Read an Excerpt
From Chapter 8
Gloria Steinem is the author of Moving Beyond Words and a founder and now consulting editor of Ms. magazine, a founder of New York magazine and the Ms. Foundation for Women (a national multiracial women's fund). She travels extensively as a speaker and organizer.
When I first met Betty Shabazz, I expected a distant, private person. After all, she had not only been the partner of a great American leader but a leader who had paid the ultimate price for being public and accessible. What must it be like, I wondered, to know that such unrestrained hatred has circled your life?
I also understood that she might be suspicious of me as a white person, since whites as a group had been the original source of hatred, regardless of who pulled the trigger.
What I found was someone neither distant nor suspicious, and more gregarious than private. She was a warm, open, and accessible woman whose face seemed to be always on the verge of smiling, whether she was smiling or not. When she spoke, there was a directness and lack of pretension that signaled everyone around her to drop their pretensions. When she listened, she seemed to be absorbing the speaker as well as the words.
Only underneath, after you listened to her for a while, did you sense the bedrock of dignity, and the deep core of sadness.
We saw each other at benefits and rallies, at Harlem women's events organized by Dorothy Pitman Hughes, and during campaigns for candidates. Though we never had time to sit and talk, we did manage to discover that we had been born sixty miles apart in the Midwest (Detroit and Toledo respectively), and within two years of each other (I was the older one). We shared the experience of the conservative 1950s, Saturday afternoons going "downtown," Vernor's Ginger Ale, and a dance called the Dirty Boogie. All our time together skirted around the unspoken tragedy that had come in later years, yet it was there, a living presence.
I hoped we would sit down and talk one day. Now, that will never be. But in death as she did in life, Betty Shabazz reminds me that we cannot control what happens. It's unacceptable that she, the younger one, is not here. But as long as we remember her spirit, she will be with us.
Whitney Houston is a multi-Grammy Award-winning singer as well as a film producer, actress, and humanitarian.
When Malcolm X was killed, Betty Shabazz was simply the wife of a great man. At her untimely death this past year, she was a great woman in her own right.
For every African American woman and girl child, she was the personification of strength, dignity, courage, and integrity -- the daughter, the sister, the mother.
We are all more for having known her and we are all less for having lost her.
Copyright © 1998 by Jamie Foster Brown