Miss Margaret, as she was known, provided a tremendous service to her largely African-American constituency, since the nearest hospital that would take them during the days of segregation was over a hundred miles away. "They’ll know what they’ve got to do,’ Smith said of the mothers she attended. "If you know how to talk to them. Give ‘em kind words and love. That beats it all."
You can learn more about Smith by attending the screening of a documentary film called "Miss Margaret," directed by midwife and filmmaker Diana Paul, on Saturday, May 2, at 1:30 p.m., at Ruby's Restaurant, located at 102 Main Street in Eutaw. The event is a celebration of Margaret Charles Smith Day, created by the Eutaw City Council in 1985, when Miss Margaret became the first African-American ever given the key to the city.
The state outlawed the Granny midwives in 1976, and Smith attended her last birth in 1981. In the 1990s, Smith published her autobiography, called Listen to Me Good, and began sharing her knowledge at folk festivals, women's health programs and midwifery conventions. She died in 2004, at the age of 98. Paul conducted a series of interviews with Smith for her documentary beginning in 2000.
The screening is also a chance to learn more about the efforts of the Alabama Birth Coalition (ABC) and the Alabama Midwives Alliance to convince the Alabama state legislature to legalize Certified Professional Midwives (CPMs) and once again allow midwives to attend at-home births. Midwife Jennifer Crook Moore of the ABC -- recently profiled by this reporter in the Birmingham Weekly Women's Issue -- will speak prior to the screening. Moore lives in Birmingham but must drive to Tennessee in order to attend births.
According to Moore, the poor counties, such as Greene County, that were served for decades by midwives still have high infant mortality rates and very little access to medical care. "There are twelve counties in the Black Belt, and ten of them have no hospital maternity services," Moore says. "And so you've got women who have to drive long distances, women who don’t have money for cars, who don’t have money for gas, or don’t have money for childcare. So it’s just baffling. And those are the areas where the midwives used to work."