Dec 27, 2003 1:43 am


High atop my bookshelves is a little shrine of three statues gathered around a tiny sample bale of cotton from the 1930s. One of the statues is of Eugene Talmadge, Georgia's white racist governor in the 1930s and 1940s. Emphasizing ol' Gene's red galluses, it was a gimmick given in return for campaign contributions. Incongruously, next to him stands an old cast iron tobacco humidor in the form of a robed Friar Tuck. His hands are folded across his capacious stomach in a pious pose. Next to him, glaring across that little cotton bale at ol' Gene Talmadge, is a cast iron bank in the form of Aunt Jemima. As a symbol, of course, she offends some people, but it's fairly clear from this Aunt Jemima's pose that she's ready to offend Eugene Talmadge. Her hands are on her hips and she is poised to speak some truth to power.

I was reminded of my little shrine yesterday when I read this story about Lauryn Hill denouncing corruption of the clergy at a Vatican-sponsored concert. Hill's pronouncement at the Vatican reminds me also of Eartha Kitt's denunciation of the Johnson administration's pursuit of the Viet Nam War when she was at a White House conference in 1968. Can you imagine the bodacious courage it would take to do such a thing? Some people call it rude and tasteless, but the prophets are always similarly dismissed.

More than that, we've recently been learning that African American women, more often than not, were the backbone of local civil rights movements all across the South. Finally, after Dr. King got his national holiday and two Pulitzer Prize winning biographies, we learn about the women who were on the ground and doing the work: Ella Baker, Fannie Lou Hamer, and toomanymore to name them all. We should have known that all along and my Aunt Jemima is a constant reminder of it.

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