Minnie Bruce Pratt: When I Say ‘Steal,’ Who Do You Think Of?

Photo by Leslie Feinberg

I became familiar with the poet Minnie Bruce Pratt when I was in high school and read “Motionless On The Dark Side Of The Light,” in the No More Masks: An Anthology of 20th Century American Women Poets.

Pratt was born in Selma, Alabama, in 1946. She graduated from Bibb County High School when it was under segregation, and entered the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, a year after George Wallace “stood in the schoolhouse door” in an attempt to stop desegregation.

She says that she received her real education “into the great liberation struggles of the 20th century through grass-roots organizing with women in the army-base town of Fayetteville, North Carolina, and through teaching at historically Black universities.” Since coming into women’s liberation, and coming out as a lesbian in 1975 in Fayetteville, North Carolina, Pratt has been active in organizing that intersects women’s and gender issues, LGBT issues, anti-racism work, and critiques of empire. Currently, she is a professor of Women’s & Gender Studies and Writing & Rhetoric at Syracuse University, where she also serves as faculty for a developing Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/ Transgender Studies Program.

I came across a lecture she gave in 2004 and wanted to share an excerpt here. The first time I read it, I was struck by the oddness of it pushing up against the gospel readings from Matthew 6 and Luke 12. It has the whiff of Advent about it.

“Every week Miz Nell Weaver had us memorize a Bible verse, one for each letter of the alphabet. This was in the fourth grade, Centreville, Alabama, 1956. One by one, on Fridays, our name would be called and we would go into the only privacy there was, the cloakroom at the back of the classroom, and there in the narrow space jumbled with coats and book bags, we would stand in front of her and open our mouths and recite. “I” was In the beginning, of course. And “L” was Lay not up treasure on earth where moth and rust doth corrupt and where thieves break through and steal. Lay up treasure in heaven, where moth and rust doth not corrupt and thieves do not break through and steal. (Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.)

Who did I think was stealing? What was the endangered treasure, that which would rot away and be lost? Why was I being taught that any security I might ever have would be after I was dead?

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