MBAGA: Hail to the Queen

Making Biblical Africans Great Again

It is essential to honor the contributions of women to American history in March. Throughout the year, in the same way, it is vital to remember the contributions of African American men and women beyond Black History Month. My focus for 2021 is to honor, celebrate, and acknowledge the presence and contributions of people of African descent in the Bible. One goal of this focus is to disrupt the ideology of African and, by extension, Black inferiority both in the Bible and within global systems of racism.

In my Southern upbringing, I was taught a gentleman always remembers: “ladies first.” Instead of subscribing to what is now considered patriarchal teaching, I am first exploring the narratives of biblical African women with the mantra: “Hail to the Queen.” Of the many women of the Bible, the Queen of Sheba and the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, provide valuable insights into why biblical Africans are great examples of resilience and leadership.

The inauguration of Madame Vice President Kamala D. Harris as the first woman, first Black person, first Asian American, first alumnae of a Historically Black College and University (Howard), and the first member of a historically black founded sorority (Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.) illuminated the progress made by countless mothers, women, and girls to climb and overcome the barriers of racism, sexism, classism, and xenophobia. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lopez, and Amanda Gorman accompanied Vice President Harris on this momentous day.

In her inaugural poem, “The Hill We Climb,” Amanda Gorman, the youngest inaugural poet in America’s history, shared these words:

“Scripture tells us to envision
that everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree
And no one shall make them afraid
If we’re to live up to our own time
Then victory won’t lie in the blade
But in all the bridges we’ve made
That is the promised glade
The hill we climb.”

We encounter the Queen of Sheba in 1 Kings 10 and again in 2 Chronicles 9 during King Solomon’s reign. The Queen of Sheba’s narrative is of mythological significance as her story appears in Aramaic, Ethiopian, and Muslim sacred texts. She was escorted by an entourage of camels carrying spices, gold, and precious stones. She had traveled north from either Ethiopia or Arabia (today Saudi Arabia) to visit Solomon and all his splendor. The Queen of Sheba had heard of Solomon’s fame and journeyed up the hills of Jerusalem “to test him with hard questions” and to tell him “all that was on her mind.”

In the Book of Acts, we encounter an Ethiopian eunuch (an emasculated man) who served as treasurer in the court of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians. The Candace is a westernized version of a title attributed to the “Queen Regent,” “Queen Mother,” or “Royal Woman” of the Kingdom of Kush. These royal women were either the mothers of kings or the independent female monarchs of ancient Kushite kingdoms. Imagine the powerful influence of the Candace’s reign. Her Ethiopian (read: Black) treasurer was granted safe passage along the wilderness way, to and from Jerusalem, riding in a chariot, with the leisure read a handwritten scroll of the prophet Isaiah.

To recite Gorman’s words, “scripture tells us to envision” two queens of African descent who were second to none in their prominence and positions of power and influence. To learn from them is to take pride in modeling the posture, position, purpose, power, and passion that is the legacy of biblical Africans. Maya Angelou then reminds us, “your crown has been bought and paid for. Put it on your head and wear it.”