Episode 11: Leah Wise – The Perfect Balance

"Having been raised and trained as a historian...I already had the notion of generations and the responsibility of each generation to carry people forward in the time you’ve had. It wasn’t that hard for me to say that I’ve made my mark and to let go to the younger folks who now need to come and take over." 

At 71, activist historian and organizer, Leah Wise, challenges us to think deeply about the responsibility of generations to carry young people forward as they step up and take over. Our conversation with Leah was rich in history and wisdom, her life reflecting the intersecting struggles and gains for racial, gender and economic justice in the Southeast of the United States and worldwide over the past 40 years. Leah offers us feisty commentary on the sexism that infused (and continues to) so many progressive movements, on the legacy of “polio personality”, and on her odyssey from civil rights activist to low-wage steel worker to leader of Southerners for Economic Justice and a network of similar groups across the Southeast. She offers heartfelt insights into the joys of paying attention to things that slipped by earlier: gardening, the feeling of the sun on your face, starting a sewing crafts business in your 70s, and the pleasures of grandchildren. And she leaves us with a resounding call: to join together to re-build the infrastructure of democracy.  

Here are some of Leah's creations for her latest venture, From Mama Leah's Hands.

"I use the Hand of Fatima symbol on my business cards.  Mostly, I use Adinkra symbols and a couple of Yoruba animal motif symbols on my designs -- aprons  , dish/hand towels, t-shirts, camisoles, greeting cards, caps  and onesies (with African animals)."