The Anarchy of Colored Girls Assembled in a Riotous Manner

Esther Brown did not write a political tract on the refusal to be governed, or draft a plan for mutual aid or outline a memoir of her sexual adven­tures. A manifesto of the wayward: Own Nothing. Refuse the Given. Live on What You Need and No More. Get Ready to Be Free—was not found among the items contained in her case file. She didn’t pen any song lines: My mama says I’m reckless, My daddy says I’m wild, I ain’t good looking, but I’m somebody’s angel child. She didn’t commit to paper her ruminations on freedom: With human nature caged in a narrow space, whipped daily into submis­sion, how can we speak of potentialities? The card­board placards for the tumult and upheaval she incited might have said: Don’t mess with me. I am not afraid to smash things up. But hers was a struggle without formal declarations of policy, slo­gan, or credos. It required no party platform or ten ­point program. Walking through the streets of New York City, she and Emma Goldman crossed paths, but failed to recognize one another. When Hubert Harrison encountered her in the lobby of the Renaissance Casino after he delivered his lectures on “Marriage versus Free Love” for the Socialist Club, he noticed only that she had a pretty face and a big ass. Esther Brown never pulled a soapbox onto the corner of 135th Street and Lenox Avenue to make a speech about autonomy, the global reach of the color line, involuntary servitude, free motherhood, or the promise of a future world, but she well understood that the desire to move as she wanted was nothing short of treason. She knew firsthand that the offense most punished by the state was trying to live free. To wander through the streets of Harlem, to want better than what she had, and to be propelled by her whims and desires was to be ungovernable. Her way of living was nothing short of anarchy.
[To continue reading, select “PDF” on this pageFrom South Atlantic Quarterly, volume 117, issue 3.]

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