[Blackstudies-l] REMEMBERING MS. BEAH RICHARDS and her poem: "A Black Woman Speaks… Of White Womanhood Of White Supremacy Of Peace"

Maria Lima lima at geneseo.edu
Sat Jul 11 11:28:54 EDT 2020


*Note: Much Thanx goes to Miami based artist and activist -Brother Dinizulu
Tinnie- for sending this out far and wide.-- SEA*

“Who?”  That is probably the first word that comes to mind for upwards of
90% of Americans reading this headline.  A select few who are of a certain
age might recall Beah Richards’ Oscar-winning Best Supporting Actress role
as Mrs. Prentice, the mother of Sidney Poitier’s character in the 1967
blockbuster movie “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.”

However, in ways that might never have made hers a “household name,” the
extraordinarily talented child who was born Beulah Elizabeth Richardson 100
years ago this year on July 12, 1920, in Vicksburg, Mississippi, would grow
to become not only an acclaimed actress of screen, stage, and television,
with nearly a dozen significant Hollywood movies to her credit, but also an
important playwright, poet, author, and a boldly inspiring, fondly
remembered  mentor to younger artists.

However, in what might be called her greatest role of all , Ms. Richards,
much like her own mentor and friend the legendary Paul Robeson, did not
allow stardom and show business to deter from her more compelling
commitment to being a fearless and tireless, dedicated and outspoken
activist for social justice and equal rights for peoples of color
worldwide, and for women and workers in general.

It was in this role that she closely followed the nationally sensational
case of Willie McGee, a Black man in Mississippi accused of raping a White
woman with whom he apparently had a consensual relationship,  for which he
had gone through two mistrials and was going before a third jury in 1951,
when Ms. Richards, reflecting on the whole history of the South where she
was born and raised and which she knew only too well, penned a brilliantly
insightful poem entitled “A Black Woman Speaks, of White Womanhood, of
White Supremacy, and Peace,” reproduced below, which might be considered a
lasting emblem of her lifelong creative genius, sincerity, courage

Space here does not allow for the full exploration of her many achievements
that they deserve, but readers are strongly encouraged to research and be
inspired by her remarkable life, one of so many that have mattered so
deeply to the making of this country without the recognition that is due.

The centennial of Ms. Richards’ birth on July 12 is a most appropriate
occasion to give her memory that overdue recognition, perhaps with some
gesture of remembrance in our homes, or mention of her name in our places
of worship on that Sunday, but certainly by recognizing how acutely timely
and relevant her poem is to the present time, as the attention of the world
is focused on Black America’s dual plight of suffering a grossly
disproportionate death rate from both the COVID-19 pandemic, and from a
rash of incidents of unwarranted police brutality, as protesters and
observers around the world denounce the blatantly racist Trump
administration in aiding and abetting these outcomes.

The poem becomes even more timely today as a presidential election
approaches and we are reminded, of the astonishing 2016 “election” of
Donald Trump, in spite of having actually lost by some 3 million popular
votes, due to the American technicality of the Electoral College, and the
startling role of the 53% of White women who voted for a self-avowed
misogynist and racist, and against the nation’s possible first female
president (compared to 94% of Black women voting for Hillary Clinton).

In the wake of #MeToo, impeachment, COVID-19, and other developments in
thus Year of Awakening, the world will be watching America’s White
Womanhood even more closely than Ms. Richards did in 1951.

On the brighter side her legacy, we must recognize LisaGay Hamilton’s brilliant
90-minute 2006 HBO biographical documentary *“Beah: A Black Woman Speaks”*
(taking its title from the poem), a recent screening of which inspired a
group of viewers to launch a nationwide effort to commemorate Ms. Richards,
between July 12 and September 14, the 20th anniversary of her death at age
80 in 2000, with articles, programs, film showings and virtual activities
at both grassroots and official levels, that will bring to light her many
contributions and those of people whom she inspired.

What better way to begin our next 400 years of history in these lands than
by celebrating and elevating the memory of those whom the last 400 years of
history so routinely excluded, ignored, misrepresented, and denied.

Ms. Richards’ classic poem follows...


*For my known and unknown maternal and paternal Black Women ancestors who
both slaved and worked (for barely livable wages) in White folks’ homes for
centuries… *

*A Black Woman Speaks…  Of White Womanhood Of White Supremacy Of Peace*

*It is right that I a woman black, should speak of white womanhood. My
fathers my brothers my husbands my sons die for it; because of it. And
their blood chilled in electric chairs, stopped by hangman’s noose, cooked
by lynch mobs’ fire, spilled by white supremacist mad desire to kill for
profit, gives me that right.*

*I would that I could speak of white womanhood as it will and should be
when it stands tall in full equality. But then, womanhood will be womanhood
void of color and of class, and all necessity for my speaking thus will be
past. Gladly past.*

*But now, since ‘tis deemed a thing apart supreme, I must in searching
honesty report how it seems to me. White womanhood stands in bloodied skirt
and willing slavery reaching out adulterous hand killing mine and crushing
me. What then is this superior thing that in order to be sustained must
needs feed upon my flesh? How came this horror to be? Let’s look to

*They said, the white supremacist said that you were better than me, that
your fair brow should never know the sweat of slavery. They lied. White
womanhood too is enslaved, the difference is degree.*

*They brought me here in chains. They brought you here willing slaves to
man. You, shiploads of women each filled with hope that she might win with
ruby lip and saucy curl and bright and flashing eye him to wife who had the
largest tender. Remember? And they sold you here even as they sold me. My
sisters, there is no room for mockery. If they counted my teeth they did
appraise your thigh and sold you to the highest bidder the same as I.*

