Amina Rachman and I worked as organizers in the early 1960s with the Harlem Brotherhood Group (National Conference of Christians and Jews) and SNCC. In her rich and complex life, Amina was known at birth as Sherron Jackson, Sherron 10X within the Nation of Islam, Amina Abdur Rahman within Islam, and Amina Rachman within the community of Kolot Chaiyenu where she celebrated her Bat Mitzva in her 50s. Amina made the transition in September 2011. With her children Josh and Sabra and others I was fortunate to be by her side when she passed. I was also fortunate to speak at her funeral.
SNCC the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee is in the house. I bring condolences from:
Mary Britting, New York Office
Gloria Richardson Dandridge, the Eastern Shore of Maryland
Ivanhoe Donaldson, Harlem Brotherhood Group and SNCC at large
Martha Prescod Norman Noonan, Southwest Georgia, Alabama, and Detroit
Penny Patch, Southwest Georgia and Mississippi
Peggy Dammond Preacely, Harlem Brotherhood Group and Southwest Georgia
Carol Rogoff, NY office and Mississippi
Fannie Rushing, Chicago
Kathie Amatniek Sarachild, Mississippi (and NY Redstockings)
Muriel Tillinghast, Mississippi (and NYC labor politics)
Dorothy M. Zellner, Atlanta Office
We offer our condolences to Sabra and Josh, Amina’s sisters, her uncle and her enormous family by affection. Our sister Amina never turned her back on the struggle.
It is significant that Amina had such a beautiful voice, whether she was a teenager singing 50s hits like “Baubles, Bangles, and Beads,” or the adult chanting at her Baat Mitzvah decades later. She was a person to be heard.
There were ugly, haunting truths and entrenched cruelties in our 1950s. These truths flickered across our televisions and filled the newspapers: segregation and racial violence including the murder of Emmet Till, a boy our own age. Inspired by the southern sit-ins, Amina who was then known as Sherron Jackson and I worked with the Harlem Brotherhood Group which was affiliated, tellingly, with the National Conference of Christians and Jews. Amina would become a one-woman conference of Christians and Jews, with two Muslim journeys sandwiched in between.
At that time, Amina and I fell into the habit of calling one another, “Sis.”
The year I went south Amina was a freshman at New York City’s Music and Art Public High School from which I had graduated. She was the first M & A student to wear her hair in an afro. Any time she met a teacher who had also taught me she would say much to that teacher’s consternation, that she – Amina – was Faith Holsaert’s younger sister. She was also moving toward the Nation of Islam and as a teenager presided over the Nation’s meetings at the Audobon Ballroom. In her pragmatic politics and understanding of racist power she was affected when Minister Malcolm X said it was foolish for demonstrators to lay their bodies down nonviolently before earth moving equipment. Amina was one of the people who formed a bridge from SNCC to Minister Malcolm X. She went to Africa with him on his final trip to that continent. On her return she spent a night at my family’s apartment, filled with the hope and danger of those last months of Malcolm X’s life. At dawn she rose and said her prayers on my mother’s rug.
We were out of touch for a while, but in 1974 my mother died. One night in West Virginia I answered my phone. “Sis,” a voice said, “I just heard about your mother,” and we picked up where we had left off, moving into our years of motherhood, our lesbian lives, our adult work. Our love endured five decades, an attachment honored by Amina’s daughter Sabra who was the one to tell me “Ma has had some bad news.” When I walked into Amina’s hospital room a week ago, she broke into that Amina smile. “Sis,” she said, “you came.”
Amina told this story about Chicago SNCC. SNCC workers had underestimated the power of gang turf. There was a confrontation between raw SNCC recruits and a local group. The gang leader opened his razor-sharp switch blade. Softly as an expelled breath he passed the open vertical blade in front of the face of a recruit, cutting the recruit’s eyelashes.
Amina knew danger. Amina knew hardship and she loved people whose lives were hard. She never stopped believing a better world
Amina and her daughter Sabra
Amina at SNCC reunion, April 2010
is possible. She never stopped believing that within the powerful entanglements of race, gender, religion, and class, she would let no one else define her. She was her own woman, lost too soon to the world.