It’s rarely shouted from the rooftops, but the truth is that Black women have always played pivotal roles in this nation’s Civil Rights Movements. Ida B. Wells. Mary McCleod Bethune. Ella Baker. Dorothy Height. Rosa Parks. Fannie Lou Hamer. Shirley Chisholm. These are just a few names of women who were at the front lines of the freedom fight.
Ferguson is no different. As protests continue to rage on and they have deemed it Ferguson October, a kind of modern day Freedom Summer, Black women are at the helm of this movement and proving that we belong in this place, this fight, and our voices deserve to be heard.
The protests in Ferguson have given birth to a movement led by groups that are consistently in the trifecta of those marginalized in society — young women of color. In the weeks since the community was roiled by violence and a brutal police crackdown, activist groups like Millennial Activists United emerged on Twitter and the familiar faces on the front-lines of the protests, founded almost entirely by women.
“We’re less concerned with what the police response will be,” said Ashley Yates, one of the founding leaders of MAU. “We want people to come out, we want people to share our resistance.”
One of the most prominent people to take the protests’ message to a national scale by being a barometer of shifting emotions in Ferguson is not only an elected official, but a black woman. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, a Missouri state senator known in part for her controversial and sometimes even profane opinions, rose to national prominence almost overnight due to her response to the protests.
“There are multiple stories of people who are out here and I spent a lot of time with young people. I felt the anger in these young people’s hearts,” Chappelle-Nadal said. “As a legislator, being black, being a woman … we’re pigeonholed, we’re put into a box. I’m sick of it.”
For McHarris, women have always been the driving force behind movements. This time, they’re not invisible — people are paying attention.
“Historically, women have always been leading,” McHarris said. “A lot of times women are often unseen leaders because women are all just doing it — we’re all just doing the work.”