*And you did not fight for your right to choose whom you would wed but for
whatever bartered price that was the legal tender you were sold to a
stranger’s bed in a stranger land remember? And you did not fight. Mind
you, I speak not mockingly but I fought for freedom, I’m fighting now for
our unity. We are women all, and what wrongs you murders me and eventually
marks your grave so we share a mutual death at the hand of tyranny.*

*They trapped me with the chain and gun. They trapped you with lying
tongue. For, 'less you see that fault- that male villainy that robbed you
of name, voice and authority, that murderous greed that wasted you and me,
he, the white supremacist, fixed your minds with poisonous thought: “white
skin is supreme.” and therewith bought that monstrous change exiling you to
things. Changed all that nature had ill you wrought of gentle usefulness,
abolishing your spring. Tore out your heart, set your good apart from all
that you could say, think, feel, know to be right. And you did not fight,
but set your minds fast on my slavery the better to endure your own.*

*'Tis true my pearls were beads of sweat wrung from weary bodies’ pain,
instead of rings upon my hands I wore swollen, bursting veins. My ornaments
were the whip-lash’s scar my diamond, perhaps, a tear. Instead of paint and
powder on my face I wore a solid mask of fear to see my blood so spilled.
And you, women seeing spoke no protest but cuddled down in your pink
slavery and thought somehow my wasted blood confirmed your superiority.*

*Because your necklace was of gold you did not notice that it throttled
speech. Because diamond rings bedecked your hands you did not regret their
dictated idleness. Nor could you see that the platinum bracelets which
graced your wrists were chains binding you fast to economic slavery. And
though you claimed your husband’s name still could not command his

*You bore him sons. I bore him sons. No, not willingly. He purchased you.
He raped me, I fought! But you fought neither for yourselves nor me. Sat
trapped in your superiority and spoke no reproach. Consoled your outrage
with an added diamond brooch. Oh, God, how great is a woman’s fear who for
a stone, a cold, cold stone would not defend honor, love or dignity!*

*You bore the damning mockery of your marriage and heaped your hate on me,
a woman too, a slave more so. And when your husband disowned his seed that
was my son and sold him apart from me you felt avenged. Understand: I was
not your enemy in this, I was not the source of your distress. I was your
friend, I fought. But you would not help me fight thinking you helped only
me. Your deceived eyes seeing only my slavery aided your own decay. Yes,
they condemned me to death and they condemned you to decay. Your heart
whisked away, consumed in hate, used up in idleness playing yet the lady’s
part estranged to vanity. It is justice to you to say your fear equalled
your tyranny.*

*You were afraid to nurse your young lest fallen breast offend your
master’s sight and he should flee to firmer loveliness. And so you passed
them, your children, on to me. Flesh that was your flesh and blood that was
your blood drank the sustenance of life from me. And as I gave suckle I
knew I nursed my own child’s enemy. I could have lied, told you your child
was fed till it was dead of hunger. But I could not find the heart to kill
orphaned innocence. For as it fed, it smiled and burped and gurgled with
content and as for color knew no difference. Yes, in that first while I
kept your sons and daughters alive.*

*But when they grew strong in blood and bone that was of my milk you taught
them to hate me. Put your decay in their hearts and upon their lips so that
strength that was of myself turned and spat upon me, despoiled my
daughters, and killed my sons. You know I speak true. Though this is not
true for all of you.*

*When I bestirred myself for freedom and brave Harriet led the way some of
you found heart and played a part in aiding my escape. And when I made my
big push for freedom your sons fought at my sons’ side, Your husbands and
brothers too fell in that battle when Crispus Attucks died. It’s
unfortunate that you acted not in the way of justice but to preserve the
Union and for dear sweet pity’s sake; Else how came it to be with me as it
is today? You abhorred slavery yet loathed equality.*

*I would that the poor among you could have seen through the scheme and
joined hands with me. Then, we being the majority, could long ago have
rescued our wasted lives. But no. The rich, becoming richer, could be
content while yet the poor had only the pretense of superiority and sought
through murderous brutality to convince themselves that what was false was

*So with KKK and fiery cross and bloodied appetites set about to prove that
“white is right” forgetting their poverty. Thus the white supremacist used
your skins to perpetuate slavery. And woe to me. Woe to Willie McGee. Woe
to the seven men of Martinsville. And woe to you. It was no mistake that
your naked body on an Esquire calendar announced the date, May Eighth. This
is your fate if you do not wake to fight. They will use your naked bodies
to sell their wares though it be hate, Coca Cola or rape.*

*When a white mother disdained to teach her children this doctrine of hate,
but taught them instead of peace and respect for all men’s dignity the
courts of law did legislate that they be taken from her and sent to another
state. To make a Troy Hawkins of the little girl and a killer of the little

*No, it was not for the womanhood of this mother that Willie McGee died but
for a depraved, enslaved, adulterous woman whose lustful demands denied,
lied and killed what she could not possess. Only three months before
another such woman lied and seven black men shuddered and gave up their
lives. These women were upheld in these bloody deeds by the president of
this nation, thus putting the official seal on the fate of white womanhood
within these United States. This is what they plan for you. This is the
depravity they would reduce you to. Death for me and worse than death for

*What will you do? Will you fight with me? White supremacy is your enemy
and mine. So be careful when you talk with me. Remind me not of my slavery,
I know it well but rather tell me of your own. Remember, you have never
known me. You’ve been busy seeing me as white supremacist would have me be,
and I will be myself. Free! My aim is full equality. I would usurp their
plan! Justice peace and plenty for every man, woman and child who walks the
earth. This is my fight!*

*If you will fight with me then take my hand and the hand of Rosa Ingram,
and Rosalee McGee, and as we set about our plan let our wholehearted fight

*by **Beah Richards*

Beulah Elizabeth *Richardson* (July 12, 1920 – September 14, 2000)

Some videos
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