My Big Ma didn't allow no cussing in her house.
No drinking. No dancing. No blues singing. No blasphemy.
At Big Ma's house, you could learn to make perfect doll clothes. Witness the baking of a masterpiece pound cake. Get a real-world Bible lesson or two. And you could talk about history and politics. After the Lord, those were two of her favorite subjects.
In her near-downtown neighborhood in Gary, Ind., my paternal grandmother, Mary Elizabeth Jefferson Banks her friends called her Mae Liza was always sought out for her opinions on politics and on life. She had led a grassroots movement, way before it was called that, in her part of town to get Richard Gordon Hatcher elected the first Black mayor of the city of Gary. And I know people would have wanted to hear her as the clock struck noon Tuesday and Barack Hussein Obama became the 44th president of these United States.
What are you feeling today, Miss Mae Liza?
I think Big Ma might say: First, I'm so thankful that America had the plain good sense to vote in her own best interest. To see that here was one wise enough, smart enough over-educated; Harvard-educated one who was humble enough for the job and fearless enough for it, too.
I think she might have echoed the president's inaugural speech: Barack Obama is ready to lead, she might say, and if we ever needed a president who could lead, we sure do need one now.
Big Ma would say, as so many have said: I didn't vote for him just because he's Black. I voted for him because he was the one we've been waiting for. But words are too weak. All I can say is my joy is full in this moment.
- Barack Obama takes the oath, a moment so many had dreamed of.
I think she would say that she always knew this would happen; that she had complete faith that it would happen though, of course, she just didn't know when. I think she'd say this president is a great blessing, and like all great blessings, it may not have come when we wanted it, but it sure came right on time.
It may not have come when Big Ma was growing up in the Mississippi Delta. Sharecropper's child. Almost no formal education. Sharecropper's wife. No right to vote. Not even the right to talk about voting. I think Big Ma would tell that story about how she, my grandfather and their sons were kicked off one place where they sharecropped because Grandfather Ples was overheard talking about voting.
I think she might have said that this kind of justice may not have come when we were taking one step forward, two steps back.
Ol' Jim Crow.
Dr. Martin Luther King assassinated.
I think Big Ma would say, as writer Alice Walker said, that she never ever doubted, though, that the torch would be delivered.
The torch King carried.
The torch Mississippi voting rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer carried.
- Transition to a new age: The Obamas escort the Bushes to their departing helicopter.
The torch James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner carried and had brutally snatched away when they were murdered in 1964 for registering Black voters down in the Delta.
She might say, too, that Barack bears no responsibility for what happened in the past of his ancestors and has clearly shown that he doesn't intend to take race as his primary mantle. I think she would say that there's room for many styles of leadership, room for young people with new ideas.
Room for many versions of what it means to be American.
Room for many definitions of African-American, too.
I think she would say that she had listened to or watched about every inaugural ceremony since she left the Delta and took the Great Migration to Indiana. But I bet she'd say there was never one like this one.
I think Big Ma would say the best parts included hearing Aretha Franklin sing "My Country, 'Tis of Thee," as it has never been sung before, knowing it was Chief Justice John Roberts who blew the actual oath not President Obama and watching a new First Family take its rightful place in a White House built by Black slaves.
I think she would say that the very best part came with Rev. Joseph Lowery's benediction words that the new president could not, or maybe even, should not, say:
"God of our weary years, God of our silent tears.
Thou, who has brought us thus far along the way."
Walk together children, don't you get weary. Walk together children, don't you get weary.
I think Big Ma would say: Maybe we'll be one nation, after all.
Rosemary Harris Lytle is a Colorado Springs writer and president of the Colorado Springs Branch NAACP.