Tag Archives: NAACP

The Durability of Sisterhood

The Durability of Sisterhood   —by Jinny Batterson

Over the past several weeks, I’ve attended three “women mostly” events—an NAACP fundraiser and celebration of that group’s NC mother/woman of the year, the annual meeting of our local chapter of the League of Women Voters, and the 50th reunion of my class from then-women’s-college Randolph College. At each event, there were a few men, as official escorts, unofficial companions, or male affiliates, but the focus was mainly on us women. I’d forgotten how good it can feel to be surrounded by other females.

The NC NAACP celebration was the first formal NAACP event I’d attended. Not knowing anyone to tag along with, I went alone. I expected to be a minority at the event—this proved true. The few other white women, none of whom I knew, seemed more connected and more engaged than I felt. The venue was local to Raleigh, but contestants and their supporters came from nearly twenty NAACP chapters throughout the state. Not realizing the flexibility of the event’s scheduling, I’d accepted an invitation to a lunch meeting in a different part of town, so missed the slightly delayed keynote talk by recently named Chief Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court, Cheri Beasley. Over the part of the event I did attend, I learned that the NAACP has been holding such annual celebrations since the 1950’s.

The LWV Wake County annual meeting had a generally paler audience and was held on a weeknight. Food was higher priced. There was a cash bar. I knew some of the “old stalwarts,” but was pleased to notice younger faces new to me. One older male member I knew, attending without his equally activist spouse, spent a good bit of time talking with me. I wondered if he felt something of an outsider, like my reaction at the NAACP breakfast. The event was tightly scheduled. The business at hand—election of new officers, committee reports, financial updates—was quickly dispatched, assisted by paper agendas. Dinner conversations were pleasant, non-confrontational, and generally apolitical in this non-partisan organization. The Wake county LWV had been founded in 1920, the same year women got the right to vote in national elections. After a rocky period during the late 1930’s and 1940’s, the chapter reconstituted itself in 1950 and has been active ever since.

Then there was the Randolph reunion. I arrived near the beginning of the three-day weekend’s festivities to find a familiar, still beautiful, mostly empty campus. A good student when I’d attended what was then Randolph-Macon Woman’s College in the late 1960’s, I’d nevertheless been anything but a social standout. A foreign language major, I didn’t contribute to campus publications. I wasn’t a horsewoman or an athlete in any sport. I did sing in the glee club, but held no campus leadership positions and rarely attended campus-wide events. I’d felt at graduation that I’d made it through, but would likely not maintain much connection with the school. I wondered how fish-out-of-water I’d feel at a reunion of this institution that had been founded in 1891 exclusively to promote the education of young women, but evolved a lot over its recent existence. About a decade ago, faced with declining enrollment and difficulties attracting highly qualified women to a small, single-sex liberal arts school in the U.S. south, the trustees made a wrenching decision to become a coeducational institution. Alums of the most recent reunion class (those who graduated in 2014) are a rainbow mix of genders and backgrounds, though both the school’s student body and faculty are majority female.

As more and more members of my former class gradually filtered in, I was surprised at how many women I recognized and felt connected with: still-active, still-engaged, still-vibrant septuagenarians whose energy was palpable. This was a tribe I could feel part of! Of course we engaged in some mutual bragging—about further educational achievements, children, life partners, careers, travels, awards, humanitarian endeavors, whatever. Mostly, though, we shared stories based on the values we’d developed during a special time and place together in a supportive environment, values that continue to illuminate our choices and preferences fifty years after graduation. 

With so much travel in my recent past and near future, I’m temporarily traveled out. I’ll miss this Sunday afternoon’s Charlotte-area reunion of a part of my biological family that I’ve become better acquainted with since I moved to North Carolina: the Rea clan. I’ll especially miss the possibility of spending time together with three sisters of my dad’s generation, related to me through my grandmother’s baby brother Zeb. As far as I know, none of the Rea sisters are famous, but they’ve each lived long, fruitful lives, handling multiple challenges with quiet grace. I hope to have later chances to reconnect with Virginia, Betsy, and Judy. Now in their 80’s and 90’s, they have maintained a durable sisterhood through thick and thin.

