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Who has a story to tell?

October 8, 2010 in 1920s-30s, 1940s-1950s, 1950s-1960s, Oral history, Research methods

I’m searching and searching for women in history between 1920 and 1970! So many times I find something intriguing and sufficiently documented, then I scramble to find the date and am disappointed; it’s in an era earlier than what I need to focus on. Discouraged and frustrated, I move on but with the story in my head wishing I could tell it. An observation of my search leads me to the women who’s story is being told. Why is there enough information about her available to tell a story? More than likely she is a formal leader, as Belinda Robnett describes in “How Long, How Long? African American Women in the Struggle for Civil Rights”. More precisely, women with title positions.

What about the women that didn’t have title positions and were outliers to the formal leaders that left a trail of paperwork and newspaper articles about them? What are their names? Where can I find their story? What were their lives like during this era of Woman’s Civil Rights? As Robnett named formal leaders, she also named my outliers as bridge leaders, but I want to know more about them. Where to next? I’m off to locate local history of woman’s clubs, publications of their involvement in the community and church. With some disappointment I’ve scored only bits and pieces, not yet enough for me to tell a story. I’ve been told that paper documents have not been procured properly or that they don’t exist.

The interpretation of their lives in the community may take a collection of other resources to synthesize such an answer, unless they wrote a memoir for you and its still located in her daughters files! But really, I might as well just start posting fliers soliciting women with a story to tell, preferably within this time period. (ahhh….bazinga moment!) Oral history just took on a whole new meaning.

Robnett, Belinda. (1997). How long? how long? african american women in the struggle for civil rights.. New York: Oxford University Press.

Fighting for Gender and Race Equality

October 1, 2010 in 1950s-1960s, Research methods

Robert F. Williams of North Carolina is given credit as being one of the most influential people in the history of the Black Power/Black Panther movement.  He has books written about him, documentaries shown of him, and in general is praised as a revolutionary for the struggle starting in the 1950’s.   There is a saying that “behind every powerful man is a powerful woman”, and for Robert Williams, this was most certainly the case.

Mabel Williams shared the same dedication as her passioante husband, yet she recieves a fraction of the recognition as her husband did.  Although I don’t believe that Robert and Mabel practiced so diligently in the struggle for black equality for fame, I do think that all of the hard work and sacrifices the couple made warrants great, but equal recognition.

The fact is that while fighting for the equality for people of color, Mabel was also continuing the fight for gender equality.  Mabel fought for black women to defend themselves with guns if necessary to prevent people like the Ku Klux Klan from raping and lynching their community.  Furthermore, when Robert and Mabel were being sought after by the FBI in the in the early 1960’s, the pair fled to Cuba to evade wrongfully being imprisoned.  While living in Cuba Robert spoke on a radio show called “Radio Free Dixie”, and was able to continue to fight for equality while not even being in the same country.  Of course Robert was the one on the radio that everyone would hear, while Mabel worked behind the scene, getting little to no credit while she had to endure the same hardships that Robert did.

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