Left Justified: Happy Women's History Month!

Two back-to-back months of fighting for minority rights! I couldn’t ask for more. The struggle to abolish slavery and grant equal rights to all races in America was probably our country’s greatest internal battle and success. February was Black History Month, and I reveled in television and newsprint stories of abolitionists, demonstrations, sit-ins, and lobbying.

Now, the month of March celebrates Women’s History. I count women’s suffrage and equal rights as an important step forward for this country, and the world. Half the earth still treats its women like second-class citizens or worse. Our country’s great strides in equality should be a beacon for the rest of the downtrodden peoples, and a way to spread human rights everywhere.

Woman suffrage started about the same time as the anti-slavery movement. In the early 1600s, a man was strung up by the Puritans for preaching freedom. He was the first American martyr. And it was the righteous right-wing Christians who killed him. The second person who was hanged was the first woman killed. She also was strung up by the Puritans for being an uppity woman. She had come to tell them it was wrong to have killed the first person.

Liberty took long strides through the American Revolution, which brought freedom of the press and the Bill of Rights, but still people had to organize carefully when speaking about freeing slaves and letting women vote. The early coin tokens the abolitionists passed among themselves show a woman in chains, kneeling and saying, “Am I not a sister?” In the 1850s, women met for the very first time to speak about women’s rights. They had all been fighting for abolition and thought it was time to speak about their own personal concerns. Anything related to Seneca Falls, where the ladies first met, gets a high price on eBay.

As more progressive Western states gave women the right to vote, the powers that be began to change their minds. Few politicians wish to remain opponents to freedom while the chains are being removed. It took civil disobedience and women thrown in jail before President Woodrow Wilson backed the 19th Amendment in the 1920s.

I wish we had a president now who would work more closely with the United Nations and the rest of the world in bringing about true justice, freedom and equality. But what we got is better than nothing. At least we aren’t selling people into slavery outright.

Rockford Urban Ministries, for which I work, is hosting a celebration of women in ministry. Religion has been in the forefront for installing women’s rights while at the same time been used as a battering ram to keep women silent, 10 feet back, and subservient to men. This “yin and yang” has changed radically over the years.

Especially here in Rockford, women have been outstanding in their religious field, and we will hear from some of the best. First, Dorothy Paige-Turner will lead the Womansong Choir through religious and civil rights cadences and hymns. Anyone who has heard these angelic voices render their song will know what sweet liberty means. Interspersed will be speakers from the various faiths of Rockford. I have invited representatives from the Jewish and Baha’i communities. Mary Jane Bicksler will speak on behalf of the Muslim Community Center; she recently “reverted” (a term they use instead of converting).

Come to St. Chad’s Episcopal Church, 6245 N. Second St. in Loves Park (just north of Riverside on the east side of Second Street before you get to the old Meadow Mart), at 7 p.m., Thursday, March 10.. The Rev. KyungJa Oh will welcome and be the voice for the Christian woman in ministry. The program is free and open to the public, and an offering will be taken for the work of Rockford Urban Ministries.

Stanley Campbell is executive director of Rockford Urban Ministries and spokesman for Rockford Peace & Justice.

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