Historian, Civil Rights activist Dr. Mary Frances Berry, first row and holding book, poses with members of Woman’s City Club of Cincinnati at a reception and book signing following her speech. Photos by Easly Blessed Photography

By Dan Yount

The Cincinnati Herald

Historian and Civil Rights activist Dr. Mary Frances Berry recently spoke on the cause of Civil Rights, gender equality, and social justice over the past four decades at Woman’s City Club’s National Speaker Forum at Memorial Hall Downtown.

Berry is a distinguished historian and one of the most respected activists in the country. She was the longtime chair of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission. A moving speaker who makes history come alive, Berry said she believes that each generation has the responsibility to make a dent in the wall of injustice.

Her latest book is “History Teaches Us to Resist, How the Progressive Movements Have Succeeded in Challenging Times,” which shows that resistance to presidential administrations has led to positive change and the defeat of outrageous proposals.  

“Except for Rosa Parks, we do not talk about the women involved in the Civil Rights Movement. I was a friend of Coretta Scott King, who held up the blood-stained banner for her husband Martin’s cause. She gave frequent talks, and asked, ‘What would Martin do,’ in various situations.”

Dr. Mary Frances Berry talks about race, protest and politics at the Women’s City Club National Speaker Forum.

Mrs. King spoke at the UnitedNations against apartheid in South Africa, Berry noted, adding we should speak for justice for people around the world per her example. “We need to make the Preamble to the Constitution a preamble for all people,”she added.

“We also need victories, and the addition of Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson to the U.S. Supreme Court is something we can celebrate, although her confirmation hearings turned into a political spectacle with senators playing to the media.

“But we also have to think about the people further down on the scale, such as caregivers with COVID, people who are paying for the high cost of groceries, child care costs, and those living on a minimum wage. We must think about the impact our decisions make on these people.”

In commenting on the opposition to the Critical Race Theory (which involves teaching African American history in secondary schools), she said it is used a weapon (against Blacks). “The backlash is real, with White supremacy so prevalent in this issues,” she added.

What about all of these issues, Berry asks?

We are better off organizing social justice groups, resisting, putting demands on people, she advises.

“Martin Luther King always thought that if the underrepresented got the vote, then justice would come, but we say there is something else to it. To get social justice without non-violence, we must put pressure on our politicians.

“People have to figure out what is the right thing to do, and then do it, as Martin did when he came out against the Vietnam War as being an unjust, irrational war. We killed a lot of people there, using napalm and bombed hospitals; same in Iraq. Now we see that happening (in Russia’s war) in The Ukraine.

Berry asked where we go from here. She calls for people in communities who can lead in rallying the communities to address the issues at hand.

“There should be a representative group in every community that can develop a movement for justice,” she said.

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