"Grandma, who is this lady in this picture?" Shan asked, looking up at her grandmother.
Her grandmother, Sadie, stopped brushing her hair and looked down at the photo album her granddaughter held on her lap.
"Oh, that's my grandmother, Mama Shugga".
"Mama Shugga? Was that her real name?" Shan asked, confused.
"No, baby. Her real name was Bertice Anne Taylor. They say she was the sweetest one of her ten siblings, so they called her 'Shugga Anne'."
"Wow! 10? She was the sweetest one, huh?" Shan asked, curious about this lady who she'd never met. "She sure is pretty."
"Oh, she sure was pretty. I remember her just a little. She didn't quite look like this lady here in this picture."
"Tell me more about her, grannie. Please. What do you remember her looking like?" Shan begged.
"Well, if you want to know. I will tell you." Sadie smiled as she saw her granddaughter look deeper into the picture.
"They say my grandmother was always the life of the party. I never really knew her, but I've heard so much about her. Growing up, I found myself standing in front of the mirror dressing the way I thought she would dress, all sassy like they say her personality was. I wanted to be just like her. I would sit for hours looking at that picture you are looking at now. She looked much different when I knew her. Her hair was gray, but she was just as sassy."
"They say that she never met a stranger and that she would "sash-shay" around her garden parties in the latest fashion. This was the 1960s. The pictures show her hair all done up with her beautiful flowing dresses. No one could ever match her beauty or her personality, at least that's what I heard. They say she knew all the latest news around the neighborhood. Those two words would begin her reign as queen of any party and her neighborhood. "They say..." is how she always began. People were bound to listen to what followed next. Whether it was about the new neighbors down the street that had just moved in or if it was about my granddaddy's new lawn mower. "They say" brought people to her house even when she wasn't hosting one of her legendary parties.
It was one of those "They says..." that changed my grandmother's life forever. They say that she brought up Dr. King's visit to Birmingham, AL. It was something as simple as: "They say that Dr. King will be in Birmingham this week to march for our civil rights." You see it wasn't always about the neighborhood gossip. Sometimes it was about real things. They say that it was a regular Wednesday when her pastor and his wife had come to visit. At the end of that visit, they say she had made up her mind to march with her church and Dr. King to the Mayor's office to talk about the segregation of the city."
"They say...grannie..." Shan said trying out the words a little for herself to catch the feel of them. She decided that she liked it.
"Listen to you, young'un." Sadie laughed a little at Shan.
Shan smiled, "They say that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. changed the world. Isn't that right? Did she meet him? Did she really march with him?" Shan's eyes had grown big with the mention of this famous name. She was simply amazed.
"Well, just listen. I'll get to that." Sadie explained.
"They say she threw one of her extravagant parties, just to make sure she had a way to get more people involved and that she made one of the biggest speeches of her life, even bigger than Dr. King, at least that's what they said. They say that she stood up with the biggest voice she could muster. She made everyone aware that they had a duty in changing the world, that it wasn't proper for the world to believe that living in the South under the segregation laws made things separate and equal because things sure were separate, but they weren't equal. They say she made people think about their children and the world they wanted them to grow up in. That it should truly be an equal place and not so much separate. It was time for change, and she knew she had to take up her courage and be that change. They say the tears flowed from her eyes when she talked about the future she wanted to see and that they had never seen her so passionate. They say the people who attended her party cried too. They agreed to join Mama Shugga at the march from the 16th Street Baptist Church to the Mayor's Office. They say when the day came to march they were afraid, but they trusted in the Lord with each step they took. They say you could hear the singing for miles in front of them and behind them as they interlocked arms in solidarity. They say that Dr. King led them in prayer too, and they were all encouraged to keep the faith. They say my grandmother was brave, that they all were brave soldiers fighting in prayer and psalms until they used high powered fire hoses on them, and they even used dogs to attack them. They say my grandmother was arrested along with hundreds of young people that day, even though they were being peaceful in their protest.
"She did? They didn't do anything except sing and walk." Shan looked at her grandmother in disbelief.
"Yes, baby. You are right. But they say it took all of this to turn it around. That's why you are able to learn where you learn, live where you live, and someday work where you work. They say that all their sacrifice was for you and your children."
"My children? So Mama Shugga did all this? She was something, huh?" Shan looked back at the photo of the pretty lady who somehow now seemed much more than that.
"Oh, yeah, baby. That Mama Shugga was something else, but not just Mama Shugga, but so many more. She and others helped change our world! Just think! It all started with a, 'They say...'"
Sadie laughed, and Shan did too.
Sadie began, "You know they say she charmed a man with her smile one time and got a free car..." Sadie smiled.
"Grannie...what!" Shan laughed.