#Throwback Thursday: I Dream A World and Maxine Waters

“In fact, all of the women in this book have dreamed of a world not only better for themselves but for generations to come, a world where character and ability matter, not color or gender. As they dreamed that world, they acted on those dreams and they changed America.”
Brian Lanker, excerpted from the Preface to I Dream A World

28 years ago, in 1989, a beautiful hardcover “coffee table book” showed up at the independent bookstore – Paperbacks Unlimited in Ferndale, Michigan – where I worked on weekends. The name of that book was I Dream A World: Portraits of Black Women Who Changed America, photographs and interviews by Brian Lanker. The book captivated me so much that there were times when I arrived early or stayed late at the bookstore just so I could pore over its pages.

I Dream A World front cover image of Septima Clark.

Septima Poinsette Clark – (Born May 3, 1898, in Charleston, South Carolina; Died December 15, 1987, on Johns Island, South Carolina) whose image graces the cover of I Dream A World – died before the book was published. The introduction to her pages reads: “Septima Clark, one of the most effective and yet unsung heroes of the civil rights movement, believed that literacy was the key to empowerment. After teaching for many years in the public schools of South Carolina, she went to work tirelessly with the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Georgia. With her talent for developing leadership, she established innovative citizenship schools throughout the South. She recruited hundreds of teachers who taught thousands of others to read, to register to vote, and to stand up for their rights.”

Large, black-and-white photographs of 76 black women alongside their own words about their backgrounds, the defining experiences of their lives, and their perceptions of how their lives’ works impacted American society – all collected in one book….well, that just wasn’t something I had ever seen before. Remarkably, instead of purchasing a copy for myself, I set aside enough money to buy two copies to give as gifts for Christmas that year. But a funny thing happened: I received two copies of I Dream A World for Christmas – and one was from my mother. You should have seen us tearing-off gift-wrappings and realizing we had given each other the same gift!

Table of Contents for I Dream A World

For this #Throwback Thursday I hope you will find inspiration in a few images and quotes from I Dream A World.

“I have often been asked, Why this project? Why would a white male set out to document the lives of seventy-five black women? It is a result of my own growing awareness of the vast contribution black women have made to this country and society, a contribution that still seems to have gone largely unnoticed. As a photojournalist, I felt the need to prevent these historical lives from being forgotten.”
Brian Lanker, excerpted from the Preface

“Love was not hard to find in their words, either. It seemed to be a key to their success. A truly beautifying discovery for me was to find so much love in anger. It was a fist-up, death-defying love that challenged the unfair conditions of life and muscled in on injustice as it nursed both sides of the nation.”
– Barbara Summers, excerpted from Editor’s Note

“This foreword does not mean to be an explanation of the Black woman’s stamina. Rather, it is a salute to her as an outstanding representative of the human race. Here, in this book, educators, athletes, dancers, judges, politicians, artists, actresses, writers, singers, poets, and social activists dare to look at life with humor, determination, and respect. Their visages do not entertain hypocrisy. To those who would desire chicanery, the honesty of these women is terrifying.”
– Maya Angelou, excerpted from “They Came to Stay”

I Dream a World back cover, clockwise from top left: Janet Collins, Bishop Leontine Kelly, Priscilla Williams, Gwendolyn Brooks.

“This celebration of sisters is not an attempt to elevate or lower any segment of society, it is merely an opportunity to savor the triumphs of the human spirit, a spirit that does not speak only of black history. My greatest lesson was that this is my history, this is American history.”
– Brian Lanker, excerpted from the Preface

The introduction to Maxine Waters’ pages in I Dream A World read: “Since her election to the California State Assembly in 1976, Maxine Waters of Los Angeles has worked on a wide range of legislation, from sex abuse prevention to corporate divestment from South Africa. Named majority whip by State Assembly Speaker Willie Brown, Waters is considered the most powerful woman in California’s political circles and the most influential black woman in the Democratic Party.”

