One of them, the dog-tired black woman who kept her bus seat, ignited Southern civil rights. Another, a writer, was chased by horses at an antinuke rally and arrested on the White House lawn.
Still another was fired by Jimmy Carter, a fourth led an antipornography march and a fifth was excommunicated from the church she reveres. A sixth spoke out for the ordination of women. The last, an editor and early feminist, has become symbol for a movement.
Yesterday, these seven -- Rosa Parks, the woman on the bus; writer Grace Paley; Bella Abzug, former chair of the National Advisory Committee on Women; antipornography leader Lynn Campbell; Sonia Johnson, former Mormon church member and ERA organizer; Sister Theresa Kane, and Gloria Steinem, a founding editor of Ms. magazine -- received citations as "Women of Courage."
Sponsored by the Women's Caucus for Art and the Coalition of Women's Art Organizations, the awards were presented at the Corcoran Museum. And although the theme was "social change takes courage," most said they felt scared, not brave, in the face of challenge.
From Sonia Johnson, who was excommunicated from the Mormon church because of her ERA work: "I don't think anybody ever feels like they're being courageous . . . Well, I was frightened long ago when I first started doing this work. That was in August of 1978, when Sen. (Birch) Bayh got together this religious panel and they asked me to testify. I hadn't done anything so openly to be interpreted as antichurch and before I did that, I had a week of such terror. Honestly, it was terror. I would wake up in the middle of the night and my heart would be just pounding. But as I was writing that last paragraph of the testimony about the early Mormon women and wondering what to say. I felt as if they were there in the room. And from that moment on, I just knew clearly what I had to do. And although what has happened has been hard and painful, this total rejection, it wasn't frightening. There was no fear."
From Lynn Campbell, leader of an antipornography march in Times Square: "I've always felt that the work I've done is important, and I've always felt a need to do it, yet I've never felt that I was courageous. It's just sort of come up and I've done it . . . Organizing involves just such incredible political and personal minefields, and much of that is very scary. I was scared to death when I moved to New York and didn't know anybody and didn't know whether an issue like that would take on the East Coast . . .
"I don't want to sound corny, but I suppose if I could call anything courageous, it is to know what to do with that feeling of being sick to your stomach with fear."
From Bella Abzug, former congresswoman: "I've just been me. I do what I feel I have to do. Oh, a lot of the things I do frighten me, but I do them anyway. Like to stand up in the Congress and say women are entitled to homemaker's rights. Those things are scary, but you do them. I think if I don't do them, they're going to do terrible things to us. It takes a lot of energy. Anyway, I've just been lucky, that's all."
From Gloria Steinem: "It's true, I find myself doing things that I'm afraid of . . . In the beginning of Ms., I felt that we would not do it well, and that we would fail, and that we would damage the movement. I used to wake up at night worrying about that."
From Rosa Parks, now on the congressional staff of Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.): "I don't recall thinking in terms of courage at the time. The only thing I felt was not being treated fairly as a human being. But I've survived since then. I don't know whether it's taken courage or not."
From Grace Paley, who was sentenced to three years, probation for trespassing and refusing to leave the White House grounds: "I think there's a million people more courageous than me. I don't feel very brave or anything . . . I was scared but when you're very angry, you get over fear. Fear becomes irrelevant . . . See, people think it's so terrible to go to jail. If you're a white middle class person you go, and you come out. It's like visiting some terribly oppressed country."
From Sister Theresa Kane, who spoke out for the ordination of women during Pope John Paul's Washington visit: "A primary responsibility of leadership is to effect social change, to bring about transformations within ourselves and within the world. We have a responsibility to use the power with which we have been entrusted from the building of this earth by speaking the truth courageously."
The seven were given works by women artists in a presentation at the Corcoran Gallery. This is the first year the two women's art organizations have given out such awards.