The Good Wife Works – Women write of encounters with abusive men

Elizabeth Ellis Square






“Many men in our culture never recover from childhood unkindnesses.” — bell hooks (born 09/25/52 as Gloria Watkins)


The books of Pearl Cleage and Rosie Perez’s Handbook for an Unpredictable Life (N.Y.: Crown Archetype, 2014) can be of interest to our readers. Cleage’s father, Reverend Albert Cleage (1911-2000,) was a Detroit minister who knew Malcolm X.

June Jordan (1936-2002) also remembers Malcolm X at Temple Number Seven Restaurant, headquarters of Malcolm X. She wrote, “He was devastatingly hilarious, at will, steadily to the point, and gallantly respectful without exception. He was so clean, his hair cut so short, his suit so plain: it was an austerity, a focus of purposive being.”

Cleage worked with Richard Pryor (1940-2005) as a writer on his films and with former Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson (1938-2003) on his mayoral campaigns.

In her most recent book Things I Should Have Told My Daughter (N.Y., Atria Books, 2014), Cleage (b. 12/07/48) feels her feminist stance as strong and as important as her civil activism. In Deals with the Devil (N.Y.: Ballantine Books/One World, 1993) Cleage mentions famous men and the women they have assaulted: Bill Withers/ Denise Nicholas (JET magazine covered it); David Ruffin/ Tammi Terrell (that he hit her in the head with a hammer, but not to be confused with Phil Spector’s trial); Dr Dre of N.W.A/ Dee Barnes, talk show host; Mike Tyson/ Robin Givens; former Washington, D.C., mayor Marion Barry lying to women; and Miles Davis/ Cicely Tyson and Davis’ “self-confessed violent crime against women” (her italics).

Cleage mentions Magic Johnson regarding HIV and Clarence Thomas in regard to Anita Hill, but ponders why Hill waited to speak up.

Cleage is not the only one to speak up and out about the treatment of women. Congresswoman Maxine Waters (b. 1939) reprimanded a male politician for taking the liberty of addressing her by “using her first name without her permission.” Jordan wrote, in Civil Wars, “We are not responsible for American contempt for women.”

Unfortunately Diahann Carroll’s mom (born Carol Diane Johnson, 07/17/35) did not retaliate when Diahann came home in tears to tell her mother that the physician assigned to her required physical for entry into the High School of Music and Art felt her nipples during the exam. Carroll sang at six years old at Adam Clayton Powell’s Abyssinian Church. She speaks unflatteringly of her nine-year on-off liaison with Sidney Poitier.

“Being defensive [is really about] being scared and feeling inadequate. Once I started thinking [it] was my fault…the hell of humiliation and self-doubt begins,” Veronica Webb wrote. Webb (b. 02/25/65) was a former professional runway model and Revlon’s cosmetic representative for Blacks before Halle Berry. She also starred as the young mother to one of Elijah Muhammad’s illegitimate children in Spike Lee’s film Malcolm X.

Rosie Perez (b. 09/06/64, Bushwick in Brooklyn) is a dancer, choreographer and actor. She worked with Don Cornelius (1936-2012) on his TV dance show Soul Train. Although she threw a chicken wing at him during a disagreement, they came to friendly terms sometime later before his death.

She worked with Keenan Ivory Wayans’ show In Living Color, Sean (“Puffy”) Combs, Bobby Brown and Jennifer Lopez. She worked with Spike Lee (Do the Right Thing) and appeared in the movies Fearless and White Men Can’t Jump.

Not bad for a little girl who was put in an orphanage at age three. “Ours,” Paulie Murray (1910-1985) wrote, “is no bedtime story children beg to hear.”


Elizabeth Ellis is the mother of three grown children, a college graduate, a 10-year veteran of the Foreign Service and a native of the Twin Cities. She welcomes reader responses to