Brian Lanker’s photograph of Maxine Waters

“I came to understand that it was important to me to pursue those things that I cared about and I really didn’t care if people didn’t like me for it. It’s fine if you can get along with people. And, yes, we live in a society where some diplomacy makes good sense. But in the final analysis, you must not give up your beliefs in order to simply have people like you.”
Maxine Waters, Born August 15, 1938, in St Louis, Missouri excerpted from her interview

inner dust jacket photo of Brian Lanker with Rosa Parks taken by Frank Atura

Brian Lanker died in 2011, from pancreatic cancer. He was 63 years old.

About the women on the back cover photo:

Priscilla Williams (Born October 1, 1897, in Oakwood, Texas; died April 16, 1987, in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma). “Priscilla Williams was the mother of fourteen children, although she gave birth to none. Her life of hard work and dedication to the family is typical of the lives of many unsung heroines. Celebrating her life, its great and small achievements, is a way of celebrating them all.”
Click on their names to learn more about Janet Collins, Bishop Leontine Kelly, and Gwendolyn Brooks.

16 Comments

  1. What a powerful synchronicity in your exchange of gifts Leslie, a fabulous connection, it is truly a gift in itself that you can know and understand each other so well to have made such an exchange. Thank you for sharing that, what a special moment!

    What a marvellous enriching book, first to have such a collection of women all together in one place and then to go about learning more about them, a book that I imagine could lead readers on multiple journeys and many of them not yet even written, as you point out.

    I’m not sure why I haven’t been seeing your posts in the wordpress reader, so I’ve resubscribed via email to make sure. Thank you for visiting and commenting on my recent post, I look forward to following more of your reading and discovering your literary gems and insights.

    1. Hi Claire – Indeed! This book continues – to use your words – to be special, marvelous, and enriching in and of itself, as well as the personal story connected to it; and being able to re-visit, learn anew from it, and share it on my blog makes it a “gift that keeps keeps giving”! Thank you for visiting and re-subscribing – it’s great hearing from you, again😊.

  2. The message in your post is timeless, timely, and relevant, especially in light of how Maxine Waters was insulted recently. She’s a force, just like those women. May we be like them.

    Thanks for sharing, Leslie, and thanks to Mr. Lanker, too. What a story each portrait tells! What powerful quotes!

    1. Thank you, Nadine!
      Yes, when I saw what was happening in the news I thought to myself: we need a refresher course on who Maxine Waters is! She didn’t just wake up one day last week and decide to be a Strong Black Woman – she’s always been that way! May we be like her and other such women, indeed!

    1. Hi Margaret! It’s funny how that works out. When the book was published, I was enamored with it. However, I couldn’t see into the future and know how the value of the book would be compounded. First: because its content is richer for me as I’ve lived more life; and second: because of the fond memory I have of sharing this gift with my mother. And now I’ve shared it with you❣️(Ain’t life grand?)

    1. Brigid – that is absolutely the feeling that I had when I was gifted twice with the book: “It’s my destiny!” (I was young – lol.) I wound up giving one copy away.

  3. Omgosh! Leslie, I have this book on my coffee table. One year, there was even a calendar. Glad to see how you’ve written about it, especially given today’s American climate.

    1. Why is it not hard to believe that I Dream A World is gracing your coffee table, Kathy?! Indeed, this moment in our times seems the perfect time to re-visit this classic. Omgosh! I forgot about the calendar – thanks for reminding me😉.

    1. Hi Andrea – I had not spent time with my copy of this book in a some time, and it occurred to me that many people – especially younger generations -may not even be aware of its existence. I’m glad you like the post, and left some feedback 😊.

  4. Leslie, I’m so glad to see your post in my reader. For a long time, I wasn’t able to connect with you, even though you liked many of my posts. I thoroughly enjoyed this post. Looking forward to catching up.

    1. Hi Lynette – I’m glad we are connected, now. If you don’t already own a copy of I Dream A World, I hope you get one. Thanks for reading!

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