This Black History Month, nationally, much attention has been brought towards the theme of Saluting Our Sisters, paying homage to Black women. At Serendipity Institute for Black Arts and Heritage, amplifying, listening to and celebrating the voices of Black women is central to our work. Over the last thirteen years we have shone the spotlight on Black Women in Dance and collaborated with nora chipaumire on the podcast series Black Manifesto! Ten Revolutionary Black Women Speak Out. Empowering Black women will be the focus of our work over the forthcoming year, through our collaboration with Speaking Volumes on the writing course Women Speak Volumes and on our momentous project 100 Black Women Who Have Made a Mark.
However, for the moment, let us to draw attention to the legacy of Dorothy Foreman Cotton. A leader of the civil rights movement who worked alongside Dr Martin Luther King Jr, the only woman in his inner circle of trusted advisors. Dorothy Foreman Cotton was instrumental in developing the Citizenship Education Program, which served as a foundation to the Civil Rights Movement in America by instilling literacy skills, knowledge of the constitution and pride. Fearless in her stance on nonviolence, she inspired many with her power freedom songs and facilitated intercommunity connection not just in the US but also Vietnam and the Middle East.
Consistently overlooked for their contribution, Dorothy Foreman Cotton alongside Fannie Lou Hamer, Prathia Hall, Amelia Boyton, Rosa Parks, Coretta Scott King, Septima Clarke and many other women whose names have not made the history books, demonstrate that Black women were and are an essential and powerful force in mobilising communities in the ongoing campaign for civil and human rights. As Kirby V Edmonds, states in the film Move When the Spirit Says Move, which charts the life of Dorothy Cotton Foreman and her colleagues:
“Ordinary people can do extraordinary things when they understand themselves to be, not alone, and find their connectedness to other human beings.”
Kirby V Edmonds