Featuring Emma Talbott
Emma McElvaney Talbott is a Louisville, Kentucky native. She is an educator, author, freelance writer and genealogist. She participated in civil rights demonstrations, including the 1963 March on Washington, and is driven by a desire to write and speak truth to power and fulfill the dreams of her ancestors. Talbott holds state certifications in administration, supervision and reading. A former adjunct professor at the University of Louisville, Clark Atlanta University and Spalding University, she founded the David C. & Emma W. Miles McElvaney Memorial Scholarship for African American students. A graduate of Central High School, Kentucky State University and Indiana University, she has extensive postgraduate studies at three additional universities. Her first book was The Joy and Challenge of Raising African American Children, and for seven years she served as parenting editor for Family Digest magazine and Family Digest Baby magazine and wrote two columns, “Ask Emma” and “Child Builders.”
We had a chance to interview author Emma McElvaney Talbott, whose essay "The Gift of Hair, the Gift of Joy" appears in All the Women in My Family Sing. This is what we learned...
What inspired you to write your essay for this anthology?
Every soul has life stories worth sharing. To chronicle one’s experiences is to leave a record for those who follow. It is important for me to share an experience in an area where Black women have been overlooked, left out or ignored. If we look deep enough, search hard and long enough, it becomes apparent that women of color are an integral history.
What is one of the most memorable challenges you have experienced as a woman of color in the twenty-first century?
Naming one memorable challenge does not work for me because my experiences are a continuum from early in my life until today. My memorable challenges came in the 20th century and continue in new ways in the 21st century. These challenges include beating the pavement to increase voter registration when Barack Obama was running for office. After his election, there was a backlash from evil forces that were angry that history was being altered.
Give an example of women’s roles in today’s social justice movement.
Black Lives Matter founders, Opal Tometi, Alicia Garza and Patrisse Cullory, are three beautiful examples of what strong women of color can do when they declare war on injustice. When it is time for a movement, forces come together to make it happen. Watching the movement grow across the country in spite of those who try to muddy the message is encouraging and something to be celebrated. Three powerful forces to be reckoned with, growing exponentially.
What have your experiences been in leadership as a woman of color?
It is an honor to be a part of a groundswell of women who were on the frontlines of the modern day Civil Rights Movement. I was involved in the local struggle through planning sessions, sit-in demonstrations and eventually as a participant in the 1963 March on Washington. We returned to our communities to continue the push toward equality and first class citizenship. After being told that Kentucky State College students could not take part in the Dr. Martin Luther King led “March on Frankfort” Kentucky in March 1964, I wrote the letter to successfully petition the college president to allow students to participate. As an educator and community voice, my pen is my weapon of persuasion as I write opinion editorials questioning the status quo, and challenging readers to think a little deeper and believe that they can help create a better world.
What do you most hope readers will take away from reading this book?
An acknowledgement that women of color are strong and courageous with many stories and experiences to share. Though we each share one essay, which is the tip of the iceberg. Know that our souls run deep like the rivers from the Euphrates, the Nile and on to the Mississippi.
Know that we follow a long list of women of color who paved the way by writing and with gratitude we accept the baton that has been given to us as we continue the journey.