In 2010, as I was presenting a session at a breastfeeding workshop in Louisville, KY, I learned that there was once an organization in Harlem, NY called the “Harlem Nursing Mothers”.
Dr. Adewale Troutman former Director of the Louisville Department of Metro Public Health and Wellness said very affectionately, “My ex-wife used to belong to a group called the Harlem Nursing Mothers.”
“Amazing!” I thought. In our brief conversation, I learned that The Harlem Nursing Mothers was quite similar to Detroit-based Black Mothers’ Breastfeeding ClubTM. Both were mother-led social groups for breastfeeding mothers targeted towards black women in an urban setting. I immediately set out to learn more, but life happened. I couldn’t reach Dr. Troutman, who had begun working in a different state. I got married. I got pregnant with “Lala”. And Black Mothers’ Breastfeeding AssociationTM began to evolve rapidly. However, all the while, I knew that this was a precious part of history that needed to be uncovered and shared widely. I knew that the work of the Harlem Nursing Mothers would show the historical, societal and social importance for black women to come together in sisterhood and fellowship, in a culturally safe environment that shares positive sentiments about breastfeeding.
Well, I recently restarted the search, and thanks to the development of social media, I located Anasa Troutman, daughter of Dr. Adewale Troutman. By this time Anasa and I had a mutual Facebook friend, Jalyn Spencer, BMBFA’s breastfeeding peer counselor. What are the odds of that happening! Jalyn made the connection and voila’!!! Ms. Ressie Fuller sent me a text message. Ms. Ressie Fuller is the ex-wife of Dr. Troutman. I was so happy to hear the stories of the Harlem Nursing Mothers. What an amazing group of pioneers!
Ms. Fuller gave birth to Anasa in 1973, at which time she began her participation in the Harlem Nursing Mothers’ monthly meetings. Ms. Fuller says that the group was based on the philosophy of La Leche Legue. However, it was more appealing to her because of its social-ethnic commonality. She believes that the late 60s and early 70s was a time for black women to go back to their roots and reclaim parenting traditions, including breastfeeding. As a stay-at-home mother, she enjoyed her time in the group, sitting with other Harlem mothers and their babies, discussing breastfeeding, parenting and life. It was a time in history that she felt black mothers could regain control of the decisions for their children. With the support and encouragement of the Harlem Nursing Mothers, she nursed Anasa for two years.
Nine years later, Ms. Fuller gave birth to her second child. Only her lifestyle and environment had changed. She had begun working, and relocated to Charleston, South Carolina. Breastfeeding was more difficult as a working mom and without the support of The Harlem Nursing Mothers. Ms. Fuller was able to successfully breastfeed and express milk for her 2nd child, Nandi for 6 months. During that time, she also spent many lunch breaks nursing Nandi. She truly believes that if she had had the support and encouragement of a group like the Harlem Nursing Mothers, she might have been able to anticipate difficulties, prepare accordingly and hurdle them triumphantly to breastfeed longer. Amongst many things, Ms. Fuller’s fellowship with the Harlem Nursing Mothers always reminded her of the importance of breastfeeding.
Here at Black Mothers’ Breastfeeding Association, we salute Ms. Fuller and commend the work of the Harlem Nursing Mothers. We hope that we can show honor to their legacy through our commitment to breastfeeding support and the work of Black Mothers’ Breastfeeding ClubTM.
While we pay tribute to the Harlem Nursing Mothers and Ms. Fuller, she gives honor and respect to her mother, Annie Ruth Fuller and grandmother, Pearl Thomas Eaddy who created a multi-generational breastfeeding legacy.
Ms. Ressie Fuller retired from the State of New Jersey, Office of the Attorney General where she served as Deputy Attorney in Newark for many years. She currently resides in Statesboro, Georgia where she most enjoys spending time with her wonderful grandson, Nasir. She also enjoys learning to play Bridge, swimming, walking, reading and getting on a horse whenever possible. Ressie Fuller can be reached directly at email@example.com.