Standing in the Shoes My Mother Made

“To be born black and female in the Old South was to be born into a life of struggle, hardship and limitation.”

Dr. Diana Hayes read excerpts from three of her books recently at Oblate School of Theology. The first was Standing in the Shoes My Mother Made, published in 2010. It recounts her mother’s background growing up in the segregated South during the era of Jim Crow. Her mother was the youngest of five children, born in a small town called St. Elmo, now a part of Chattanooga, Tenn.

“To be born black and female in the Old South was to be born into a life of struggle, hardship and limitation,” Dr. Hayes observed, noting a loss of intellect and wisdom resulting from of discrimination and prejudice against persons of African descent.

It was “a hemorrhage, really,” continuing in the present day as bright, intelligent women and men of African ancestry are denied the right to study, pursue graduate education and work at meaningful jobs that they choose, rather than have jobs forced on them.

Yet despite being denied those rights, Dr. Hayes said, “my mother as one of the most intelligent human beings I’ve ever known.” Despite little formal education, her mother had an intelligence grounded in a wisdom that came from deep within her and born from experiences of being black and female in the rural South – an intelligence displayed by many black women of her time.

“Like many women, unable because of their limited circumstances to live the lives they would choose for themselves, she prepared her daughters and countless others, male and female, for a future she knew nothing about. She and our other ‘sheroes’ of faith somehow prepared, and provided us with whatever it was that we needed to survive… Somehow they knew what we needed to exist and persist in the new world aborning, even though they themselves more than likely would never see that world.”

By J. Michael Parker

The Sankofa Institute for African American Pastoral Leadership is an interdisciplinary, multidimensional academic, formation and professional leadership process for developing and supporting pastoral/church leaders committed to ministry and proclamation. All Institute programs foster an understanding and appreciation of African Americans’ contributions to Christian faith, life, and witness in North America and the world.

Diana L. Hayes, J.D., Ph.D., S.T.D., is Emerita Professor of Systematic Theology at Georgetown University, and sits on the Council of Elders of the Sankofa Institute for African American Pastoral Leadership at Oblate School of Theology. Dr. Hayes is an author and editor of numerous books.  She has received numerous awards including the Elizabeth Seton Medal for Outstanding Woman Theologian and the US Catholic Award for Furthering the Role of Women in the Church as well as three honorary doctorates. Dr. Hayes has lectured throughout the United States, Europe and in South Africa on issues of race, class, gender and religion, womanist and Black theologies, women in the Catholic Church, and African American Religion(s).