In 1944 it was still pretty uncommon for coloured children to receive a complete education, particularly in the southern states of America. Alice Malsenior Walker and her seven older siblings were the exception, her mother enrolling her in first grade when she was just four years old. Despite many disputes with cotton farm owners, Alice Walker’s parents fought for her to stay out of the fields and in the classroom and Alice reaped the benefits.
At 8 years old, Alice discovered her passion for writing. She kept it a secret from most of her family, even though her grandfather is the inspiration for the character ‘Mr’ in her critically acclaimed novel “the color purple”.
Although a BB gun bullet left her blind in the right eye in 1952 (a misfire by one of her brothers) Alice grew to become a very successful and well liked young woman. She graduated high school as senior queen and valedictorian of her class.
College was when Alice Walker met activist Howard Zinn, a professor at Spelman College who inspired her to become involved in the civil rights movement. She participated in voters registration drives, as well as campaigns for welfare rights and children’s programs in Mississippi. After hearing Martin Luther King Jr speak at Spelman, Alice Walker also became involved in the 1963 March of Washington.
Alice Walkers activism didn’t just stop at racial issues. She stood for her rights as a woman as well, protesting against the bombings in Iraq with members of Code Pink and Women for Peace at the white house on International Women’s Day in 2003. The activists were arguing that bombing cities in Iraq put too many innocent women and children at risk. Alice truly believed, (and still believes) in a global community of women that stretches beyond war, and color, and placement, the world could/can become an oasis of equality and peace.
Alice married Melvyn Roseman Leventhal in New York City in 1967. A year later, the Jewish civil rights lawyer and his new wife moved to Mississippi, becoming the first legally married inter-racial couple in the state. They faced harassment from several hate groups, including the Klu-Klux Klan. Their daughter, Rebecca, also faced discrimination, and became detached from her mother when she felt she had become more of a political statement then a daughter to her. Alice has since removed her daughter from her will, replacing her with a distant cousin.
While it’s clear that, “The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any” is referring to activism in both gender and racial sectors, it can also be interpreted as a lesson for everyday living in our more current, equal-rights society. For example, it’s easy to forget that you can think for yourself in a high school classroom, where teachers are feeding you facts and stories and opinions in a constant stream; yet if you put your hand up, ask a question, offer a view, it can inspire new conversation that leads you so much deeper than the chalkboard. Same goes for your job. Regardless of whether you work in an office, restaurant, or from home, remembering you are your own person (and not just a mindless working machine) could help you to make a project more dynamic, someone’s day a little brighter, or perhaps make your wallet just a tad thicker.
After all, “The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.”