Ancestress Work: Juanita Goggins

Via Guardian:

“Goggins was so private that she instructed a neighbour who delivered groceries to leave them at the door, ring the bell and go away before she emerged. She spurned offers of home help from the local authorities even though she was evidently finding it increasingly difficult to look after herself.

So the residents of her South Carolina community were saddened, if not entirely shocked, to hear that the 75-year-old woman had frozen to death in her own home and that her body went undiscovered for nearly a fortnight.

But in the days before her funeral today, they were surprised to learn that at one time Goggins had been a trailblazing politician and civil rights activist who shook up South Carolina’s exclusive politics as the first black woman elected to the southern state’s legislature…”

I didn’t know anything about Juanita Goggins.

This is not just because I do slavery and not twentieth-century history.  It is a part of the fabric of civil rights movement teaching that I knew nothing about Juanita Goggins before today.  Same for her neighbors.

And I am so saddened by this story and the news of her death.

“Then in 1974, Goggins beat a white man to win a seat in the South Carolina legislature in Columbia.

“I am going to Columbia to be a legislator, not just a black spot in the House chambers,” she said at the time.

Goggins said that voters “were weary of poor representation”. “They were ready to accept a person who was sincere and concerned about things. Those feelings go beyond colour,” she said.

She made her way on to the powerful committee drawing up budgets, and used her position to win funding for sickle-cell anaemia, a blood disorder that disproportionately affects the African American community. She pushed through important reforms to education affecting school funding and class sizes.

“She was truly a mover and a shaker, so well-liked and so well-loved by so many,” said John King, who now holds Goggins’ former seat.”

I don’t know what made the first black woman elected to the South Carolina legislature, the first black woman to serve on the U.S. civil rights commission, a woman with a highway named after her, begin to shut out the people around her.  Why didn’t she call when the cold began to creep in?  Did she know about the money in the house that could have paid the electric bill?  How does a public figure becomes so private, so quickly?

“Goggins’ last surviving sibling, Ilese Dixon, 88, wasn’t surprised that her sister achieved so much as a politician.

“She was not bashful or anything. She liked to talk. I used to say she could sell an Eskimo ice. She was just lively and smart. She thought she could fix the world,” she told the Associated Press.

After Goggins retired from politics, she worked for the state’s health and environment department. But she became increasingly withdrawn after moving to a quiet neighbourhood in Columbia in the early nineties.”

Her family suspected dementia.  Will we ever know?

I am making Juanita Goggins part of my ancestress work this month for several reasons.  First–I should know her.  I should know everything about her.  I (we) can’t allow myself (ourselves) to curl up around any particular histories, subjects, theories or activism.  Oppression is “multi-layered and co-constituted” and we need to be part of the battle against it on ALL levels.

Second, she’s a lesson in honoring our elders.  In this time of mourning, I’m not going to pretend to know what her family is feeling.  And all of my thoughts and prayers go out to them.  As a Nuñez Daughter with a Nuñez Abuela whose mind is also starting to go and an aunt who recently had heart surgery, I’m reminding of my duty to both of them and to my other abuela, Gangsta Granma.  To my mother.  To honor the time that we have left.  And to be there when the time for their transition comes (far from now, God willing)

But third, she’s a reminder that we as a community (of color, of African descent, of the working-poor and working-class) do not respect mental health.  We stigmatize it.  We shrug it off.  We say, “Go to Church.”   We don’t say anything at all.  Whether it’s a survivors trauma or an old woman’s slow walk to the next world, the truth is too many turn the other way and hope it will pass without having anything to do with them.  And by too many I mean one–because if only one person had considered Goggins and her mental health, they may have checked in on her BEFORE the storm.

But mental illness is something that affects all of us.  As Rha Goddess said, “It is in the water.”

Also see: LOW from MVMT on Vimeo.

So here’s my obligatory PSA moment:  If you think you or anyone you know is suffering from a mental illness, below is a list of resources cut and pasted direct from  1+1+1=One/The Hip Hop Mental Health Project).  Reach out.  Lift as you climb.  Save a life.

All blessings and praise to Juanita Goggins this Womanism Month.


The Stay Strong Foundation works to support, educate and inspire America’s youth through a series of programs and events that are designed to raise awareness of teen issues, promote the personal well-being of young people, and enhance their educational and professional development.

The Icarus Project is an online and offline radical mental health support network by and for those with dangerous gifts.

Youth in Action provides a voice to at-risk young people, ages 14-24, in Washington State. Our mission is to empower youth with the resources and tools.

National Center for Trauma-Informed Care is a technical assistance center dedicated to building awareness of trauma-informed care and promoting the implementation of trauma-informed practices in programs and services.

Ackerman Institute for the Family plays a leading role in developing and disseminating major research and training programs in family therapy while also providing a broad array of clinical services.

Professor, Shaun Mcniff is a professor at Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he has established a program in Advanced Graduate Studies in Creativity, Imagination, and Leadership. He is an internationally recognized figure in the area of creativity enhancement.

NY State University at Buffalo School of Social Work has a vision of a better society achieved through the generation and transmission of knowledge, promotion of social justice, and service to humanity.

Policy Research Associates improves mental health services through technical assistance and training, facilitation and event planning evaluation and research.

Rights for Imprisoned People with Psychiatric Disabilities is a grassroots, direct action organization, united to demand justice and social change, for imprisoned people with psychiatric disabilities.

Mental Health Alternatives to Solitary Confinement is a growing coalition of more than sixty organizations and hundreds of concerned citizens, advocates, and mental health professionals working to end the cruel practice of placing people with psychiatric disabilities in solitary confinement.

California Coalition for Women Prisoners is a grassroots social justice organization, with members inside and outside prison, that challenges the institutional violence imposed on women, transgender people, and communities of color by the prison industrial complex.

Third Root Community Health Center is a worker cooperative of healthcare practitioners in Brooklyn, NY.

Audre Lorde Project is a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Two Spirit, Trans and Gender Non-Conforming People of Color community organizing center, focusing on the New York City area.


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