Emory Report

April 26, 1999

 Volume 51, No. 29

Galloway is sweeping the dust off African 'herstories'

Mozella Galloway's father was an elephant trainer, and growing up she didn't like that very much. She used to wish the man who called her "Lil' Geechie Girl" were a garbageman or some other occupation more typical for a black man in Chicago in the 1950s, because no one else's dad trained elephants.

"I didn't want to know anything about [his job]," said Galloway, who works in the registrar's office. "The pain of the difference hit you. You wanted to get into the melting pot--or what the American melting pot used to be-you wanted to be just like everybody else."

But, like everybody else, Galloway grew up and realized her story-her "herstory"-is just as valid as anyone else's, as is that of every African American woman in the country. That realization led her to help found and nurture an annual, growing celebration of black womanhood led by the National Black Herstory Task Force (NBHTF), which held its second annual conference and Awards Banquet in March.

NBHTF's mission, according to Galloway, is to seek out the untold or undertold stories of black women and bring them into the light of day for all to see. "We were an oral culture," she said, "and things used to be passed on from ancestors to the children, but many of our children don't listen to that anymore if it's not rapping. We wanted to find a way to chronicle, archive and celebrate the lives of all women of African descent."

The three-day event this year featured discussions with women from many walks of life: scholars, clergy, lawyers, politicians, journalists, activists and others, all gathered to discuss such issues as role models for black women and African history and culture. Honored at the awards banquet were such notables as Atlanta City Councilwoman Mable Thomas, historian John Henrik Clarke and Emory's own Pat Marstellar, director of the Hughes Science Program. The late civil rights workers Septima Clark and Virginia Foster Durr received posthumous awards.

"There were so many people [in attendance] that we were just touched," Galloway said. "We didn't have honorariums; people came willingly. And we were learning how to put on a conference at the same time we were doing it."

Evidently they learned quickly because Atlanta Mayor Bill Campbell issued a proclamation declaring March "National Black Herstory Month" for the city, coinciding with Women's History Month. If Galloway has her way, Atlanta won't be the only city making such decrees--her goal is nothing less than a national network of grassroots organizers working to arrange Herstory Month conferences all over.

"I'd like a research library where we could cross-catalog documents, audio and video. I'd like to have chapters all over the world," Galloway said, counting on her fingers as if ticking off a Christmas list. "When we refer to our alliances, we also mean those who risked their lives to help us, people who nurtured our children, who have done things they didn't have to and [those who] maybe were looked down upon by their own people.

"Then we'd like to reach in our roots to West Africa, hear the stories there," she continued. "We are not a political group, but we want to know about the trapped women in Sudan and all the sisters in Ethiopa and what they're going through."

Lofty ambitions, no doubt, but then NBHTF has come a long way since its not-too-distant days of meeting around a Cox Hall cafeteria table because there was nowhere else to go. Emory Women's Center Director Ali Crown invited Galloway to use the center's conference room, and things progressed from there. A little bit of publicity here and there, and soon women began seeking out the group to tell their stories. "You should see my house," Galloway laughed, referring to artifacts and such she has received. Task force members have shared smiles and tears in the homes of women bursting with herstories to share, women like Mama Clyde.

"Her name is Clyde Robinson, and she's 96," Galloway said. "We went to her house on the west side [of Atlanta], and Susan Brown--she's one of my Caucasian sisters--grabbed her camcorder. [Mama Clyde] was something; she lit up. She had been wanting to tell somebody about all of it for so long. On her wall she had pictures from the '30s, '40s and '50s, pictures of her father. She used to be a seamstress for the rich people in Atlanta; she's a dangerous person to get on the microphone!"

NBHTF does not yet have the resources to compile and archive the stories of all the Mama Clydes in Atlanta, to say nothing of Georgia or the rest of the country. But Galloway is filling the empty slots on the nonprofit organization's board of directors, and people continue to come out of nowhere offering their help and expertise. For example, the Rev. Josephine Jackson Smith, who worked on Emory's Martin Luther King Jr. Papers Project, is volunteering to help with archiving data.

Galloway also knows it is perhaps no coincidence that Atlanta is where such a project is taking off. "Atlanta has a history--not just civil rights, but before that--and everything we need is right here," she said. "We have less trouble getting people to come here, knowing they can get to libraries and universities and such, and Emory's bringing some great people down.

"Every month somebody's here who is doing something with the Harlem Renaissance, or studies of African Americans, or Somalians, or maybe it's someone who knows someone who did their PhD on the Underground Railroad. Atlanta is an international city, is what I'm trying to get at, and that's why I think this is the perfect place for it."

--Michael Terrazas

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