Southern activists have shown how self-care is activism throughout out our nation’s history.
Their autobiographies, family memories, poetry and prose detail how Black women found self-care as an act of liberation. Dr. Stephanie Y. Evans, professor and director of the Institute for Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies at Georgia State University, has combed through more than 200 of these narratives during her research on stress and Black women’s wellness.
In her book, “Black Women’s Yoga History: Memoirs of Inner Peace,” which published March 1, Evans details how legendary Black women such as abolitionist Harriet Jacobs and Rosa Parks used yoga, meditation, chanting, music and exercise to find sanctuary within themselves while wrestling with racism and sexism and fighting for the human rights of the Black community.
For Women’s History Month, Reckon features a few of these powerful Black women as part of “Black Power Heals,” a new series highlighting how the South’s Black freedom fighters found peace and joy. Evans hopes Black women can find build their own road map to healing.
“This work lays out a long history of self-care that encourages us to better understand that mental health is central to our individual and collective well-being,” Evans said. “Generations before us not only understood this, but routinely advocated for it.”
During her research, Evans noticed a pattern of Southern Black women practicing yoga and meditation for generations. Jacobs, who was enslaved In North Carolina during the early 1800s, practiced meditation and stretching exercises as she planned her 1884 escape. Angela Davis, Alice Walker and opera legend Jessye Norman were three of the most prominent Southern practitioners of inner peace — thus busting a myth that yoga is only practiced on the west coast or up north.
“Just like Southern cooking, wellness and healing practices have been at the core of Black women’s lives and with the majority of Black women’s roots coming from the South, it should be no surprise that yoga and meditation can be found in Southern women’s narratives,” Evans said. “Today’s activists, as articulated by both Angela Davis and Alice Walker, must take care of themselves as they are taking care of community.”
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