My Black Mamma

“This poem is my beautiful Mother’s story, and she would say, ‘I told them I wasn’t going to pick no damn cotton,’ and she did not. Following her death from cancer in 2009, it took me a year to embrace the loss and then accept the loss of the woman who gave me life. Every mother is special not only because of the life they bring, but the lives they touch.” – Tonia Randell

by Tonia Randell

To my mother, Jeannette Roger, March 18, 1941 – March 20, 2009

My Black Mamma was a woman of strength and beauty.

My Black Mamma was a woman who grew up in a time in America, when Blacks were supposed to say yes ma’am/sir and no ma’am/sir to all white folks, regardless of their status or whether they were right or wrong.

My Black Mamma was a woman who was told at the age of 5, she had to learn to pick cotton, because that’s what Black children did.

My Black Mamma was a woman at the age of 5, who was loaded on to a truck with Black adults, teens and adolescents, driven to a cotton field and handed an empty sack and told to go out to the field and pick cotton.

My Black Mamma was a woman at the age of 5, who refused to pick cotton. When she was given her sack, she went out to the field and found a shade tree, sat down and had her lunch, prepared by her grandmother known only as Big Mamma.

My Black Mamma was a woman at the age of 5, who got up from her shade tree after finishing her lunch, looked around and shouted, “Snake, Snake,” clearing the field of workers not one time, not two times, but three times.

My Black Mamma was a woman at the age of 5, who heard her grandfather told by the white field hand, “Take her home, she keeps emptying the fields, she needs to go, or we ain’t getting’ no work done today.”

My Black Mamma was a woman at the age of 5 who chose NOT to pick cotton.

My Black Mamma was a woman who cared for the white children in her charge, because they needed love, attention and discipline.

My Black Mamma was the woman her white children loved and respected and who was told first of their achievements, before their white parents.

My Black Mamma was a woman who did the best she could with what she had. Growing up in a world where the grandparents raised their grandchildren, while the parents worked the cotton fields.

My Black Mamma was a woman who wanted to break from the slave tradition and who chose to raise her own children.

My Black Mamma was an African queen who raised queens of her own.

My Black Mamma is one of the many unspoken, unrecognized heroes of our Black history.

Tonia Randell works with the Marie Harrison Community Foundation Inc. She is a mother, grandmother, San Francisco native, US Marine veteran, writer and artist living in the Bayview Hunters Point for over 50 years.