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Empowering a Movement: Fearless Women of the Civil Rights Era

February 17, 2013 in 1940s-1950s, 1950s-1960s, Primary source, Social history

Photo of Audrey Grevious

Audrey Grevious

“If you’re willing to march in the rain,” I said, “I’m willing to march in the rain.” As a quote from an interview with Audrey Grevious on April 13, 1999, fearlessness emerges as a common theme amongst the strong women whose individual actions prompted mass movements in the 1960s.

Women, at the center of oppression in this era of discrimination, have formed the basis for movements that took place throughout the nation as a result of their own observations of societal injustice. As Audrey Grevious explained in her 1999 interview, she recognized injustice and knew that she must possess the strength to change her reality. Beginning with subtle movements and transitioning to large scale demonstrations, Grevious is representative of numerous women who emerged from a life under discrimination to see through to its demise. In the interview, she discussed her approach and how she sought out support for the movements she planned. She explains:

“We were fortunate here in Lexington. Chief [Edward Carroll] Hale was the police chief at the time. And we met with him and talked to him about what we were going to do, and that we were going to try to remain as peaceful as possible. That we were not going to start any riots or anything. And that we wanted to see, you know, how we could work together. And after we had talked for a long, long time and just went over a whole lot of things that could happen and had happened in other places and this sort of thing, he agreed with us that they would not arrest…And this was fantastic, unique, unheard of and everything else but he wanted to keep Lexington as calm as possible.”

Furthermore, Grevious expresses the strength and intuition of a woman to know her role and her duty to fulfill it. She shares a story regarding a lunch room sit-in:

“I walked in and took a seat and destroyed the lunchtime for everybody even those who supposedly were friendly, you know, and glad that you are here and all that. All right, glad you are here as long as you stay in your place; and I decided that my place was going to be in the dining room. And there was a male teacher from Paris, Charles Buckner, who I told that I was going to do this. And he said, “Well I’m not going to let you do it by yourself.” And so he went in, you know, with me. And a whole lot of people threw their food in the trashcan, and on the floor, and everything else and marched on out but I was there to stay.

Photo of Mae Street Kidd

Mae Street Kidd

Audrey Grevious was not alone in her actions. Stories have surfaced regarding other fearless women who strived to make racial equality a reality, especially here in Kentucky. Mae Street Kidd is no exception. From the compilation of oral histories in Wade Hall’s book, Passing for Black, Kidd expresses a similar burning passion to obliterate the racial divide that plagued Kentucky communities. Like others, Kidd shareed a drive to consistently improve upon strategies and demonstrations that will continue to make a bigger impact with each movement. The section of the book that I found particularly striking is entitled “Today’s Problems, Tomorrow’s Solutions”. In this section, Kidd shares the commonalities among women and those who strive for justice and acknowledges that several core values comprise those who can attain success. Her concern foBook cover, Passing for Blackr a fortified family structure is particularly valuable to her strength as a mother-figure for this movement. She shares, “We all need a better self-image…We need pride in ourselves, but a healthy pride based on true self-worth. Children must be taught that education and hard work will pay off.”

As you can see, women of this movement were not only fearless and resilient, although this aided their tremendous successes. Women such as Audrey Grevious and Mae Street Kidd are representative of women who acknowledged the injustice around them, even though they had never been exposed to a world without segregation.

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Sources:

“Mae Street Kidd.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, 16 Feb. 2013.<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mae_Street_Kidd>. 17 Feb. 2013.

“Audrey Grevious.” (1999). The Civil Rights Movement In Kentucky. Kentucky Historical Society. <http://205.204.134.47/civil_rights_mvt/util.aspx?p=1&pid=14984>.15 February 2013.

“Audrey Grevious.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 17 Feb. 2013. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Audrey_Grevious>. 17 Feb. 2013.

Hall, Wade. Passing for Black. Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 1997. Print.

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