012
Born in 1933, Myrlie Evers-Williams was the wife of murdered civil rights activist Medgar Evers. While fighting to bring his killer to justice, Evers-Williams also continued her husband's work with her book, For Us, The Living. She also wrote Watch Me Fly: What I Learned on the Way to Becoming the Woman I Was Meant to Be. Evers-Williams served as chair of the NAACP from 1995 to 1998.
Surprised by the moral outrage expressed by some over the depiction of blacks in The Help, civil rights journalist and activist Myrlie Evers-Williams pens a moving letter at the Hollywood Reporter in defense of the award-winning film.
My mother was “the help.” And so was her mother. I’m telling you these things because they were courageous and they were not alone in their courage. Legions of black women like them -- maids and waitresses and caretakers who fanned out across Vicksburg and Mississippi and the South to work in the homes and restaurants and hotels owned, operated and occupied by whites -- practiced small measures of courage every day by facing constant violent threat and institutionalized racism instated by the very people they were charged with feeding, rearing and caring for their children. Theirs is an American story that is rarely told on any grand, meaningful scale -- not one, at least, that defies stereotype and caricature. But recently, “The Help,” a film based on Kathryn Stockett’s bestselling book of the same name, became a cultural touchstone when two of its lead characters, both African-American maids in the then-staunchly segregated Mississippi, challenged viewers to walk their journey -- to see, as lead protagonist, Abileen Clark, said, “what it felt like to be me.”
To me, The Help is this year’s most outstanding and socially relevant motion picture; Viola Davis’ quiet but powerful portrayal of Abileen made us all take notice of a historically invisible class of women and Abileen’s story, along with those of the other maids who rallied with her to tell it, remind us that when we speak, if only in a whisper, momentous things can happen.
More here. (Note: In honor of African American History Month, we will be linking to at least one related post throughout February. The 2012 theme is Black Women in American Culture and History).
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