I saw on yahoo that Coretta Scott King the woman partner/ally of Martin Luther King had died.
I thought, the passing of more history and her/stories. I'm living in an age where so much is dehistoricized even by the feminists and activists I encounter, where so much emphasis is placed on youth and the young that I worry that our struggles become less and less grounded in a knowledge of the past. This passing marks a loss for sure. But a loss of what kind?
But, since I was always more of a Malcolm X-y sort of Black queer girl, I won't get too much up in the contribution of her late partner whose name and dream are presently being pimped by all sorts of folks who don't care one fig about everyday Black people, no way no how.
When I saw the article and picture of this Black woman so defined by her existence as loyal wife and widow, living shrine to the memory of a man, her husband, I thought of other Black wives of "great" men who had lived and worked along side their partners, yet who were defined as lesser, as patriarchally subjugated to visions not seen as primarily theirs, dreams not primarily theirs, but instead those of their men.
I thought with rage about Winnie Mandela...oops, did I say Mandela? I don't think she can claim the last name since he divorced her. Yes, she who fought the great battle, fought dirty in the trenches while her husband was being mentally broken, dominated and chemically lobotomized (so as to not leave any permanent scars. how do you think a resistance fighter and nation's leader went into the jail and a doddering, soft spoken man fine with white south africa came out? Any psyche survivor/consumer can explain exactly how one would take a defiant soul, make it more malleable, friendly and willing to "play nice.")
I thought about her "loving" husband and ally coming out of prison and almost immediately disassociating himself from the partner who had loved him, allied with him and kept his name alive all those years. I thought of him "setting her aside" and finding himself a more docile, friendly, less bloodied wife more in keeping with his new role as international man of peace.
I thought about the fact that Nelson Mandela, threatened by the leadership power of his mate, could and did side-line his greatest ally in struggle with ease, because Winnie Mandela had always been vulnerable to being seen as just his wife, just a feminized symbol of his resistance, a receptacle for his ideas, not a fully conscientized warrior fighting a battle that was also hers to claim and to define powerfully if not always ethically.
I understand that had he died either before or during encarceration, she would have been able to "keep her place" as honoured wife, as widow of the martyr of the struggle, as powerful head of the movement, as warrior mother of the struggle. Had he died, she would not have been seen as in direct competition with him for power. Had he died, I understand that South Africa would have been a verrrry different place today. (but that's a whole other posting in and of itself)
So, when I hear about Coretta Scott King's passing, I mourn a historical passing more than a herstorical one. I wonder how this woman's path would have diverged from that of her husband's if he had lived and she had continued to grow next to him. I wonder if she would have attained this status of legend if she had remarried or chosen to take a lover and have more children with another after his murder instead of spending the rest of her life (understood as) a sexless widow. But, under a misogynist patriarchal system of wimmin's oppression, it's clear that her life and status as living icon would have been different, right?
I understand her as a good wife, a good widow in black, monogamously faithful to her death. A wife keeping her husband's name alive, keeping her husband's dream alive and through this act, the dreams of a whole peopling.
Her husband was the phallic head of a non-violent struggle and she was it's mother, inseminated by his dream, primed to give birth ritually to his vision in his name publicly, over and over again, until her death.
I understand this woman as a subjugated symbol of heterosexual, patriarchal wifehood. A symbol of a man's struggle. A sacrificial ritual object representing a leader long gone. An icon of resistance to colonization...by proxy not through her own presence at the helm. Empowered to speak and to act, not through her own dreams for justice and civil rights, which it seems predated her meeting and marrying her partner, but ultimately thorugh his patriarchal maleness and the access her proximity to it earned.
Welcomed and listened to because of the legitimacy conferred on her by his last name, by the "sanctity" of monogamous marriage and wifehood, I understand her as a foot soldier in a struggle lead by a (Black) man, in a struggle that welcomed a female instigator (Rosa Parks), that would not have followed a female leader. I don't understand her as a symbol of Black female power and leadership in her own right.
Long may his name live after her passing.