In central Mississippi, a writer finds several examples of “other mothers”

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At 90, Bernice Musgrove is still mothering – and not just the children she gave birth to, or her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She is what one feminist calls an “other mother”, women who are committed to caring for the young people in their community, whether or not they are related by blood.

In her book “Black Feminist Thought”, Patricia Hill Collins supports ‘other mothers’ as vital members of their communities. They offer everything they can, from words of encouragement to financial support, to families and children in need. In central Mississippi, where I lived for four decades, black women exemplify this tradition.

Church mothers fill this role in many Christian denominations. The Church of God in Christ, founded in Mississippi in 1895, incorporates the Mother Church into its structure. “Church mothers became a vehicle for women to remake their religious and social world within a framework of piety, devotion, and civic life,” writes Anthea Butler in “Women in the Church of God in Christ: Making a Sanctified World”. She adds, “The mother of the church in the COGIC tradition has moved from being an honorary wife to something more.”

Musgrove was a church mother for several decades at the Liberal Trinity Church of God in Christ in Jackson, where her late husband was a longtime pastor and bishop.

Musgrove and I spoke in the church parlor recently. At Liberal Trinity, church mothers traditionally wear white to services on the second and fourth Sundays. When we spoke, Musgrove wore a white linen blouse and skirt with an eyelet collar. It was impossible to miss the deference she drew from the half-dozen young church leaders in the building as we strolled through the property after our conversation. People step back respectfully for Musgrove.

She continues to lead a women’s Bible study on Tuesday nights for the church, as she has done for two decades. During the pandemic, she taught home sessions via a conference call line.

“I would say to all older people: if you can help a young person, whether it’s financially or with a word of encouragement, or by letting them use something you need, do it,” Musgrove advised. “Sometimes it’s just being nice, just being considerate.”

Pastors suggest members who need the help of a church mother, she explained. Listening is a big part of the job, according to Musgrove. “Let them talk, and they’ll tell you what’s on their mind if you listen,” she said.

Musgrove, who has three children, six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, does not take into account the number of people it has supported over the years. “We just do what we are able to do for people with a pure heart, and we are happy to share what we have with someone in need,” she said.

Community mothers can also be found outside the church. The history of Head Start is intimately linked to the work of the elders of the community. When the preschool program for low-income children was launched in 1965, the majority of its Mississippi staff were older women. Many were grandmothers who viewed Head Start’s mission as an extension of the civil rights movement, according to Crystal R. Sanders, author of “A Chance for Change: Head Start and Mississippi’s Black Freedom Struggle.”

As a federal program part of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s war on poverty, Head Start offered employees a steady paycheck as well as protection from local white retaliation for civil rights activism.

But for the women working in the program, the idea of ​​raising children meant more than the paycheck. At the end of a summer pilot program in Vicksburg, 12 local women decided to keep Head Start alive, even though only five of them had children in the program. “When asked why they gave freely of their time to run a preschool program for other people’s children, they explained that they were ‘interested in the welfare of all children, especially in our town. native,'” Sanders wrote.

“It’s one thing to say, ‘I’m going to do something for my child.’ It’s another thing to say “I’m going to do something for somebody else’s kid,” Sanders said. in a recent telephone interview.

Women also inspired the next generation of individuals to become communal. This is the case of Aisha Nyandoro, granddaughter of famous Mississippi activist LC Dorsey, who died in 2013.

Born in the Delta, Dorsey, a mother of six and former farm worker, earned her GED at age 30 and went on to earn a doctorate from Howard University. She returned to Mississippi to take on leadership roles in family and community advocacy, and worked for a more humane and rehabilitative-centered treatment of state prison inmates.

From age 50, she ran the Delta Health Center, providing care to underserved children and their families. Later, she became an associate professor in the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Mississippi Medical Center.

“She was the role model for me,” Nyandoro said. “Everything I believe about how you present yourself and engage with the community, I learned directly from her.”

$1,000 per month, unconditional

Nyandoro now leads the Magnolia Mother’s Trust, a cutting-edge effort to support struggling mothers and children. The project, part of the Jackson-based nonprofit Springboard to Opportunities, is one of the first guaranteed income pilot projects in the United States. Low-income black mothers in public housing in Jackson receive $1,000 a month for 12 months to use as they see fit. So far, 230 mothers have participated in the project, and many of them have shown improvement in repaying their debts and building up emergency savings funds.

Nyandoro, like his grandmother, Dorsey, and church mother Musgrove, operate at Collins’s “other-mother” frame. The same goes for the women Sanders wrote about in his story of Mississippi’s Head Start program. During our phone conversation, Sanders said the women made a statement that “there are certain things we want for these kids. We will pour into them. We will invest in them. We will sacrifice ourselves for them. They don’t have to be our children biologically, but we understand they deserve something better.

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