Amy Tillerson-Brown

Dr. Amy Tillerson-Brown presented the last lecture in the One Community’s 2018-2019 discussions series at The Prizery on Thursday entitled, “Remembering our Past to Protect our Future: Women’s Activism in the Civil Rights Movement and Beyond.”

The famous writer, George Santayana once said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Dr. Amy Tillerson-Brown, associate professor and chair of the history department at Mary Baldwin University, would agree with that statement.

Tillerson-Brown presented the last lecture in the One Community’s 2018-2019 discussions series at The Prizery on Thursday to an engaged and inquisitive audience entitled, “Remembering our Past to Protect our Future: Women’s Activism in the Civil Rights Movement and Beyond,” which centers on the activism specifically of black women in the struggle for American citizenship and the strategies used by women of the Civil Rights generation.

One message permeated Tillerson-Brown’s presentation, that major political and human rights movements such as the civil rights movement begin from the ground up, with someone willing to take a stand, such as Rosa Parks, who refused to give up her seat aand move to the back of the bus.

Ella Baker, Septima Poinsette Clark, Pauli Murray and Kimberlee Williams Crenshaw may not have the same name recognition to many Americans as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Dr. Ralph Abernathy as lynchpins of the civil rights movement, said Tillerson-Brown.

But, she said their work was just as important in bringing attention to institutions that diluted African-American voting strength such as the poll tax.

Baker, 1927 Valedictorian at Shaw University did extensive work with the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee and counted W.E.B. DuBois among her contemporaries, and Clark, a teacher whose activism spanned multiple decades, worked to equalize black and white teachers salaries and also played a major role in recruiting black voters in the south, according to Tillerson-Brown.

Murray, an attorney who made history as the first African-American female Episcopal priest, later helped frame the arguments in the case of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, with the U.S. Supreme Court in 1954 ruling that American state laws establishing racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional.

Crenshaw, a professor at the UCLA School of Law and Columbia Law School, noted the unique and oftentimes tragic situation in which women of color find themselves in terms of justice.

“If a black woman can be free, everyone would be free, because all systems of oppression have been destroyed,” is a quote attributed to Crenshaw.

Tillerson-Brown pointed to inequities in accumulated wealth and disparities in the prison population as things that should be corrected through continued activism.

Tillerson-Brown, who has taught in the history departments at Virginia Tech, Morgan State and Piedmont Virginia Community College, and who also has worked as a public school counselor in Roanoke City Public Schools and Baltimore City Public Schools, directed comments to the educational system and the need for changes in the way discipline is handled.

“Does your school district track discipline by race and gender?” asked Tillerson-Brown.

“Presumptions of guilt and incompetence directed to black and brown students often goes unnoticed, because it has been systemically been so normalized,” she said.

In keeping with the theme, “Where do we go from here? Tillerson-Brown advocates intervention and policies that focus on education over incarceration.

Tillerson-Brown returned to the theme of one person making a difference toward the end of her remarks when quoting Murray, who did much of her work before the advent of computers and word processors.

“One person and a typewriter constitutes a movement,” Tillerson-Brown quoted Murray as saying.

Thursday’s program was made possible in part with funding by Virginia Humanities.

Doug Ford reports for The Gazette-Virginian. Contact him at dford@gazettevirginian.com.

Doug Ford covers news and sports for The Gazette-Virginian. Contact him at dford@gazettevirginian.com.