by Whitney Johnson —
Playwright, writer, civil rights attorney and criminal justice professor Gloria J. Browne-Marshall was able to finish two books and two plays in the 10 years it took for her to complete “She Took Justice.”
Her devotion to this undertaking has brought numerous untold stories and unrecognized figures closer to their rightful place at the forefront of our collective history.
Each vignette throughout the book depicts the fiercely courageous means by which countless Black women — who were often denied the right to protect their own families, their own bodies, or even their own existence — still managed to help bring justice for their race, their gender and their perpetuity against all odds.
Thanks to this labor of love, Browne-Marshall has bestowed upon us cause for celebration, as well as call to action.
With the turn of every page, the heart breaks, but the mind is enlightened, and the soul is empowered to inspire in us a desire not only to know more, but to do more.
The New Tri-State Defender: Why did this particular book demand completion?
Browne-Marshall: “These women demanded to have their time in the sun. These are the ones who scraped and scratched and, in my psyche, were like, ‘You’re not going to rest until we see sunlight.’
“I didn’t want it to turn into an encyclopedia of Black women we should know, so I feel terrible for leaving so many people out. But there are thousands, thousands.
“These we know about because they had law cases. But multiply that by all the women who did the same thing and either paid the price with their lives, or didn’t win, or didn’t go to court.
“So, each one of these women represents hundreds of thousands of others.”
TSD: What do you hope readers take away from spending time with “She Took Justice”?
Browne-Marshall: “Anyone trying to make their way in the world can learn from these women, who had so many obstacles and still believed despite what the law said, despite what society said.
“That self-belief is a faith that’s beyond what anyone can see. Anybody can gain from that. Oppressed people can gain from it more, but even people who believe they have the world by the tail will at some point face something tragic and have to figure out how they can brush themselves off, stand up and keep going.
“So, all of us can learn from these women how you have to have some light inside of you that shines despite all the circumstances outside of you.”
TSD: What could we take away from the lives of these women when it comes to the change our communities still seek?
Browne-Marshall: “I believe these women didn’t think just of themselves. They thought of the future.
“And, what we need to take from their lives is that we not just stand on their shoulders. We exist in the world that they dreamed they might have lived in, but knew they couldn’t. And that’s what we must all do.
“We must do work for the unborn. We must do work for generations in the future that would be able to partake in a level of freedom that we would love to have.
“We have to think about how wonderful we want the world to be and create that world for somebody knowing we will not enjoy it.
“They fought against tremendous odds, knowing the consequences. For them, the consequence was death. But they stood up anyway.
“I think that’s what we need to do.
“Oppressed people must be knowledgeable about the fight we’re in, have the courage to fight and realize we didn’t get this far by people giving us things. That’s why “She Took Justice.”
“Most people think justice is given out. No. She had to take her own justice because justice wasn’t going to come to her. She didn’t wait for justice to come, or she never would have gotten it. They just had a lot more courage. I don’t see courage in great amounts nowadays.”
TSD: With the spirit of these women in mind, what are your thoughts on how Black women today are often perceived by Black men, and even by themselves?
Browne-Marshall: “There’s more economic, social, educational parity between Black men and Black women because we have the circumstance of being in those slave ships together, of working in the field together.
“Black women were lynched, not in the same number, but they were also lynched like Black men were lynched.
“So, what we need to understand is our pains are so similar in so many of the same places that, in a Black relationship, sometimes we’re touching on each other’s pain, and we have to take turns in the healing of each other…
We had Black families from the 1600s. Why now do we have such an underrating of Black families? These fierce Black women, many of them were married, and those Black men during that day understood the Black woman was exceptional.
“I think Black men need to better appreciate what a good Black woman can do for him, but also appreciate the commonality of injury that should allow us to see each other’s pain, and heal each other’s pain without trying to compete for the light.
“We can take turns healing, take turns enjoying each other, take turns in the light…”
I think Black women need to understand how much power they have in their DNA. That’s why my book starts with Queen Nzinga, so that we understand that we have warrior queens in us. And I named quite a few of them. If we understand that we have warrior queen DNA, we understand that trying to emulate somebody else is not a position of strength. It’s giving away your power. Your position of strength comes from learning more about your culture in order to learn how you can be your natural self and your strongest self.
(Be sure to also check out SHOT: “Caught a Soul,” another of Browne-Marshall’s recent works about a Black teen haunting the White officer who shot him. As a 30-minute one-act stage play, which recently received a Pulitzer Center Grant, it is available to the public as a free virtual staged reading at https://vimeo.com/496755244.)