Women of Distinction, RIP

Today we’ve heard a lot – and justifiably so – about Dana Morosini Reeve. In facing an unimaginable collection of challenges, she showed the world a lot about grace under pressure and about working for the greater good even as life serves up body blow after body blow. Her death last night from lung cancer at the age of 44 was the end of the pummelling – for her anyway. The salutes being given to the loyal life partner and caregiver, loving mother, disability-rights activist and performer are all well deserved. If anyone deserves a peaceful rest, it’s Dana Reeve.

In mourning actor Christopher Reeve’s widow, however, I pray the nation doesn’t forget to give its due to another woman of distinction. Anne Braden, 81, a brave and determined Louisville-based civil-rights activist, died early Monday, leaving younger generations a legacy of creativity, courage, principle and wisdom.

From the Louisville Courier-Journal:

Braden and her husband, Carl Braden, gained national attention in 1954 when they bought a house for [Andrew Wade and his wife], an African-American couple in an all-white Shively area neighborhood. [In reaction, a cross was burned, shots were fired into their home and] the house also was bombed, although no one was injured. The Bradens’ efforts also led to Carl Braden being convicted on state sedition charges [and serving seven months in prison] before he later was cleared.

… [T]he Bradens’ stand gave them a platform to push for an array of civil rights issues. The pair worked with key figures such as Martin Luther King Jr.

Carl Braden died in 1975, but Anne Braden went on to campaign against various forms of injustice. Last fall, she traveled to Washington, D.C., to protest the Iraq war, riding in a wheelchair among tens of thousands of marchers.

ZNet recalls Braden’s life and what made her so inspirational:

The Bradens were active in a range of human rights and integration organizations where they met and became friends with the Wades. The decision to buy the house for the Wades was not difficult. Anne Braden later recalled it in her autobiography, The Wall Between (Monthly Review Press, 1958; reissued in 1999 by University of Tennessee Press, with a foreward by Julian Bond):

The decision… was simple and natural as breathing, for any other answer [other than yes] would have been unthinkable. I went back to my chores… little knowing that Carl and I had just made one of the major decisions of our lives.

…Braden’s life was consecrated by a prize-winning 2002 book by Caroline Fosi, Subversive Southerner: Anne Braden and the Struggle for Racial Justice in the Cold War South (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2002, with a forward by Angela Davis.) As Michael Honey wrote in a lengthy review-essay on that book that appeared in the June, 2004 issue of Monthly Review, a magazine to which the Bradens were close from its inception and to which Anne sometimes contributed:

Repression, they often said, was just another opportunity to organize. They led dozens of campaigns to defend victims of racism, from Willie McGee (legally lynched by the state of Mississippi in 1952), to African-American and other movement organizers across the South in the 1960s, to Angela Davis in California, and to Ben Chavis and the Wilmington Ten in North Carolina in the early 1970s. Anti-repression organizing grew out of their own experiences and connections to the left. …

The Bradens always linked demands for equal rights for African Americans to a broader struggle against the inherent class oppression of capitalism. Anne in particular stressed that whites had to give up their limited and questionable racial privileges before a real movement of the left could succeed. The Bradens came to their understanding through personal experience in the labor left within the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), which immeasurably helped to open up Southern organizing in the 1930s and 1940s. Through leftist union and civil rights work, they became ecumenical supporters of socialism and part of a popular front to build a broad movement for social change…

Braden was a shining example of doing whatever is necessary to make a positive change in the world. As she told the audience in attendance at her induction into the Kentucky Civil Rights Hall of Fame, “The battle goes on, as far as I’m concerned. You can’t give up.”

I recommend you read the entire ZNet piece: Anne Braden was an amazing woman with innovative ideas that could prove valuable for today’s progressive activists. And let’s all follow the lead of two distinctive women of different generations who taught the same lesson: You can’t give up. Anne Braden didn’t. Neither did Dana Reeve. And neither should we.

Posted in Uncategorized