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In the 20th century, African Americans endured unscrupulous practices of segregation, and racism. Despite the eradication of slavery, African Americans still suffered the loss of rights due to demeaning state mandated policies including Jim Crow Laws, and the common mindset of “separate but equal.” The civil turmoil people of color faced prompted the rise of the African American Civil Rights Movement in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Despite the push for racial equality, the topic remained controversial and taboo. Alice Walker, African American activist and renowned writer, grew up with the movement dedicating her life to writing eloquent poetry and books that advocates for the total equality, for both gender and race.
She strived to educate those who continued their ignorant ways to the tumult of hatred and injustice African Americans endured, and fight for a more equal society. Alice Walker’s extreme abhorrence for sexism and her advocacy for women’s equality derived from her lifelong turmoils as an African American activists who suffered sexism and racism in her childhood all of which is manifested through her poetry and writing.
Walker’s legacy lives on through the countless African American actors whom benefit from her production of the novel ,The Color Purple, as an award winning musical and movie, and those who learn from her other works, activism, and didactic themes. Alice Walker was born into a family of poor sharecroppers in Eatonton, Georgia, in 1944. (Biography.com 1).
She was the youngest of eight children and her parents “struggled daily to feed, clothe, and take care of the children” (Biography.
com 2) Willie, her father and dedicated activist left a major impact on Walker’s future endeavors of activism and writing, yet the turmoils of racism wore Willie down until he stopped advocating for equality, but he still continued to teach Alice honesty and hardwork. (Kramer 15) At age eight, she accidentally shot herself in the eye using a BB gun, leaving a prominent scar. (Biography.com 1) This wound would be a catalyst for her to develop a self-conscious personality, and the beginning of her introvert traits, leading het to express her emotions through writing. (Biography.com 1) She continued to struggle with a withdrawn personality due to the iminent racism and sexism she dealt with on a daily basis. (Kramer 37).
Walker also endured, “extreme sexism from her Father, and had to watch her sister and mother get treated very poorly by Willie” (Kramer 15). However, she overcame these hardships and secured a scholarship to attend a small College in Atlanta where she studied Civil Rights Movements and the movement called the Equal Rights among all Races. (Biography.com 1). She then went on to receive a scholarship in 1963 to go to Sarah Lawrence College in New York, where she was able to complete her studies with a bachelor degree. (Biography.com 1) As an adult, she started to pursue a career in writing while continuing with her dedicated activism. After college, Walker continued her work in activism while living in Mississippi where she dedicated her time to desegregating schools alongside her civil-rights lawyer husband, Mel Leventhal. (Edemariam 1). Walker’s call for equality, both in gender and race, was partially influenced by Martin Luther King Jr. since she “worked closely with King and held great admiration for him” (Edemariam 2).
While she dedicated most of her time to fighting against the unjust practices towards African-Americans, she also showed support for women’s rights. (Biography.com 2). Cassie, a close friend of Walker’s, dealt with an extremely abusive husband who “ beat the living hell out of Cassie on a daily basis” and “almost killed her on multiple occasions” (3 Walker 2). Due to the extreme nature of Cassie’s situation, Walker felt a need to advocate for gender equality and started dedicating more of her time towards African American women’s rights. (3 Walker 1) After her divorce with Leventhal, she soon came out as bisexual and then progressed towards helping the LGBTQ movement. (3 Walker 4). Walker showed her activism throughout her books where she would write about extremely taboo topics. (Edemariam 3).
Even with controversy, she continued her writing spreading her ideals of equality in sexuality, gender, and race. In 1992, Alice Walker published her fictional novel, Possessing the Secret of Joy, which highlights the suffering of many African American women when they are forced to go through involuntary genital mutilation. Walker’s harsh, but accurate portration of African woman mutilation can be evidenced through first person narrative from the main character, In the novel, Walker writes as the main character, Tashi, “I have the uncanny feeling that, just at the end of my life, I am beginning to reinhabit completely the body I long ago left.” (4 Walker 65). Unfortunately, women especially, African American women in Africa, suffer from genital mutilation, and through this novel Walker is expressing her abhorrence towards it through first-person narrative. She accurately portrays how when women suffer from this, there is severe emotional trauma that causes them to figuratively leave their bodies. The graphic depiction of genital mutilation throughout the novel, combined with the first-person narrative, has the reader feeling remorse and sorrow for these women, which was her intent. Walker feels nothing but horror and disgust for the treatment of African American women and advocates for an end to genital mutilation. Additionally, in 1982 Walker utilizes Cecil, the main character in her most famous novel The Color Purple to advocate for for equal rights for African American women who face adversaires constantly. Throughout the novel Walker symbolically uses the color purple to showcase how Cecil feels unlovable due to her race and gender. One particular scene with Cecil’s love, Shug, Shug expresses,”I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it,” (4 Walker 235).
Surrounded by these purple flowers she fails to notice the natural beauty of the color purple in nature, even though the color surrounds her. Symbolic of Cecil’s search for love and how even though it’s encompassing her and is everywhere around her, she always fails to see love because love and happiness is impossible to find love and happiness. The main reason why Cecil believes love is impossible because she is an African American female, every single time she is taken advantage of for her sexuality or race she denounces who she is and fails to see the love around her. This is symbolic of how many African American women feel since they are facing so many adversaries. Along with activism for African American women, Walker also made extreme strives to bring about the normalization of gay African-American and female sexuality. To help normalize the idea of African-American women being gay, and advocate for the celebration of female sexuality Walker wrote By the Light of My Father’s Smile. In this novel she portrays a family from the viewpoint of the daughter who must overcome sexual repression. During a pivotal moment in the novel, the main daughter Susannah argues for homosexuals, “We do not believe in heaven or hell…; we do not believe in eternal damnation. We believe only in the unavoidable horror of hurting others and of likewise being hurt.” (2 Walker 122).
