In the early 1900’s, black women like Nannie Helen Burroughs and Mary McLeod Bethune wanted to educate. Only forty years before, black people were being emancipated from slavery. To move from that to the era of the New Negro was a serious undertaking. But the motto of Burroughs’s school was “We Specialize in the Wholly Impossible.” Black women, from Michelle Obama to Nicki Minaj, are recognized all over the world. I’m hoping Michelle Obama more than Nicki Minaj, but we are in an age when black women can be shown in more than one variety.
Still, I can’t help but feel like something’s missing for black women. It seems like we’re still not in on the larger cultural conversations that aren’t about women singing pop music (see Nicki Minaj, Beyonce, Rihanna, etc). I’m inspired by the idea of Nannie Helen Burroughs that black women needed to be prepared in every realm and that maybe even the preparation black women needed was different than for other women and for black men. So, why a school for Negro Girls? I’m a grown woman, but I’m not sure when I stopped being a girl, when I learned enough or had lived enough to claim the title of woman. Maybe no matter what, we are still girls. Negro because that’s who women like Burroughs and McLeod-Bethune would have been. There has to be something said for the clarity of vision of those women, something yet to be learned from them.
Class, open your books. Let’s begin.