Answering The Call To “Free Black Mamas” In Alabama

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When thinking of Mother’s Day, most people imagine families celebrating or remembering the matriarchs that shaped their entire household. While this is true for many, there are also thousands of households that spend this holiday without their motherly figures due to them not being able to afford pre-trial bail costs. It’s a tragic reality – one that organizations across the United States are aiming to end with the “Free Black Mamas” bailout. In Birmingham, this movement is led by Cara McClure of Faith & Works

Cara has long had a heart for social justice. She was a core member of Black Lives Matter Birmingham in 2017 when she saw a flier on Facebook that showed a woman holding a baby with a banner that read “Free Black Mamas.” McClure was immediately intrigued and reached out to Mary Hooks, her friend who shared the post and was working with Southerners On New Ground at the time. “I called Mary and I said ‘I don’t know what this is but I want in,’” Cara recalled, “And she said ‘Sister, we’ve got to free our people.’” 

Hooks told McClure about a call that would have more information. Cara discovered a lot during the call, including that it was too late for her to receive national funding by Mother’s Day. However, that didn’t deter her. Cara decided to host a 12-hour telethon that featured local comedians, singers, rappers, and other entertainers that each went live on their social media pages at a different hour to encourage followers to donate. By the end of the telethon they raised $20,000, which was enough to free 5 people from the Bessemer County Jail. Bailouts have continued each year since, with support from National Bail Out.

There’s a lot of behind-the-scenes work that goes into freeing Black moms. First, the team goes into county portals that are open to the public to begin identifying women to assist. They then meet with the women to see what their needs are and if they want assistance. If so, Cara’s team finds each individual’s outside support options and reaches out to see what life outside of jail would look like. “Would you support them in ways like making sure that they have transportation to court? Will they be able to live with you if they don’t have any other place to go?” are questions Cara asks. “After we talk to the support system we come back together as a team and we discuss each person that we interviewed and we look at how much money we have.”

“This year was pretty good. It took a lot of work. Fundraising for individual donations were slow but we were able to so far free two mothers out of jail,” Cara shares (like everything else, bail costs have risen – one bail cost $30,000 and the other $15,000). Funds from National Bail Out provided major contributions this year and are still coming in, meaning more Black moms will soon be freed. McClure hopes to use some of the incoming funds for a Juneteenth release. Individual donations came close to $12,000 this year and are still being accepted. Most of this money will be used to support mothers and their families once they are released. This can include everything from rent to transportation and clothing needs.

“You’re just sitting there (in jail) because you’re poor. While a mother is sitting there waiting on trial–even if she’s there for 24 or 48 hours–during that time things happen like you can lose your vehicle or lose your benefits, you can lose your home, and some even lose their children,” Cara shares. Some women don’t get their medication and others experience violent crime while trapped inside. “We don’t want our people stuck behind or trapped in a cage at all. That’s why we have to do the work of breaking the cages open and freeing our people, pulling our resources together and getting our people out. Just like they did back during slavery where our folks pulled their resources together to buy each other’s freedom.”

“Free Black Mamas” is a call for immediate relief for people jailed – not because they are found guilty of a crime but because they don’t have the money to buy their freedom until trial. The campaign is also a long term mission to end the pain that comes from mass incarceration and money bail. The invitation is open for all to join their cause. 


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