By stating that her character’s do not believe in heaven or hell, Walker publicly denounces the popular idea that being gay is wrong because of one’s religious ideals. Appealing to the audience’s emotions she conveys how African American women being gay needs to be normalized despite religion. People continue to get hurt and continue to hurt other people because of the hateful belief that being gay is in a mortal sin and those who are homosexual will be damned. Walker furthermore advocates for a more increased participation in activism regarding African Americans. To convey the importance of activism, Walker wrote the autobiographical story Anything We Love Can Be Saved: A Writer’s Activism, a novel complied of Walker’s activism. Outlining her beginning of activism she recalls, “There is always a moment in any kind of struggle when one feels vivid. Alive. (…) During my years of being close to people engaged in changing the world I have seen fear turn into courage. Sorrow into joy. Funerals into celebrations.” (2 Walker 23).
Anecdotally, Walker connects to her audience and making her argument about the importance of activism more enticing. She recounts her experiences and describing her life in activism as “ Vivid” and “Alive”, furthermore making her readers want to indulge in activism. Walker’s extreme advocacy for more accumulated interest in activism relates to her fight towards equal rights for women, and African Americans alike. Walker’s advocacy in equality for African Americans and women led to her publishing in Black Ink: Literary Legends on the Peril, Power, and Pleasure of Reading and Writing written by Stephanie Stokes, and Nikki Giovanni. In the poem HELPED, featured in the testimony of work, Walker writes, “HELPED are those who love all the colors of all the human beings, as they love all the colors of the animals and plants,” (Oliver 67). Strategically, Walker praises those who do not add to the prejudice, while also condemning those who watch African American men and women suffer extreme hatred constantly. She continually shames those who are playing into ignorance, but excessively praising those who are above the tolerance. Walker utilizes pathos to appeal to the reader’s sympathy by claiming that those who “love all the colors” are “helped”, while those who contribute the the hatred are in trouble and don’t have anyone with them. Her ultimate goal continues to emphasize the goodness in the word and denounce the overarching hatred and malevolence in the world. As a way to stress the overall virtue in the world, Walker wrote her collection of fictional poetry Absolute Trust in the Goodness of the World. Throughout the poems Walker expresses how the integrity of humanity cognents more than the maliciousness in the world. In one of most notable poems Going Out to the Garden Walker writes,”This bliss,/is it Paradise? /I bathed it/until we were both/washed clean/of the troubles/of this world/at least for this moment”(1 Walker 17).
Walker conveys that even the smallest things in the world can be paradise. Metaphorically as both Walker and the gecko in her garden are being “washed clean” she is conveying how with so many malicious things in the world it is sometimes acceptable to take a minute and cleanse yourself of all the negativity to find the positives. Alice Walker’s most important legacy was the effect of her several novels, and and poems that opened up the door for African-Americans specifically female African Americans to pursue a career in writing and activism. Through her compelling rhetoric in her poetry, speeches, and writings Walker was able to show her life as a victim of abuse in a way that inspires the next generation and teaches on the harmful effects of prejudice and ignorance. With her writings Walker champions for women of color by encouraging their strength and liberation in her writings most notably this can be seen in her novel The Color Purple. (Bates 67). Through her work on the novel, The Color Purple, she gave actresses the opportunity to act/star in her musical adapted from the Pulitzer prize-winning novel was adapted into a musical and film that has went on to win various Awards including an Oscar and Tony. (Bates 46).
The countless amount of African-American artists who benefited from the production of this novel all credit Walker with giving them the chance to express their lineage. (Bates 38). Today, Walker still continues her dedicated work in activism primarily focusing on LGBTQ and African American Rights. She made herself a martyr in the public eyes when first writing her novels that covered very controversial topics to promote African American rights as a way to denounce racism, sexism, and homophobia. (Byrd 38). Due to this Walker is now recognized as a respected and dedicated activist and writer and she has turned into a symbol of equality to African American women. (Byrd 45). Amongst many LGBTQ African Americans Walker is considered “someone who is fighting for the voiceless,” (Byrd 38). Despite adverse opinion Walker continually advocated for those who have their rights infringed on whether it be women, African-Americans, or the LGBT community. Even today in her 70s Walker continues to fight for the less fortunate and still uses her ornate sense of rioting to stress the importance of equality for all. Throughout Walkers career she strove to bring full and total equality to African Americans, women and the LGBT community alike.
Growing up in a time of segregation and racism she dealt with extreme hardships including sexism from her father that provoked a lifelong career in activism fighting for those who faced ignorance. Through her numerous novels and poetry Walker became a prominent embodiment of equality and activism for those who faced prejudice. Her compelling rhetoric masterfully persuade her audience to join in advocating for equality to all. Walker will always be known as a prominent writer and activist who helped fight ignorance and prejudiced against African-American, women, and the LGBTQ community not just throughout her career but throughout her lifetime. The contribution Walker made to society was substantial and Alice Walker will always be seen as a voice for change in multiple communities that felt voiceless.
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