By Liz Courquet-Lesaulnier
Originally appeared in Word in Black
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis and Georgia election workers Shaye Moss and Ruby Freeman are “steering this nation to safety.”
Malcolm X’s declaration that the most disrespected and unprotected person in America is the Black woman continues to be a prophecy.
We need only look at the example of Fulton County, Georgia, District Attorney Fani Willis, who is leading the criminal investigation into Donald Trump’s — and 18 other people’s — alleged attempts to overturn the 2020 election results in Georgia. Or recall the treatment of Shaye Moss and her mother, Ruby Freeman, the two brave election workers in Georgia who Trump falsely accused of committing voter fraud.
Their courage reflects the long tradition of Black women leading the charge for civil rights, particularly the right to vote— and doing so in the face of intense harassment and violence.
Who can forget how Fannie Lou Hamer was brutally beaten in 1963 after being thrown in a Mississippi jail for trying to register Black voters? She never fully recovered from the beatings and suffered permanent kidney damage — but after being released, she went back to register folks again.
Then there’s the example of Autherine Lucy, who endured mobs of white students threatening her life and throwing rotten eggs, produce, and rocks at her as she desegregated the University of Alabama in 1956. After three days, the school suspended her, claiming it was for her own safety. She was subsequently expelled.
Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat on the bus — which led to Martin Luther King gaining national prominence. Diane Nash organizing sit-ins and Freedom Rides. Anna Arnold Hedgeman planning the March on Washington. Eleanor Holmes Norton tirelessly advocating for D.C. statehood, and Stacey Abrams and other Black women registering hundreds of thousands of new voters in Georgia and beyond.
And now we have Willis who has assembled a team to determine if rather than abiding “by Georgia’s legal process for election challenges, the defendants engaged in a criminal racketeering enterprise to overturn Georgia’s election results,” Willis said on Monday.
The vitriol aimed at Willis for doing her job reflects the broken soul of a nation steeped to its core in anti-Blackness.
On X (formerly known as Twitter), Chanel Rion, the chief white house correspondent for the right-leaning One America News Network wrote that Willis is the “Cheap Backroom Plea Bargain Harlot of Fulton County.”
There are Trump’s not-so-subtle remarks on Truth Social in early August. “They never went after those that Rigged the Election,” Trump wrote. “They only went after those that fought to find the RIGGERS!” (We all know what that rhymes with…)
Then there is the Trump campaign’s lie that Willis is having an affair with a gang member. And in its Aug. 15 “The Truth About Fani Willis” email, the campaign made sure to point out that Willis’ father was a Black Panther.
The result? Supporters of the former President have flooded Willis’ office with threats of violence against Willis and her family.
However, Willis continues to show up and lead this historic investigation. Her clear message: No one is above the law.
As for Freeman and Moss, they gave courageous testimony before the January 6th committee, exposing the danger of Trump’s “big lie” about the election being stolen.
In their testimony, the mother and daughter sat, voices steady, backs straight, and described being afraid to leave their homes, even to go to the grocery store because of the intensity of the death threats and harassment. They recounted the terror of having armed protesters showing up at their homes, attempting to shove their way in.
“There is nowhere I feel safe. Nowhere,” Freeman said. “Do you know how it feels to have the president of the United States target you? The president of the United States is supposed to represent every American. Not to target one.”
But the two women refused to be intimidated into silence. And Willis, who had Trump’s mugshot snapped for the first time, despite this being his fourth indictment, has made it clear that the spirit of the ancestors flows through her veins.
These courageous Black women have put their personal safety, the safety of their families, and their reputations on the line to protect rights — not just for Black folks, but for all Americans. They have loved this nation, even when it refuses to love them in return.
The history books may not reflect that Black women have long been at the helm of democracy’s ship — and that we are still steering this nation to safety. But that does not prevent us from telling the truth and lifting up our sisters during this crucial moment. Let their dedication to justice be the story that gets told. Let that be what endures.