The Undercover Roles of Women in the Movement

October 26, 2010 in 1960s-1970s, Political history, Social history

As I continue my research on women in the civil rights movement, it is the bridge, community leaders, which I find myself interested in finding more out about. These women were not the face of the movement, but the wheels behind it, which kept it moving. These women have the most interesting stories to tell, but are very hard to find without much searching. I look forward to getting to hear the stories of the women in the community of Lexington and more specifically the Martin Luther King Jr. Neighborhood in my further research. For now, I reflect on the lecture Professor Sonia Gipson Rankin gave last Tuesday. She began to tell us some of the roles these community leaders played in the civil rights movement. They could also be called undercover leaders because they began to incorporate furthering the message of the movement in their every day jobs. Beauticians would begin to tell their customers the necessary information needed to pass the voter registration test, all while styling their hair. Women in the community also began having bake sales and fish fries to raise money for the students who were arrested while protesting for equal rights and to provide alternative transportation until the bus system became completely equal.

African American women were faced with not only their race as an issue in being a leader in the movement, but their sex as well. It is no surprise that this would prompt the black women of the civil rights movement to take a back seat to their male counterparts.

The image is small, but is of a Mississippi beautician, Vera Piggy, styling a woman’s hair while educating her on how to register to vote in 1964. (from “Powerful Days in Black in White” by Charles Moore,

Vera Piggy portrait by Charles Moore

"Even while working at her BEAUTY parlor in Clarksdale, Vera Piggy instructs customers on voter registration procedures."

3 responses to The Undercover Roles of Women in the Movement

  1. this is good research. i agree that it is these “undercover” women that were so important to the movement. They do have the best stories that need to be told and it is our job to find them and get them in the public!

  2. Thanks for sharing. The description “undercover leaders” makes me smile! I have a suspicion that undercover leaders are still in full force today. We just need to learn how to recognize them.

  3. Women played a major role during the Civil Rights period that they are given much credit about. They were the ones that held things together. Women played a critical role such as making sure the Civil Rights Leaders had meals, they were sometimes the treasurers. They organized meetings and made sure things were together for everyone. They were in my opinion the heart of the movement.

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