You write that Queen Like Me explores the lives of Queen Nefertiti, Coretta Scott King, First Lady Michelle Obama, and other women leaders of the past and present. Which women throughout history inspires you the most?
My grandmother. She was both a domestic and an educator. For me, her occupation of both roles really demonstrates the duality of Black life in America. She was capable of so much, but was once relegated to house work because of the country’s refusal to live up to its promise of equality. But that didn’t stop her. She grew her own food, owned her home, paid for her automobiles outright. Without words, but through her daily life, she embodied and defined true independence and self-determination for me at an early age.
Anyone else you want to add?
Hatshepsut is the first queen highlighted in the book. I appreciate her leadership in Ancient Egypt. She ruled the expansive territory when it was the essential global power. Her impact was and is undeniable and she completely destroys the myth of female inferiority. I think she’s the real ghost writer behind Beyonce’s “Who Run The World!” As a native Alabamian, I adore Rosa Parks. People tend to dilute Mrs. Parks’ story into that one particular day, but she had been an activist for the NAACP 10 years prior to December 1, 1955—she was an anti-rape advocate, a field secretary, and supported her husband’s activism in support of the Scottsboro Boys. Even after being forced out of Montgomery, she worked to get Black history taught in inner city schools and participated in the Anti-apartheid Movement in South Africa. Ida B. Wells and Fannie Lou Hamer are indescribable. Real game changers from the south. Our reality has been transformed as a direct result of their work. I don’t think I can pick a favorite.
Author Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Outliers, claims that the key to being successful in any field of endeavor is to put a particular skill into practice for a total of around 10,000 hours. You mentioned prior to the now famous bus incident Rosa Parks was an active activist for more than 10 years, which meets the “10,000 Hour-Rule”. How long have you been involved in history?
I graduated from FAMU with my masters in 2007. Since then, I’ve been teaching. I’ve worked at the Smithsonian, the National Park Service and done a number of independent history-related projects, so professionally, I’ve been in the field about eight years. Beyond that, my whole life has been influenced by the past. Not only am I from the South, but from Montgomery, the home of the Civil Rights Movement. I met Rosa Parks as a child. Visiting Booker T. Washington’s home in Tuskegee was common for me. I have family from Monroeville, the hometown of Harper Lee, the author of To Kill a Mockingbird. We still travel there often. So history has always intrigued me, and for that reason, I’ve always wanted to be its advocate.
Top favorite books of all-time.
Up From Slavery by Booker T. Washington, The Mis-Education of the Negro by Cater G. Woodson, and Southern Horrors by Ida B. Wells.
Why do you believe education is important today? You got your masters at FAMU and earned a doctoral degree in United States history at Howard University, and also currently assistant professor of history at Alabama State University. Education seems to be an important issue to you.
Education is a weapon. It’s the mechanism that protects you from being swindled. Lack of knowledge causes people to fail —financially, socially, and politically. Without it, you’re handicapped. Steve Biko said, “The greatest weapon in the hand of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.” It’s not chains…it’s not any sort of physical hurdle or restriction. Education is the primary nurturer of the mind.
Given the importance of education, would you also say that historically black colleges are relevant today?
They are more than relevant. HBCUs are the last cultural jewel that black people have. We don’t have anything else besides the black church and barbershops. Nothing else. HBCUs are tangible gifts from our ancestors. Formerly enslaved people, with every fiber of their beings… Booker T. Washington, who was a former slave, established Tuskegee University in 1887. It continues to produce a majority of black veterinarians and engineers. The numbers don’t lie. Although HBCUs are under-financed and under-supported, we still consistently produce. I just saw an article highlighting FAMU for recently graduating two black women PhDs in physics. Show me another institution producing in that way without proper support. My hope is that at some point all people understand how, economically, these institutions determine our viability. Most Black teachers in the state of Alabama earned degrees at Alabama State or Alabama A&M Universities. It’s obvious that these schools shape our middle class. How can anyone not see that? These institutions matter. They always have and always will.
Dr. Kimberly Brown is an assistant professor of history at Alabama State University. Researching 20th century African American women and the politics of beauty, she earned a doctoral degree in United States history at Howard University. She advocates history education as the optimum guide for self-determination and personal development, and travels extensively to fulfill this mission.