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Black women focus on issues different from whites’ priorities

October 25, 1997

PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ Tears filled Brenda Medina’s eyes as she looked over the gathering of black women that flowed toward the Philadelphia Museum of Art during the Million Woman March on Saturday.

``I feel so encouraged by this,″ said Medina, 39, of Washington D.C. ``It feels good to see so many of my sisters who care.″

A few feet away, Joanne Archie of Wilmington, Del., was just happy to be able to be there.

``So many strong sisters in one place. I never thought I would see this,″ said Archie, 47. ``No disrespect to any other groups, but it is important to me to see these black women here. It’s beautiful.″

With the march, hundreds of thousands of black women hoped to raise issues usually relegated to the back burner of traditional women’s advocacy.

``I don’t sense any dislike between black and white women. It’s more a lack of understanding,″ said Marjorie Mosley of Cincinnati. ``They don’t have a clue about what’s important to us and I’m not sure they care.″

The event’s organizers hope the march adds a new and black perspective to the national women’s rights movement.

The difference in black and white women’s concerns is best shown in the march agenda, with its focus on human rights abuses against blacks, the start of independent black schools and a demand for an investigation into allegations of CIA involvement in the crack trade in black neighborhoods.

Some _ like Bernice Powell Jackson, an official with the United Church of Christ in Cleveland _ said last week the focus on forgotten issues affecting black women is long overdue.

``We as black women have to deal with two types of discrimination and white women don’t,″ said Jackson, executive director of the church’s commission for racial justice. ``I think black and white women can work together as partners but it can’t be the same old scenario where white women lead and we follow behind. That won’t work anymore.″

Among the platform issues Saturday were the advancement of women leaving the penal system and the construction of health centers featuring alternative and traditional medicines. Others included combating homelessness, examining human rights violations against black Americans and encouraging black female entrepreneurs and politicians.

``These items are right out of the black cultural experience,″ said Ronald Walters, a University of Maryland political scientist. ``They manifest a sense of our own dignity as black people.″

While the specific goals of the march won’t be found in the manifesto of groups such as the National Organization of Women, NOW’s president said last week there are similarities between the marchers’ agenda and that of her group.

``We are all talking about women’s health, education and violence in homes,″ Patricia Ireland said. ``On our national agenda, the issue of women in prisons may not be as visible as the reproductive health issue, but it’s not being ignored.″

A split between black and white female advocates was exposed this summer in Washington, D.C., when a marble statue saluting three famous white suffragists was moved from the dank Capitol basement into the Capitol Rotunda. C. Delores Tucker, leader of the National Political Congress of Black Women, complained the tribute slighted Sojourner Truth, a former slave and abolitionist.

Tucker unsuccessfully argued that Truth should have been added to an unfinished section of the 13-ton monument.

``We weren’t treated with any respect,″ she said.

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