“The maids, the cooks, they were the ones that really and truly kept the bus running…And after the maids and the cooks stopped riding the bus, well, the bus didn’t have any need to run”
-Georgia Gilmore, on the Montgomery Bus Boycott
The best part of black history for me is learning about ordinary women who did extraordinary things. Georgia Gilmore was one such woman.
At the time of the boycott she was the mother of six, and worked as a maid, a cook, and a nurse. When the boycott started she founded what was known as The Club from Nowhere, a group of domestic workers who made and sold sandwiches, cakes, and pies to raise money for the movement. They donated more money to the Montgomery Improvement Association week after week than anyone else. And only Ms. Gilmore knew the masterminds behind the collective’s success.
The name of the collective was meant to shield members from scrutiny from employers. But it couldn’t save Ms. Gilmore. She was eventually fired for her involvement in the movement.
So she turned her kitchen into a restaurant and meeting place. Because…black women.
I spend a lot of time thinking about mundane spaces like kitchen tables and their pivotal role in movement building. Places like barber shops, and front porches, public transportation, and beauty salons. These were the only places where domestic workers could congregate. Otherwise they worked in isolation.
My own politics were developed from these kinds of spaces. In my grandmother’s living room, as she crocheted. Over meals at bars with those who have lived much longer than me. At the breakfast bar in my parent’s house, which allowed me to be close but not in the way. Here I learned about my own black identity from women with far less formal education than I have, but more wisdom than I could ever imagine.
A local pastor in Montgomery remembered Ms. Gilmore as a woman who had no formal education but she had something he called mother wit. Mother wit can design a movement that will change history. They would never teach black children that in school. If they did the world would look different.
People in Montgomery still remember Ms. Gilmore. Most of all, they remember her cooking. I suppose that’s the thing that made her exceptional among black women. Her steadfastness, her strength, her refusal to take oppression sitting down, that was par for the course. It’s the one thing every woman in my family has in common. Perhaps that’s how it ended up on history’s cutting room floor.