Black Women Plant Seeds Columns

In Our Mothers’ Gardens: Reflections on Black Motherhood

Kristina Button

I rest in confidence that raising and guiding my Black children is the most significant form of antiracist activism that I will ever engage in. I also rest in confidence that I have equipped my children with the tools to go into the world and treat their neighbors with genuine concern, showing particular care for those neighbors who reside further on the margins than them. 

Black mothers, by default, are activists. The racial hierarchy in America ensures that Black women must fight for themselves and everybody else. This quality has been fostered and embedded in us through generations of oppression. Black women have always looked after the welfare of Black people. As our Ancestor Mother Fannie Lou Hamer said, “Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.” 

Black mothers, by default, are activists.

Black women are overlooked and undervalued; our mere existence bears heavy scrutiny. We must navigate systems that weren’t built with us in mind. Black mothers shoulder the burden for themselves, their community, and the next generations. Black mothers experience a level of marginalization that I am still attempting to process. Our marginalization exists at the intersection of our Blackness, our womanhood, and our identities as mothers. 

Black Motherhood is seen as a threat by those who are in power. We are not given the same consideration as non-Black women. We are sweet, doting, and tender. We deserve to be seen as such. We resist our oppression by insisting that Black mothers matter, too. Our worth matters. Our visibility matters. Our voices matter.

Black mothers shoulder the burden for themselves, their community, and the next generations.

In the midst of our struggle, I encourage myself by reflecting on the beauty, power, and resilience that comes from Black Motherhood. In these times of not feeling loved by the outside world, I reflect on our foremothers. I think of how their journeys, sacrifices, and survival were acts of love that ensured our existence. I reflect on the women in my own bloodline who survived the Middle Passage, slavery, reconstruction, and Jim Crow. 

Through oppression and struggle, God has sustained each generation of my family through my children, and I trust that he will sustain my future grandchildren and beyond. I come from a line of women who didn’t just survive troubled waters–they pressed on. I’m thankful that they pressed on. 

Recently, I watched a documentary called In Our Mothers’ Gardens on Netflix. I highly recommend it. It is a beautiful exploration of Black Motherhood. It focuses on the maternal lineage of a group of women as told through their oral histories. These stories are powerful because oral history is how our ancestors continue to teach us long after their souls return to their Creator. Oral history is how our history, ideas, and culture have managed to survive the erasure endemic to anti-Blackness. In Our Mothers’ Gardens is a celebration of the joy, dignity, and beauty of Black Motherhood. 

I come from a long line of Black women who have made sacrifices to ensure the survival and uplift of the next generation. I am Kristina, daughter of Samantha Ann, who is the daughter of (Martha) Harriett Ann, who is the daughter of Mable, who is the daughter of Harriett Ann, who is the daughter of Rachel, who is the daughter of Julia, who was born in Scotland Neck North Carolina in 1826. 

My grandmother Harriett (center, wearing the green cardigan vest)

My grandmother, Harriett, was born to a single mother and raised by her aunt. When my grandma was either two months or two years old, my great-grandmother, whose name was Mable, gave my grandmother to her sister, Hattie. My grandma had a pleasant upbringing and thought that Aunt Hattie was her mother until one of her cousins told her, “That’s not your mama.”  

My grandmother Harriett

Aunt Hattie raised my grandmother until she passed away. At her funeral, my great-grandmother made arrangements with her brother for my grandma to live with him. My grandmother was twelve years old at the time. Living with her uncle didn’t work out very well, and so my grandma saved her money and caught a bus out of town to find and live with her mother. Her childhood trauma still followers her until this day. 

My mother and grandmother

My grandmother is the matriarch of my family. We all owe her a great debt for carrying the world on her back. I came into the world when my mother was seventeen years old, and I had the privilege of growing up in a multigenerational home with my mother and grandparents. My grandmother’s perseverance and her sacrifices as a Black Mother make me the mother I am today. I look to God and to my foremothers for the resources of wisdom and strength to pour into my own Black children so that they can become the change that they hope to see in the world.

My grandmother and me