Lou Jones: Sojourner’s Daughters

At The Museum of Afro American History.

(Originally published in The Boston Phoenix, March, 1990)

Lou Jones‘s portrait of musician Anna Bobbitt Gardner (1901-1997) shows a beautiful old woman with strong hands and a clear, untroubled face. In the background, a white sheet of music and the black top of a piano look like abstract sculptures. You can feel that she’s listening to music; there’s a visionary gleam in her eyes. Next to her portrait is a reproduction of an old daguerrotype of Elizabeth Greenfield (1809 – 1876) — a singer and pianist who was known as the Black Swan.

Gardner and Greenfield are two of the women in “Sojourner’s Daughters,” an inspiring show of photographs of 26 contemporary African American women from the Boston area and with 26 pictures of historical women from the Museum of Afro American History‘s archives. Faded but still striking likenesses of women who lived a long time ago are juxtaposed with Lou Jones’s wonderful photographs, which show the inner strength and beauty of the contemporary women — centered, accomplished, brave, compassionate, and proud.

“These women don’t spring out of a void,” explained curator Francine Farr. “They are shown with a particular woman they identify with as the inspiration for their own struggles.” Massachusetts Superior Court Judge Barbara A. Dortch chose community activist Elleanor Eldridge (1785 – 1865). Elma Lewis, founder of the National Center of Afro-American Artists, is next to educator Lucy Craft Laney (1854 – 1933) educator. Artist Barbara Ward, surrounded by her wonderful soft sculptures, chose her own grandmother, Jenora Cole, who has the same big bright eyes and beautiful smile. Community activist Ruth Batson chose Harriet Tubman, the escaped slave who led hundreds of others to freedom on the Underground Railway. She said,

“One person can make a significant difference if they’re strong, stand tall, stick to what they believe, and don’t allow themselves to be intimidated.”

Sojourner’s Daughters” was named for Sojourner Truth, a former slave who became an evangelist, abolitionist, singer, and women’s rights activist. It’s a great show and it would be a great book. The Museum of Afro American History is seeking funding for such a project, and I hope they find it. See it, and spread the word.

by Rebecca Nemser for rebeccanemser.com

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