Born in 1956, I’m a product of the “Say it loud I’m Black and I’m Proud” sixties and have always loved learning of the achievements of African-Americans. Many years ago I was pleasantly surprised to come across a box of flash cards of thirty-six famous African Americans. Martin Luther King Jr was prominently displayed on the cover, but I recognized miniatures of Marian Anderson and Mary McLeod Bethune. I bought it at once and hurried home with my prize. Imagine my surprise when I opened the box and discovered only six of the thirty-six were women! I was expecting half the cards to be dedicated to women. After all we are the other half the human race, right? I might have grudgingly settled for twelve, but six? I appreciated the six represented different firsts like Shirley Chisholm and Marian Anderson, historical champions like Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman, and two well-known in the Black community if not as well known in the larger society like Mary McLeod Bethune and Phillis Wheatley. But this collection was sending an unfortunate subliminal message, i.e. women don’t contribute equally to “the Race.” That disappointment sent me on a crusade.
I began collecting images of Black women whenever I came across them. Postcards, books, magazines, you name it. If it had an African-American woman on or in it, I bought it. I framed the images in dollar store box frames and put them on the walls of my apartment. My collection grew to over three hundred images, multiples of those who are household names like Billie Holiday, but the majority who were famous in their time like Ada Overton Walker. Born in 1880, she and her husband George Walker became well-known for their interpretation of the cakewalk.
Soon, I just started collecting images of any black woman or girl I found and framed those too. Even though nameless, they deserve to be noticed, too. So in honor of all the African-American women you’ve encountered over the years, please share their names so I can find their images and add them to my collection.
One Breath Away
Sentenced to hang for a crime she didn’t commit, former slave Mary Hamilton was exonerated at literally the last gasp. She returns to Safe Haven, broken and resigned to live alone. She’s never been courted, cuddled or spooned, and now no man could want her, not when sexual satisfaction comes only with the thought of asphyxiation. But then the handsome stranger who saved her shows up, stealing her breath from across the room and promising so much more.
Wealthy, freeborn-Black, Eban Thurman followed Mary to Safe Haven, believing the mysteriously exotic woman is his mate foretold by the stars. He must marry her to reclaim his family farm. But first he must help her heal, and to do that means revealing his own predilection for edgier sex.
Hope ignites along with lust until the past threatens to keep them one breath away from love…
“Will you let me help you?” He extended his hand, waited for permission.
She took his hand as he had taken hers and pressed his fingers to her wounded flesh. Pain, quick and sharp, flashed through her mind. She gasped and tugged his hand away, but it wouldn’t budge.
“Don’t fight it.” He stayed close, stroked his thumb soothingly where the scar stretched beneath her ear. “Your fear gives it strength.”
The rhythm of his strokes calmed her fears, relaxed her body. She had no energy, no desire to resist. Her hands slipped from his wrist. Her arms hung limp at her sides. She closed her eyes.
“I—I’ve got to sit down or I’ll fall down.”
“Then fall.” His gaze held the assurance she needed. “I’ve caught you before. I’ll catch you again.”
On cue her knees buckled and she collapsed. He swept her into his arms with the ease of pushing a swinging door. She buried her face in his chest, wheezed, shuddered, wheezed again.
“Relax,” he cooed. “Relax. It’s your fear. Nothing more.”
She blinked, fought for breath through gritted teeth. “Bu—but my response is not nothing. It’s real fear.”
“Yes, it’s real, but not permanent. Your fear can be controlled and finally conquered.”
“Controlled?” She panted. Disbelief huffed out on each breath. “How?”
“With time…if you’re willing.” His mouth hovered a hair above hers. The warmth of his words whispered between her parted lips. “Are you willing?”
“I—I’m not sure.”
“Let me convince you.” He closed the gap between their mouths.
A hint of peppermint tooth powder boosted rather than masked the natural earthy taste of tooth and saliva. Each swipe of his tongue strengthened her spirit. God, she had heaven in her mouth.
She drowned in the moans vibrating from her throat. In her mind she surfaced for air, for relief, but the need for more pulled her back under. She wrapped her arms around his neck, invited him to plunge deeper, take her deeper. Desire warred with fear. In her heart she prayed.
God, please let desire win this time.
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