Martin Luther King Jr once related a story that demonstrated just how accurate the Black woman was at assessing her location in the scheme of things and knowing how to handle herself wherever she was. He told us about an older Black woman who had worked for a white woman in Alabama.
First as her laundress, then as her maid, then as her cook and finally as her housekeeper. After 40 years, the Black woman retired but she would go to visit her former employer occasionally. On one visit, her employer had friends over for lunch. When the employer was told the Lilian Taylor was in the kitchen, she sent for her. Lilian went into the livingroom and greeted all the women. Some of whom she had known since their childhoods.
The white woman said Lilian I know you’ve heard of the bus boycott. Lilian said yes ma’am I’ve heard of it. The white woman said, well I want to know, what do you think of it? Are you supporting it? Lilian said no ma’am not one bit. Not one little iota and I won’t let none of mine support it either. The white woman said, I knew you’d be sensible Lilian. I just knew it in my bones. Lilian said yes ma’am I won’t touch that bus boycott.
You know my son took me to live with him and his family. He won’t let me even lift a finger and he works for the power company way across town from our house. I told him, Charles don’t you have anything to do with that bus boycott. You walk to work. Stay all the way out of that bus boycott. And my grandchildren, they go to school all the way over on the East Side. I told them the same thing. Don’t have anything to do with that boycott. You walk to school. And even today, when I wanted to come over and visit you, I got a lady from my church to bring me. I wasn’t going to touch that bus boycott, sure wasn’t.
The room has become quiet and Lilian Taylor said, I know you have plenty help now but do you want me to bring you all some more coffee? She went to the kitchen and was followed by the white woman’s daughter. Who asked her, Lilian why do you treat my Mother like that? Why not just come out and say you support the boycott? Lilian said, honey, when you have your head in the lion’s mouth, you don’t snatch it out. You reach up and tickle him behind his ears and you draw your head out gradually.
Every Black woman in this country has her head in a lion’s mouth.