Women Persevere by Amy Miller
It may seem obvious. For anyone, man or woman, to be a leader they must be determined and persistent. But for a female leader, whether in business, politics or any other field, her determination must be unwavering and she must be able to persevere against the greatest of odds.
When Carol Moseley Braun was elected to the United States Senate in 1992, she became the first African-American woman elected to that prestigious body. She took office in January 1993 and a scant six months later came face-to-face with an issue that would test both her perseverance and her determination.
As a freshman senator, she found herself standing toe-to-toe with powerful North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms.
Let’s set the stage.
The design patent for the Daughters of Confederacy logo – a laurel wreath encircling the national flag of the Confederacy - was expiring. At that time most similar patents were simply allowed to lapse. Only 10 groups had won design patents from Congress since 1900, and not even the American flag held a design patent. But the Daughters of the Confederacy, who had held their design patent for decades, continued to pursue Congressional renewal of the patent primarily for the honor and prestige Congressional approval carried.
Helms was unhappy with the decision of the Judiciary Committee not to renew the patent and proposed language to preserve the design patent as an amendment to a popular national service bill that would have provided educational grants in return for various forms of national service. He floated his amended language for a test vote that went in his favor, 52-48.
It was then that Moseley Braun took to the Senate floor with an epic oratory punctuated by tears and shouts.
“On this issue there can be no consensus,” she said. “It is an outrage. It is an insult. It is absolutely unacceptable to me and to millions of Americans, black or white, that we would put the imprimatur of the United States Senate on a symbol of this kind of idea.”
Convinced, Sen. Robert F. Bennett (R-UT) who voted in favor of the Helms' amendment on the first vote, offered a motion to allow the Senate to reverse itself on the issue.
Moseley Braun returned to the attack asserting that the logo was “the real flag of the Confederacy, symbolizing a Civil War fought to keep the states from separating themselves over the issue of whether or not my ancestors could be held as property, as chattel, as objects of trade and commerce.” A flag that symbolized slavery, she argued, should never be “underwritten, underscored, adopted or approved by this United States Senate.”
After speaking for nearly an hour, Moseley Braun was asked to yield the floor. She responded, “If I have to stand here until this room freezes over, I’m going to do so because this is something that has no place in our modern times.”
She held the floor while the second vote was arranged.
Three hours later, the Senate, which rarely finds its votes changed by speeches, killed the Helms amendment 75-25 with 27 senators changing their votes. With determination and perseverance, Moseley Braun won the day.
Every day, all around the world strong women effect change with sheer determination and perseverance. Just before International Women’s Day (March 8), this year’s recipients of the International Women of Courage Award will be announced by the U. S. Department of State. These will be extraordinary women doing extraordinary work, often in the face of discrimination, threats, harassment, and oppression. All women who seek to be strong inspirational leaders should take the time to learn about and be inspired by them.
Amy Miller is immediate past president of the Institute for Women in Politics of Northwest Florida. This Guestview is offered on behalf of the IWP Board of Directors. To inquire about membership in the Institute, email email@example.com.