BY CYRENE RENEE
I could sum the whole ordeal. Ordeal meaning the exploration that this book took me on in one word. Superb. I didn’t know I needed “In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens” by Alice Walker until I read it. It was one of those sublime moments in my life where I will do my best to describe the amount of respect I have for this piece. Maybe it is because I am too a writer or maybe because I am just a black woman living in this time with more questions than I have answers.
This book is a journey. It is a collection of factual moments that Walker documented during her research for her own master piece. As a result, she created an additional work of art to add to her ever-growing collection. I am so humbly appreciative that she took the time for all of it. She left behind a guide, a map, a blueprint for us. At times, the self-reflective moments mirrored my own. It is a comforting safe space. It is like sitting down with your favorite aunt or in my case “Titi” and asking her a life question that goes beyond my knowledge as a young woman. I like to call them “aunt interventions.” There is nothing like sitting down and being filled with wisdom from someone who loves you enough to tell you the truth. Only to understand that the knowledge and experience we collect over the years is to be shared with the next generation. Our time is coming. Maybe you are already there. I have some ways to go.
While searching her mother’s garden finding more than a fence with restricted signs, the shabby old house or in her words “shack,” filled with hay, surrounded by over grown trees and tall grass. The daffodils. She found lost grave of Zora Neal Hurston, the voice of Coretta Scott King, Angela Davis’ speeches, Mary McLeod Bethune’s books, Mrs. Winson Hudson’s tales from the old school house along with the stories of her students about race and what it means to them as not just a concept, but life itself. She took the liberty of taking her findings and placing them in a well packaged book, hand delivered to us in 397 pages to include the references, reviews, direct quotes, excerpts, conversations with her mother and authors I have heard little to nothing about. A bow isn’t needed. Gifts are free to come in many shapes and sizes. She gives us history and her present. She gives us insight and a peak into her then, just as she peaked into Zora’s then. I walked along with Alice as she visited her old home, like she walked along Zora and her renaissance.
Coining the term “womanist,” she goes into a great deal of explaining the differences between it and “feminist.” The book opens with definitions comparing the two in four distinct points. Womanist, not only the equality of men and women but he equality and struggle in which black women face in comparison to white. We are reintroduced to this concept on page 81 about Rebecca Jackson, a free black born woman in 1795, who left her family to live a spiritual, celibate life with other women. This touches on the deeper definition, the love of women as well. I must agree, there is a difference. As a black woman, “feminism” never seemed to be enough. It appeared that somehow, we (black women) are supposed to choose if we are black first or woman first. We are both black and woman simultaneously at the same time. It is our skin and our womanhood that is seen as we approach the podium, the mic, the back door, the back of the bus, the auction block, the ship. We carry the beauty and greatness of both in our DNA which makes us wonderful. We are boundless. We carry the burdens of all causes. We are the suffrage and the civil rights. For us to choose would be profoundly impossible. Yet, one cannot understand unless dwelling in this skin always. For instance, women in the United States had the right to vote since 1920, but because of racism, Jim Crow and voter suppression, black women didn’t effectively have the right until 1965. In the words of Sojourner Truth “Ain’t I am woman” too? Something doesn’t quite add up and I get tired of explaining myself. I find myself referring this book when I have those ever-growing tiresome days. For that alone, I must thank Walker for her expertise. She did the leg work for us. It was as if she foreknew we would still be having this conversation years later. That somehow, this would still be a “thing.”
As I continually review books, my library is ever growing in the best way possible. Because of Alice it has grown with titles from Toomer, Harriett Wilson and Zora herself. It is important for me to pay homage to those who have come before me. The foundation is there without a need to continually reinvent the wheel. All we need to do is open the book. So, let me do my research and speak and write and read of those who loved us enough to pen their dreams, thoughts, fears and destiny. And let me do the same.