I knew a woman named Ms. Bottie who lived down the street from me when I was younger. She was older, not yet elderly, but older than my parents at the time, and my sister and I would always pass her house as we walked through our neighborhood to visit our grandmother. At first, she was the lady that was never home, always leaving, and only returned after the street lights came on and we had to be home on school days. When we were still outside playing, we would often look at her house and notice her yard. She would have activist signs tastefully scattered around, her mailbox was the brightest red, and she had flower pots on her porch.
Sometimes, my sister and I would see her on the weekends tending to her flowers and, since our neighborhood was small, she would call out greetings to us as we walked by. Sometimes she would be holding gardening tools, sometimes a book. Since my sister was older than me, and a lot of the kids in our neighborhood were her age, often times I would be able to slip away from the crowd and get away with being less active. I would find a nice shady spot to sit and play with the younger kids around my age. I was a quiet child, so more often than not, I would try to keep to myself. That’s where Ms. Bottie comes in.
On the weekends when she sat on her porch, she would often call greetings to my sister and I and I would start a conversation as my sister ran along with her friends. I learned so much about Ms. Bottie and how she was very involved in voting rights in our area. She was a community leader and was involved in all of these organizations that, to be honest, I do not remember the name of, but I distinctly remember her instilling in me the importance of voting in a democracy and, honestly, I can link my interest in upholding voting rights directly to her being so passionate about it. I figured anything that can make someone feel so deeply about it is worth my attention.
Unfortunately, Ms. Bottie ended up moving away while I was in elementary school, so I have lost contact with her. However, I do remember her, before she left, inviting my parents, sister, and I over and she had a small package sitting on her coffee table in the living room. I guess she saw my look at it and she opened it in front of me and then handed it to me. It was a book, and it was still in bubble wrap looking appealing and intriguing. After popping all the bubbles like the child I was, I saw that the book was “Freedom Summer” by Douglas McAdam and, although it was way over my reading level at the time, she let me keep it and said to read it when I could. That book was the first of many I read on the struggle that African Americans have gone through to gain basic rights, and it is also why I believe that not only was Ms. Bottie a voting rights activist, she was also an African American feminist due to her stressing the importance of the woman’s vote needing to be realized and heard.
She has influenced me so much that I had taken an interest in history, decided I wanted to work in the government when I grew up, and even influenced me to look in to joining some young politician organizations in my home town. I hope Ms. Bottie is happy where ever she went, and I hope she’s still fighting the good fight. She influenced me, and, now, I hope to influence others.