PHILADELPHIA — What started off as a passion project to highlight lesser-known names in Black history morphed in an eight-year quest that eventually birthed “They Carried Us: The Social Impact of Philadelphia’s Black Women Leaders.”
Local scholar Fasaha Traylor wasn’t sure what she was getting into when she was asked to come on board by her friend and fellow educator Allener M. Baker-Rogers.
“She was really trying not to go down the same time-worn path of you know, the typical people that we hear about during Black History Month. So she started focusing on women. And it really got a tremendous response. A couple of years after she moved away to Virginia, she called me and said, what did I think about doing a book about Black women in Philadelphia? And I like a fool said that sounds like a great idea. And then six years later, here we are,” Traylor says.
The book combines historical research as well as interviews of contemporary Black women. According to a press release, this is the first book-length treatment acknowledging the accomplishments of Black women in Philadelphia, which can be hard to imagine in 2020.
“What I say about that is, you know, what does it mean? That this is the first book about the impact of Black women on Philadelphia? What does that say? You know, the Black women’s presence in Philadelphia and elsewhere is largely ignored. We were really trying to excavate all of those women that people should know but don’t. Plus, we tried to bring something new about people that we think we do know, but maybe perhaps don’t know all we should,” Traylor says.
The duo found it hard to narrow down the list of women for the book.
“One of the things that we did was we developed the set of criteria. The people on our list started an institution or an organization, or they were the first to do something. The really discriminating criterion that we used was looking for women who made an impact on society, in other words, who were not just excellent at what they did, but they changed society in some way,” says the educator.
Even with the criteria in place, Traylor says she agonized over their choices. They packed as much as they could into it.
“There are as many people outside of this book who deserve to be in it, as there are people in the book. There are so many women who should be in this book,” Traylor says. “We really don’t want anyone to see this book as some kind of encyclopedia of important Philadelphia women. We want people to see this book as just a sample of the kinds of skills, talents and determination that you can find everywhere and build up.”
Jamyra Perry is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared.