It’s Black History Month in the U.S.A, a month to honor and reflect on the history and contributions of black people.  In a few days it will be March, Women’s History Month, a time to respect and appreciate women of all types and the contributions women have made and continue to make. 

I ran into Bertha (not her real name) in a grocery store.  We had not seen each other for quite a while.  After greeting each other with a hug, Bertha mentioned the passing of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. 

Before I could say anything, she asked, “Why did he have to die during Black History Month?”  Oh, my goodness. 

It took me a minute before I said, “I doubt that he chose the time to die.” 

Well, that did not stop her from expanding on the subject of past and present Supreme Court justices.  She said she knew President George H.W. Bush picked “Scalia’s ally, African American Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas” on purpose to fill the vacancy left by African American Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. 

There was no comparison between the two.  Thurgood Marshall, before becoming judge, was known for his successful argument before the Supreme Court for the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, the decision that desegregated public schools. 

Bertha “takes no prisoners,” and I have to admit that I did not have the energy or desire to say anything that Bertha might construe as challenging her opinion. 

I stood there, looking at her blankly while recalling some of the stories Bertha had told me about discriminatory practices she had experienced as a black woman. 

Bertha was intelligent, well educated, well read and not shy about speaking out for what she thought was right or wrong (especially, what was wrong). 

Bertha spoke about the history of the Republican Party and why blacks had joined.  She said the Republican Party (the GOP) had formed in 1854 in opposition to the expansion of slavery into new territories, but she quickly added that the GOP no longer stood for fair or equal rights for black folks. 

I did not have the background to say “yea” or “nay” to everything Bertha said. 

She listed black and white women who had fought for the freedom and rights of black people and/or women: “Sojourner Truth, Maria W. Stewart, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, Hariet Beecher Stowe, Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks, Claudette Colvin, Ella Baker, Dorothy Height, Rep. Martha Griffiths,” and others. 

I was impressed and a little bit embarrassed. I was not familiar with some of the women Bertha named. Bertha acknowledged that there were more women who fought for the rights of blacks and/or women. 

She told me I could look them up; she had to hurry up and do her shopping. I smiled. We gave each other a hug goodbye and went our separate ways.

Whew. I really did need to look up more information, but I would do so not just because she said so.

Peggy Tarr

Peggy Tarr has been a columnist for the Evanston RoundTable since its founding in 1998. Born in Bruce Springsteen's hometown of Freehold, New Jersey, she graduated from Rutgers University with a degree...