Three noted black women in American history came to life on the ballroom stage at McGill Training Center.
Janice Curtis Greene, a professional storyteller, portrayed Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman and Rosa Parks in a dramatic retelling of their lives for Fort Meade’s annual observance of Women’s Equality Day.
The 90-minute event, held Aug. 23, was sponsored by the 902nd Military Intelligence Group and the Fort Meade Equal Opportunity Office.
“Equality is not just a women’s issue,” said Lt. Col. Jay Birmingham, the deputy garrison commander for transformation. “It’s a human rights issue.”
The observance included an a cappella performance of the national anthem by the Women’s Ensemble of the U.S. Army Field Band’s Soldiers’ Chorus, the invocation by Chaplain (Capt.) Eric Light of the 902nd MI, and a lunch catered by Club Meade.
Photographs and posters of prominent American women were displayed throughout the ballroom.
Sgt. Tameka Greenwood of the 902 MI served as emcee.
In 1971, Congress designated Aug. 26 as Women’s Equality Day after lobbying by the late New York Rep. Bella Abzug.
The date was selected to commemorate the 1920 ratification of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, granting women the right to vote, according to the National Women’s History Project’s website.
This year’s theme is “Honoring Trailblazing Women in Labor and Business.”
“Today, barriers that once seemed insurmountable have been reduced and women are succeeding in a full range of professional jobs,” Greenwood said. “Women are serving as judges and members of Congress, setting world records in sports, launching innovative companies, discovering advancements in science and defending our nation.”
Greene, a native of Baltimore, is a retired administrator for the Social Security Administration in Woodlawn.
Greene’s son, the late Marine Lance Cpl. Barry Ross Thompson, served in the Gulf War and in Iraq. In 2005, Thompson died of injuries sustained in Iraq.
“I’m proud to be here at Fort Meade,” Greene told the audience.
In her dramatic presentation, Greene sang “Oh, Freedom,” “Amazing Grace” and “Keep Your Eyes on the Prize,” songs associated with the African-American experience in slavery and the Civil Rights Movement.
Greene recounted each life story dressed as the woman she portrayed, changing costumes onstage as she sang.
As Sojourner Truth, Greene recalled how the abolitionist was born into slavery in 1797 to a Dutch family in upstate New York. Truth grew up speaking Dutch and did not learn English until she was 9 years old.
As a child, she was sold with a flock of sheep for $100 to a slave master Greene described as cruel.
“He thought I was stupid,” Greene said. “ … I was sold, mistreated and beaten many times. My days were long and hard.”
As an adult, Truth was freed when New York emancipated all slaves in 1827. When a son was illegally sold back into slavery, Truth sued for his freedom and won.
Truth dedicated her life to the end of slavery and women’s rights.
“I tried to vote before I had the right to do so in 1872,” Greene said.
As Truth walked to the polling booth, she was taken away.
“At least I tried,” Greene said emphatically.
As Harriet Tubman, Greene said she decided to lead slaves to freedom because “sometimes, you know you have a right to something that God had approved.”
Tubman decided it was liberty or death.
“If I could not have one, I would have the other,” Greene said.
As a conductor on the Underground Railroad, Tubman returned to the South 19 times to free her family and others as they journeyed to Philadelphia and then to Canada.
Fighting for Rights
During the Civil War, Tubman served as a cook, nurse, scout and spy for the Union Army. In her later years, she was a suffragette.
In her final portrayal, Green brought the struggle for civil right to more contemporary times, portraying Rosa Parks, who was born Rosa McCauley in Tuskegee, Ala.
As Parks, Greene explained how civic literacy tests in the segregated South were designed to be difficult in order to prevent blacks from voting.
Greene said that in many states, blacks could not vote unless a white person vouched for their character.
Blacks had to pass these tests in order to qualify to vote.
“I went back twice to register to vote,” Greene said as Parks. “I got the questions right because I studied.”
Park’s decision not to give up her bus seat to a white passenger in December 1955 was a result of remembering “all the years of oppression,” Greene said. “There was no way in heaven I was going to give up my seat.”
The act of civil disobedience sparked the start of the modern Civil Rights Movement.
Greene then recited the final stanzas of “And Still I Rise,” one of Maya Angelou’s best-known poems, published in 1978.
After her presentation, Greene was presented with a plaque of appreciation by Birmingham and Col. Jon A. Clausen, commander of the 902 MI.
Sgt. Jiseng So of the 780th MI Brigade called the performance “thought-provoking.”
“It was an interesting look at our history,” he said. “We sometimes forget how we got to where we are.
“This helps us remember the struggle that people went through to fight for their rights.”