Skip to main content









Donation Heart Ribbon

Writing To Michelle Obama


Over 100 African-American women have written letters to Michelle Obama on the occasion of her historic entry into the White House. Those letters are gathered in a book called "Go, Tell Michelle." A staged reading of "Go, Tell Michelle" takes place tonight in San Diego. We'll talk with the book's editors.

Over 100 African-American women have written letters to Michelle Obama on the occasion of her historic entry into the White House. Those letters are gathered in a book called "Go, Tell Michelle." A staged reading of "Go, Tell Michelle" takes place tonight in San Diego. We'll talk with the book's editors.


Barbara A. Seals Nevergold is a co-editor of the book "Go,Tell Michelle: African American Women Write to the New First Lady."

Peggy Brooks-Bertram is the other editor of "Go, Tell Michelle."

The staged reading of "Go, Tell Michelle: African American Women Write to the New First Lady" takes place tonight at 6pm at The 10th Avenue Theatre. The event is co-presented by The Women's Museum of California & Mo`olelo Performing Arts Company.

Read Transcript

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'm Maureen Cavanaugh and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. The presidency of Barack Obama as the nation's first black leader is recognized as an historic mile stone for the United States, but people of importance but it has not come without a price for Mrs. Obama herself. He's been a target ridicule and racism in some quarters so just in case Michelle ever needs some words of encouragement, she can open the book compiled we my next two guests. Barbara Seals Nevergold and Peggy Brooks-Bertram, co-editors of "Go,Tell Michelle: African American Women Write to the New First Lady." And I want to welcome Barbara.

NEVERGOLD: Good morning, Maureen.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And Peggy, good morning.

BERTRAM: Good morning, Maureen.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: A staged reading of the book takes place tonight at San Diego's tenth avenue theatre. Barbara, tell us about the genesis of this book, how did you and Peggy come up with this idea?

NEVERGOLD: Sure. Well, Peggy and I have been worked together for many years, and [CHECK] and looking at what happened with Michelle Obama is she became more involved and more visible in her husband's election efforts. And we saw in particularly and felt that she was being mistreated, and she was being -- her image was being distorted, and particularly with the cover on the New Yorker magazine that portrayed her as hostile, know? As dangerous, as militant. And we felt that once the election was over that that was not going to stop. And we wanted to be able to express to her that this was support out this for her from plaque women. And so we decided, why not ask black women to write her letters? Letters of support, letters of encouragement to her, and that's really how the whole idea got started.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: How was that idea received? Where did you get these letters from.

NEVERGOLD: We got these letters from all over the world, woo have our own website, and we're transforming it now. [CHECK]. An organization we started a decade ago, and we essentially sent out e-mails from our contact lists, we advertised it, so to say, the call for letters off of our web page, and we asked our friends to do the same thing. And it was amazing within a couple of hours, the call for letters had gone all over the word. We had people from -- you upon, visiting mount Kilimanjaro saying, is this true? Can we really write a letter to Michelle Obama? We said yes, women from Kenya, from Malawi, [CHECK] California to Maryland, and it was just amazing. I'll never forget the fun we had, sitting there, watching e-mails come in with letters and this was during the Thanksgiving holiday. So people were responding in ways we never thought they would between the Turkey and the desert. It was amazing.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That's how they spend their holiday, writing a letter to Michelle.

NEVERGOLD: Absolutely.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'd like to invite our listeners to join conversation if they'd like, what would you like to tell Michelle? If you'd like to give us a call our number is 1-888-895-5727. Or you can go on-line and comment at Days. Now, you found, you both found that there were some recurring themes in these letters of let's talk about some of those themes. Barbara, a lot of women who wrote to you referenced history.

NEVERGOLD: That's right. And they looked at the history of black people in this country, faking us all the wear back to slavery and bringing us through all of the periods, the times, the hard times, the discrimination, and looking at where we were and where we've come from. Because I think that the ideas that so many of us never thought we'd live to see the day when a black man would become president, just this idea alone juxtaposed against the history and the back drop of African Americans in this country made the election even more significant to us, more historic than it ever could have been if we hadn't put it next to the history of African Americans. So women talked about that, because that to them then, you know, not only referenced the deep feeling that we had for the progress that this signified, but also the fact that there were a whole slew of people who fought the fight, who died because of the fight, and who never got to see this day, but thank God we did, and we're going to share this with them, even though they report here with us today, we're going to call out those names and remember those people. Soap that's what they did in the letters. [CHECK] because as an African tradition that if you speak the name of the person, they'll never die.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And so Peggy, the result of that is that some of the letters just list names, names of people in families, names of people in history that are coming in this letter to witness this event of Michelle Obama in the White House.

BERTRAM: Absolutely. I recall one of the letters from a woman, who she and her husband dropped everything, and girthed you will their children, and flew across the country to be in mile highly stadium in Denver. And they were standing in lines with thousands of people, and everybody had a ticket except them, and they said, oh, my god, we have to have tickets. Of [CHECK] I have my shorties with me. It was the first time I'd heard men refer to their boys as their shorties. And he says, [CHECK] that was facing mile highly stadium, and they could see from the huge screens, they could see the president X. She recounts to her that her husband began writing names on cardboard of people who had been in their family, and who had passed away. So they were not only calling in a minutes but they were writing name, and these were historic documents, and piece of cardboard had become a historic moment, [CHECK] cried every day, that he came into office, there was another letter [CHECK] and so we were profoundly affected [CHECK].

