Pontiac Women Share Stories of History, Activism and Inspiration

Pontiac Women Share Stories of History, Activism and Inspiration

(Susanna Borgett, March 21, 2018)

Pontiac, MI – Twelve local legends of Oakland County came together for a panel discussion at the Pontiac Public Library Saturday afternoon to honor their history and the women who trail blazed before them.

“We all came together when it was a time that we didn’t have a voice, and we didn’t have a seat at the table,” Dr. Doris Taylor Burks said, speaking about historical women of Oakland County, including the 12 women seated at the table of honor directly in front of the podium. Burks, together with Devin Greene of the Pontiac Library, organized the event to honor women of color who changed the history of the Oakland County area. “They were determined that we as women, were going to get a seat at the table. They pushed us.”

This sentiment of working together became a theme for the speaker panel. As each woman was called to the podium, she thanked her peers by her side and told stories of others who could not be there, reminding the audience that women’s rights was a fight fought together.

Residents of Oakland County, including City Councilman Kermit Williams and County Commissioner David Bowman, came to sit in the audience and hear tales of how these 12 women went before to work for equal rights for African Americans and women.

Local high school student Jala Buckley set the tone for the speakers by singing, “The Impossible Dream.” Grammy nominated Melanie Rutherford wrapped up the event with her beautiful voice.

Among the honored guests was Ellen Ferguson. Burks introduced her story about how she became the target of the KKK.

“She put her life on the line so that people of color could live in Bloomfield Hills,” Burks said. “The KKK found out [she was fighting for equalty] and came looking for her. [Her husband] put her in the trunk of their care and smuggled her out of their house, because the Klan was coming to her house to kill her. She don’t like to talk about it, but I like to talk about it, because I think it’s very important for these young people to know the things that we as seniors decided to go through in order to try to make things helpful for those coming behind us.”

Another story that Burks was eager to share with the upcoming generation was Mattie Hatchett’s and their campaigns to get women in political positions.

“I always tell this story about her because we were in the ditches together. Trying to get women’s rights where we had a seat at the table,” Burks said.

Hatchett reminded everyone that the fight to get political representation was much different when she started campaigning.

“There was an air at that time. An invisible sign that said, ‘no women wanted.’” Hatchett said. “The women who are sitting in positions today, you are there because of the women sitting around this table and some who have gone on to glory.”

It was apparent that this group of women was not an array of unique individuals who had contributed separately, but it was a gathering of old friends who had been through civil rights, changed residential laws, and had fought for representation together. Their story and their impact was possible because they believed in each other and worked hard to benefit their fellow woman, and the women who would follow in their footsteps.

Near the end of the afternoon, even Mayor Deirdre Waterman and Congresswoman Brenda Lawrence made appearances and shared a few inspiring words.

“As we celebrate each other and history, I want to celebrate each of you because we’re making history,” Lawrence said. “I want to lock arms with you … because I want the next generation to collectively say, ‘thank you’ to the women in this room.”

The event concluded with refreshments and time to mingle with the local legends who had a ‘seat at the table’: Councilwoman Dr. Doris Taylor Burks, Pontiac Mayor Deirdre Waterman, Ms. Mattie Hatchett, Librarian Mrs. Devan Green, Recording Artist Ms. Melanie Rutherford, Mrs. Ellen Ferguson, Judge Cynthia Walker, Councilwoman Patrice Waterman, Ms. Ganinell Teasley, Dr. Debra Furguson, Congresswoman Brenda Lawrence, and Jala Buckley.

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