The RTD "Strong Voices" program is a celebration of the power and stories of Richmond women. Christy Coleman is among nine 2019 Strong Voices, and her remarks below were at the heart of a March 20 event at the Richmond Omni Hotel and a March 24 special section in the RTD that coincided with Women's History Month.
The voices of strong women have always called out to us — both in the past and present. They have called to us to seek justice, human dignity and a higher purpose to lift all of humankind.
I’ve built a career in public history, where I’ve advocated that women and other marginalized people be given their rightful place in the story of America — the story of us.
When European nations were expanding the trans-Atlantic slave trade and attempting to colonize Western Africa, Queen Nzinga initially sought diplomatic solutions to maintain the sovereignty of her nation and end the barbarous practice. When that failed, she waged war against the Portuguese.
It was from her nation that the “first 20 and odd negroes” arrived on Virginia shores.
As British colonies were debating independence, Abigail Adams admonished her husband to “remember the ladies” by granting women equal status to men in the new nation.
It was Phyllis Wheatley who put pen to paper to decry the abuses of slavery and express the desire for freedom that all people shared and deserved — at a time when every single colony enslaved persons of African descent.
It was Harriet Tubman who chose not only to self-emancipate but to aid hundreds of other freedom-seekers. She formed alliances with other women like Harriet Forten Purvis — who, along with 17 other women, formed the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society after being denied membership in the movement based on their gender.
But it was Sojourner Truth who asked the ultimate question: “Ain’t I a woman?”
Her speech wasn’t one of acquiescence — rather, it was one of strength, as she laid forth the fortitude that she and other women share.
But intersectionality often was — and continues to be — an issue. In the pursuit of voting and property rights, racism and class often prevented the powerful from seeing common struggles.
We laud Susan B. Anthony, Lucretia Mott and others for advocating suffrage and the rights of women, but they did not align themselves with black women. Rather than be deterred, the incomparable Ida B. Wells and Mary Church Terrell sought their own venues to extend their messages. These black women fought not only for voting rights but for social justice against the rising tide of domestic terrorism against black people.
Into the 20th and now 21st century, the voices of women surround us. They are shaping national and international politics, arts and culture, education, social justice movements and much more.
If we listen, we may hear things we’ve never considered before.
We may grow in ways we never imagined.
We may find ourselves on the verge of greatness.
A native of Williamsburg, Christy Coleman came to Richmond in 2008. As CEO of the American Civil War Museum, she has broadened the dialogue and storytelling about race and history in Richmond and the South.