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Peggy Brooks Bertram, and Barbara Seals Nevergold, [CHECK].

NEVERGOLD: That her mother was coming to the White House with her. And I wanted if share a story with her about how it was so important to have a family member do things to help reserve a family. And it says dear Michelle, my wonderful aunt Lilly passed away a few years ago. She lived for a quarter seven. [CHECK] for more than 40 years she had worked at a bakery in the [CHECK] when I was a child, she made many visits to my home in Baltimore Mary rapid. Whenever my family fell on hard times, and it was often, my mother would send for aunt Lilly she would always come. We would meet her at the [CHECK] plaid suitcases with leather buckles tied together with assorted straps to secure the contents of filled to bursting, the suitcases hid apples and pairs from aunt Lilly's front yard in Virginia. She also had a smoked pork shoulder [CHECK] we cooperate wait to get her to the house. As she climbed the rickety front steps to [CHECK] check she called out for the children to get the paring knives to peel the apples and pears. With the funky rubber O-ring, when aunt Lilly pulled out her white canvas ape rob, we knew we would have taste of treats for the web every. Perched on the edge of a not so steady chair, [CHECK] aunt Lilly would hoisted up her dress a bit, and place an empty pot between her legs. Chicago knotted at the knees were exposed. When the children laughed about her stockings, she said, I'm not here for a fashion show. With nearly lightning speed, Aunt Lilly began peeling apples and pears, and in not time at all, they were dropping like flies into the pot between her legs. Talking fast while peeling, October Lilly told stories of the bitter segregation in the south. I had felt it first happened. I was with Aunt Lilly summer vacation when a white bus driver told us to get up from our seats of we weren't far enough behind the white lineup that divided black from white. He said we could not have two seats, even though I was two big [CHECK] aunt Lilly refused, egged on by other white passengers, the driver came to our seats, and threatened to no us from the bus. [CHECK] for white folks to eat all morning, I'll be washing your prissy bed sheets tonight. And right now, we're gonna be sitting in your white seats till we get off. With my heart racing, and fear nearly choking me [CHECK] hours later, ask still in her traveling hat, aunt Lilly had the apples and pairs ready to be reserved of we were comforted by the scent of all spice, cinnamon, cloves and sugar, [CHECK] 'cause aunt Lilly was back in town. She was our second mother with the preserves bubbling, and d thickening the stove, and the jars ready for filling, [CHECK] slighting the meat like it was gold leaf, aunt Lilly showed us how to make it last for the winter. And I told story to Michelle Obama because she was bringing her mother, who was a second mother to her children, and my aunt Lilly had done the same.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That's a wonderful letter. That's a letter, part of go tell Michelle, African American women write to the new first lady. You know, there are some sensitive cultural issues that women decided to right about in this book about skin color and hair, and body shape, and all of that. How is Michelle Obama embodying this sort of my freedom that some black women feel?

BERTRAM: Well, I think you know, it's the issue of image of black women in term it is of the color issue, I mean that's an issue that we ourselves have some difficulty and some discomfort in discussing internally, the issue of light skin versus dark skin, but for the women who wrote, one of the things that they were I guess wanting to point out and wanting to express, was that Michelle Obama is a dark skinned woman, she's a beautiful woman, she embodied the essence of [CHECK] of grace, of dignity, and we have as a group of women of course regardless of skin color, having faced an issue of image that has plagued us for over 200 years of black women being licentious of being lustful, of being immoral. And so Michelle Obama represents an image change for black women even worldwide, women who wrote from Africa said that she's going to change the way that people look at black women across the world, because she's going to represent and help to dispel those distortions [CHECK].

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Any letters that express that they're afraid for the Obamas in the White House.

NEVERGOLD: Whys, it's very interesting that all of these rights were very careful not to use the assassination word. And yet the poets were the ones most likely to bring it up and the way they brought it up was in incredible imagery of one person using the words, the outreached rope, or somebody tucking about the smell of gun powder. And they allude to the loss of the people that we you will know about, the John, Martin, and others, who lost their lives in the struggle for civil rights in the country. [CHECK] were afraid to use the word assassination, you know, because it was too awful. But they did write about it, but in very well subtle ways, you know?

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Aye got to tell you, Barbara, that we just are out of time for your reading. But I want to let everybody know that they're gonna be able to hear you tonight, read, and many more letters [CHECK] do you know if Michelle Obama has read this book?

BERTRAM: Wow. There's another book that we're going to write called the strange travels of go tell Michelle in trying to reach Michelle Obama.


BERTRAM: Because we have not gotten a response from the White House about the book. Even though we know that it has been sent to her, and we believe it has reached her. We even gave Valerie Garrett a copy of this.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And that's her [CHECK] African American women write to the new first lady, takes place tonight at 6:00 PM at the 10th Avenue Theatre co-presented by the Women's Museum of California You're listening to These Days on KPBS.

Want more KPBS news?
Find us on Twitter and Facebook, or subscribe to our newsletters.

To view PDF documents, Download Acrobat Reader.