Mother’s Day, the second Sunday in May, has become one of the world’s most widely celebrated holidays. Mother’s Day is a day for expressing love and appreciation to the woman who gave birth to you, and in many cases, the woman who has been a mother to you. In the African-American tradition, Mother’s Day is a day for buying and wearing new spring outfits, colorful straw hats, church-going, and enjoying a delicious Sunday dinner with Mom.
But for some, those whose mother is no longer living, Mother’s Day is day of reflections and remembrances.
While reflecting on the upcoming holiday, and remembering my own mother who I lost to cancer 29 years ago, I starting thinking about others. Thinking about how they must feel when such a joyous day rolls around but cannot be with their mothers. Rather than speculate about their feelings, I thought I would talk with a few of them about their fondest memories of their mothers, the women who loved, nurtured, and guided them.
Austin’s Terry Cookes said she misses her mother, Edna Starks, and wishes she was still here. “What I remember most about my mother,” Cookes said, “is that when I was a kid, she would always take me to church. What I loved about my mother, even though she was kind of mean – I was her only child – is she would make me do everything, but it made me a better woman.”
In remembering her mother, Beulah Tolliver, North Lawndale resident Leanel Johnson recalled: “I remember that my mother was a great cook. She had 11 children and she raised us all well. She kept us in church, and she did all the things that we needed done for us. She has been gone now for about 10 years, and I miss her very much.”
Mother’s Day celebrations started in the early 1900s by women’s peace groups. In 1914, Congress passed a law designating May 9, 1914 as the first national Mother’s Day. Historians believe the origin of Mother’s Day can be traced back to antiquity. The Egyptians held ceremonies and celebrations to honor the goddess Isis, who represented motherhood and fertility. History suggests the Romans had an annual celebration for the goddess Cybele, known as the “Great Mother” and worshipped her as the mother of fertile earth.
In similar fashion, the Greeks celebrated the goddess Rhea, the mother of all goddesses. The festival, which was held in the spring and lasted several days, featured fresh flowers, games, and a parade.
Although, Cheron Massonburg can no longer celebrate with her mother, Ophelia Massonburg, she does have wonderful memories of happy times prior to her mother’s 2008 death. “The three wonderful things I remember about my mother are her smile, her words of encouragement, and her love,” Massonburg said.
Mother’s Day should not just be about celebrating, acknowledging, and remembering biological mothers, but we should celebrate the actions and sacrifices of women who birthed movements. Women like the late Rosa Parks, the longtime African-American civil rights activist who in 1955 courageously refused to give up her bus seat to a white passenger. Parks became known as “The First Lady of civil rights” and “The Mother of the Freedom Movement.”
Betty Shabazz, the late widow of Malcolm X, is another woman to remember.
In addition to raising six daughters born to her and Malcolm, Shabazz, as an American educator, became a mother to thousands of children. Mother’s Day should never come and go without reflecting on the contributions of Myrlie Evers and Coretta Scott King.
Evers, the widow of murdered civil rights activist Medgar Evers, raised their three children and continued her husband’s work. A civil rights activist and journalist, she worked to obtain the conviction of her husband’s murderer. Evers also served as the chairwoman of the NAACP.
The contributions and sacrifices of Coretta Scott King are too great to mention. While upholding the legacy of her husband, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Mrs. King raised their four young children left by King’s 1968 assassination. She continued working in the Civil Rights Movement and in opposition to Apartheid in South Africa. As a proponent of equality, King organized the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force in 2003.
Mother’s Day is a day for not only spending special time with your mother, or the “mother” in your life, but honoring those moms no longer with us.