The Women Behind the Movement

March 4, 2013 in 1940s-1950s, Economic history, Social history

Most people recognize the civil rights movements as the 1960’s, a time characterized by Martin Luther King Jr.’s peaceful movements, Malcom X, sit ins, protests, and many more actions like these. However, the civil rights activists of the 1940s and the 1950s are the people who paved the way for such great and momentous actions that occurred later in the movement. While the 1940s and 1950s played a great role in the civil rights movements there was a lot more behind the scenes and smaller actions compared to the big mass movements that were organized later. These actions were largely made possible through the efforts of many women of the time. Many petitions and advancements for African Americans were directed by and gained respect for women across the state of Kentucky.

Many women organized the efforts that were made to gain equality during this time period. Petitions were huge during this

Picture of Anne Braden

Anne Braden

time period and women played a great role in making sure that people signed them and that they were presentable to the government. Anne Braden is an excellent example of a woman who organized one such petition. Braden and several other people worked towards getting a law passed that made hospitals accept everyone who was brought to their doors. However, this couldn’t happen unless Braden was able to show the benefit of this law and how many people supported this new law being put into action. So she organized a petition and went house to house and business to business getting people to see what injustice was happening and sign the petition to stop it. This is just one example of women taking control and moving the fight towards justice one step further.

Another way that women participated in gaining better and equal opportunities was by using their own personal skills and talents and putting the law on their side. They knew that they were great at what they did, deserved the same opportunities that white women received and were determined to work hard enough to get it. Helen Fisher Frye knew this and showed this through the hard work that it took to put on an African American concert at Centre College. Everyone at the school, especially the white male supervisors, doubted that she could get it done and do it in a professional manner. However, despite all of their doubts, she organized the concert, which ended up drawing people from all over the state and even from Cincinnati. The officials of the school were so impressed that they promoted her to being on their concert committee and opened up all concerts to African Americans. Frye showed through her great skill and talent that Blacks deserved the same exact rights that Whites did and gained that for all African Americans in Danville. Another woman that did this was Vallateen Virginia Dudley Abbington. Abbington was an African American teacher in Louisville who was getting 15% less pay than the white teachers in the area. So she took to the court to show and change this injustice. The school board was so shocked that this happened and wanted to change it so badly that they agreed that if Abbington withdrew the lawsuit all African American teachers would receive equal pay. By standing up for her and all other African American’s rights, she gained the equality in pay for teachers in the Louisville area.

All three of these women stood up for what they believe in, in their own ways. They didn’t organize mass movements to get the attention of everyone in the nation or in the state but rather worked on a smaller level to achieve smaller but equally as important milestones in the fight for equality in all areas of society. These movements paved the way for the bigger movements that were to come. Thanks to these women and many others like them the 1940s and the 1950s were first steps in making our society one that was fair and safe for everyone to live in.

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“Notable Kentucky African Americans Database.” Notable Kentucky African Americans –. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Mar. 2013.

“Anne Braden.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 03 Apr. 2013. Web. 04 Mar. 2013.

“Civil Rights Movement.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 03 Apr. 2013. Web. 04 Mar. 2013.

Fosl, Catherine, and Tracy Elaine. K’Meyer. Freedom on the Border: An Oral History of the Civil Rights Movement in Kentucky. Lexington, KY: University of Kentucky, 2009. Print.

3 responses to The Women Behind the Movement

  1. I think it’s great that you put an emphasis on how these movements were small but yet affective in their own right.

  2. Thank you for introducing an example that we have not heavily discussed yet! Abbington’s story is extremely applicable to the struggles faced by many women during this time. Her court case is much like that of Lyman Johnson’s at the University of Kentucky and it shows how legislation and action in the courts truly aided progress during this era.

  3. I love how you started out talking about the most famous faces of the civil rights movement, then went on to mention some of the lesser-known women who played an important role during the era. Many of these “faceless” women did not receive much recognition for their work in civil rights. They were leaders in their local communities and made a significant difference in the lives of African-Americans.

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