This group of women standing on the courthouse steps in Water Valley, Mississippi in the late 1800s include Jane Ophelia Williams Pritchard (Dec 20, 1871 – Sept 15, 1969) in the white bonnet. She’s the grandmother of Dottie Chapman Reed, who wrote “Outstanding Black Women of Yalobusha County.” Reed is on a mission that involves identifying more of the women pictured and telling their stories. (Courtesy photo)

by Curtis Weathers —

Curtis Weathers, the education columnist for The New Tri-State Defender.

Every year, I am always saddened to see the end of Black History Month. 

In the past, I have tried to extend the celebration in my own creative ways but, because of other distractions, I eventually relent and return to normalcy like everyone else. 

Well, I’m at it again.  But this time something pretty special is happening.

We have it within ourselves to celebrate the history of Black America as often as we would like in our homes, schools and communities. We are not restricted by the calendar or any other false constraints. 

We just need to use our creative minds and resources to make it a priority.  It is not easy, but it is doable.  

While we may not be able to convince the powers that be to extend the celebration of Black history well beyond February (the shortest month on the calendar), we have been blessed with an extension of sorts that is just as significant — Women’s History Month. 

It is amazing how the stars can sometimes align so perfectly with our circumstances on earth.

We actually get a chance to celebrate for two consecutive months the accomplishments of African Americans during both Black History Month (February) and Women’s History Month (March).   

The beautiful thing about this particular alignment of the stars is that the annals of Black history are filled with the heroic accomplishments of so many outstanding Black women. 

And in the interest of full disclosure, I never really paid that much attention to Women’s History Month until this year.

Shame on me!

Last month, I purchased a book from Amazon written by Dottie Chapman Reed (a dear friend and mentor) called “Outstanding Black Women of Yalobusha County.” 

This book is a collection of what I call “micro biographies” of normal ordinary women doing extraordinary things to raise their children and make a difference in their community during some of our nation’s most challenging times.  

The book has 45 chapters. My plan was to read a chapter each week and extend the celebration of Black history as far into the year as the book would take me.  

I realized by the end of Black History Month and the beginning of Women’s History Month what a remarkable gift I had in my possession.  

Dottie Chapman Reed (Courtesy photo)

Mrs. Reed’s book is an extraordinary collection of inspiring stories of Black women and how they persevered through one challenge after another.

Women whose names you might not find in traditional history books, but played significant roles in making life better for their families and their communities in extraordinary ways.

Don’t get me wrong, I am still bursting with pride over the likes of Kamala Harris, Stacey Abrams, Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey and so many other famous contemporary sheroes.

Add to those our historical Queens like Ruby Bridges, Marian Anderson, Mary McLeod Bethune, Shirley Chisholm and others, who made immense sacrifices, so we all could enjoy together the gifts of our democracy. 

The “Outstanding Black Women of Yalobusha Count” reminds us of the courage, strength and sacrifice Black women from small towns like Water Valley, Mississippi (which is in Yalobusha County) were making as they endured life in the deep South and the systemic racism they encountered each day.  

Women like Mrs. Elvira Hervey Jackson, born in Yalobusha County in 1915, the youngest of 11 children (six boys, five girls), described by those who knew her as “an educator extraordinaire.”

She inspired her students to further their education, encouraging some to become teachers themselves and leaders in the community. 

She was a remarkable woman.  

Mrs. Emma Spencer Gooch, was a political activist, who was considered by many to be way ahead of her time. Her life was devoted to her community and church.

She stood tall and fought hard for civil rights and equality for women. She lived to be 97 years old and left behind a legacy of well-educated and hard-working descendants.  

My favorite story in the book is about Mrs. Ruby Buggs Hall, another educator, described as the “cool” teacher everyone liked.

Mrs. Hall was the sole provider for her family (her husband was disable) and taught fifth- and sixth-grade math for 37 years.

She was considered the “epitome of education” and described by her daughter as a “beast” in the classroom! Mrs. Hall taught her children and others how to be a professional woman, a dedicated wife and a mother with pride and integrity during a time when segregation was still the norm, and well before the women’s movement took hold.     

These are just three of the many women recognized and celebrated in Dottie Chapman Reed’s book. They represent both the best of Black History and Women’s History combined.  They were strong, determined, and focused Black women who loved family and community more than anything.  

The iconic Black women we see today stand on the shoulders of the Black Women of Yalobusha County and others.

Cousin’s homegoing sparks call for information about black women from Yalobusha County

Schools have the autonomy and flexibility to integrate both Black History and Women’s History throughout their curricula and school environment in any manner, and for however long they so choose. It ultimately boils down to people’s desire and priorities. 

Black America, and Black women in particular, we salute you and thank you for your sacrifices.  

God bless, and stay safe everyone!

(Follow TSD education columnist Curtis Weathers on Twitter (@curtisweathers); email: [email protected].)