Rea sisters Judy, Virginia, and Betsy at 2014 reunion

So to sisters everywhere—stay active, stay engaged, stay vibrant. Avoid excluding anyone if you possibly can. And most of all, stay connected!   

  

Strange Juxtapositions, Changing Times

Strange Juxtapositions, Changing Times    —by Jinny Batterson

This morning I woke to the news that Bob Dylan, troubadour of 1960’s radicalism and long-term chronicler of the American scene in song, had received the Nobel Prize for Literature. Throughout the day, in bits and snatches, I heard Dylan songs on newscasts and saw footage of the spokeswoman for the Nobel committee explaining why Dylan was a poet for the ages. 

Mid-morning, I took a transit bus to downtown Raleigh, North Carolina, to sit in on a press conference jointly staged by the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP and the North Carolina Council of Churches. Speakers at the event, representing multiple denominations and several hundred congregations, wanted to encourage the North Carolina Board of Elections to adjust voter registration and early voting schedules in the wake of massive flooding in the eastern part of the state. The Neuse, Tar, and Cape Fear rivers had inundated large swaths of low-lying coastal plain after Hurricane Matthew dumped over a foot of rain in places. Among the hardest hit were areas around Lumberton, Fayetteville, Greenville, and Kinston. In some towns, rivers were still rising. Some clergy had ventured in from the impacted areas, and would soon return there. At the end of the 45-minute event, clergy were encouraged to sign a letter to officials asking for adjustments to original voting plans to adapt to conditions resulting from the flooding. I’m not a clergy member. Though I get frequent emails from the NAACP,  I’m not very active. I didn’t see any follow-up action I could take. I used the gender-appropriate restroom at the legislative building, then wandered off toward the nearest bus stop.

After a couple of blocks, I noticed school groups and large sets of purposeful-looking pedestrians converging at the state capitol. Music was pumping from loudspeakers set up on the grounds. This, I soon learned, was the lead-up to a “Decision 2016” rally being headlined by Franklin Graham, son and heir to crusading evangelist Billy Graham. The tone and the complexion of the crowd were a good bit different from what I’d seen at the press conference.  At first I was somewhat put off—these folks most likely had a different interpretation of the gospel than the “preaching good news to the poor” message I’d heard in the preceding venue. One of the younger women I spoke with assured me that God loves everybody, and we are not to sit in judgment on each other. It seemed only fair to stay for the message.

As I interpreted it, Graham’s talk mostly stayed away from overt political partisanship, but stressed the need to regain a more religious dimension in our civic life. I could agree with some of what he said, though it did seem to me that he was inclined to sit in judgment of the many devout Hindus, Buddhists, and Muslims who live in parts of central North Carolina near me.

Partway through the event, it occurred to me that his exhortations to “vote your conscience” might have some commonality with the earlier event I’d attended. Hurriedly, I composed a brief handwritten petition requesting extension of registration deadlines and expansion of early voting in flood-devastated areas. After a quick detour to a copy shop, I began circulating the petition in the crowd, requesting people’s signatures between prayers. About fifty people signed, of the sixty or so I talked with. Once the rally broke up, I took the petitions the half mile to the offices of the North Carolina Board of Elections.  I’m not sure if my efforts had much impact.  Still, they seemed an appropriate follow-up action. They gave me a sense that perhaps there was at least a smidgen of common ground among the Graham organization, the North Carolina Council of Churches, and the NAACP.

On the bus ride home, I found myself going back over of one of the first Dylan lyrics I’d ever heard. The initial couplet seemed a little too apt—

“Come gather round people, wherever you roam,
And admit that the waters around you have grown…”

Perhaps the final stanza, though, is also apt for today:

“The line it is drawn the curse it is cast
The slow one now will later be fast
As the present now will later be past
The order is rapidly fadin’
And the first one now will later be last
For the times they are a changin’!”