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Historian Reflects on the Changing Role of African American Women

Photo Credit: Missouri State University

This week, for the final installment of our Women’s History Month series, we feature a Missouri State University professor who reflects on what inspired her to share with students the unique journey of African American women in history. KSMU’s Theresa Bettmann has her story.

Many historians value the importance of storytelling as a link to the past. This is no exception for historian Angela Hornsby-Gutting, associate professor at MSU. She teaches African American and gender studies, and says her childhood was inspired by the rich stories told to her by her ancestors sharing their African American heritage and culture.

Hornsby-Gutting says it was these stories, and her early understanding of the importance of education, which guided her down the path she is on today. Her father was a history professor at Morehouse College, a historically African American men’s college, and her mother continues to be a professor at Spelman College.

“From my mother’s side, being an educator at this very renowned African American women’s institution, it really made me appreciate African American women, their history, their travails, their struggles and also their triumphs,” Hornsby-Gutting says.

Hornsby-Gutting says that although she pursued her higher education at a different institution, she says she “grew up” on the Spelman campus. She says it was a fantastic place for her to absorb and build confidence, and is where she really began to understand what it meant to be an African-American woman.

“I think it’s very easy for students to sort of entangle Black men and Black women’s history together, and to see it as just one comprehensive whole. In many respects, African American women’s experience is quite unique unto itself, and that needs voice,” says Hornsby-Gutting.

Hornsby-Gutting says growing up she witnessed many positive female role models and that many of her family members worked as domestics when she was a child. She says African American women throughout history have had to overcome both the burdens of race and gender, creating a history rich and unique unto them alone. She adds this impacted upon her the importance of why the women she knew attached a sense of respectability to everything they did, as a way to overcome those obstacles. Hornsby-Gutting says she hopes to continue sharing that message with her students and teach from their examples.

“There’s a beauty to African Americans and their past. And there’s majesty to it in terms of people trying to come out the other side--come out from very detrimental circumstances to an environment that’s a lot more welcoming. So I think for me, the important thing is to show that people, regardless of their circumstance, can evolve into a better condition, into a better place,” Hornsby-Gutting says.

Hornsby-Gutting says that for her, sharing this history not only empowers African American women, but she believes it is an empowering message for everyone. She hopes to help her students embrace their uniqueness, while also seeking to focus on the commonalities that rise and connect us beyond race and gender.

For KSMU News, I’m Theresa Bettmann.