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Women as the Foundation, not the Face

March 3, 2013 in 1940s-1950s

NAACP Logo

NAACP Logo

According to the book, Freedom on the Border, the conclusion of World War II initiated the return of nearly twenty thousand African Americans from Kentucky who had served overseas. These soldiers had heightened expectations for social equality when they returned to the States, however, they soon faced the unfortunate reality that equality had not yet been leveraged. To promote the radical change demanded by society in order to uproot long-standing traditions of prejudice and discrimination, mass action had to be taken. The key to success during the 1940s-50s was organization. Groups supporting these causes already existed but the masses observed that no change would come if national campaigns were not launched.

CORE logo

CORE logo

In order to open public accommodations to all citizens of the United States, professional groups such as the Congress of Racial Equality and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee were formed to promote progress. The SNCC held a much stronger following within the Deep South, while CORE made significant strides in the Bluegrass State.  Alongside the NAACP, members of CORE began planning – they were planning for the attention-grabbing actions and protests of the early 1960s. While leaders of this time for these organizations were predominantly men, women composed overwhelming majorities of membership within each organization. Women, such as Audrey Grevious, would hold membership within these organizations and work actively within chapter projects in order to promote local change. These women gathered petitions and plan sit-ins while men within the organization rallied support throughout the region in the public eye. This example also unfortunately showcases another form of discrimination and stereotype that has traversed racial boundaries – gender equality.

One crucial action of the local NAACP and CORE organizations within Lexington, Kentucky prompted the integration of the University of Kentucky in 1949. While this is largely credited to Lyman T. Johnson’s successful case against the state’s Day Law, many women of color, who were part of these organizations, played a crucial role in gaining support for Johnson’s case. Upon integration, many women of color capitalized on the opportunity to attend the University of Kentucky as well. Two of their stories can be heard here, via oral history interviews regarding their experiences at the University of Kentucky upon the era of integration.

UK Logo

UK Logo

Without question, Kentucky women supported the official mobilization of organizations and movements within the state during the 1940s-50s. Their activity, however, is largely overshadowed by their male counterparts who often represented the face of campaigns. It should be noted, however, that women’s roles within this portion of the movement are not insignificant as their membership and commitment to the cause gave way to radical demonstrations during the 1960s that finally demolished the barrier preventing equality in Kentucky and in the United States.

Sources:

Wikipedia contributors. “Congress of Racial Equality.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 27 Feb. 2013. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Congress_of_Racial_Equality>. 3 Mar. 2013.

Wikipedia contributors. “Lyman T. Johnson.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 28 Nov. 2012. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lyman_T._Johnson>. 3 Mar. 2013.

Wikipedia contributors. “University of Kentucky.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 1 Mar. 2013. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/University_of_Kentucky>. 3 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.

The Women of SNCC

April 19, 2011 in 1960s-1970s

The Student Nonviolence Coordinating Committee (SNCC) was one of the largest organizations of the  Civil Rights Movement in America during the 1960s. SNCC was a part of many civil rights events through America, such as student sit ins and freedom rides, a leading role in the March on Washington in 1963, and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. It all began in Greensboro, North Carolina, 1960,  a small group of black students started a sit in at the restaurant of their local Woolworth’s store, because they wouldn’t serve black people. In the following days the students were joined by other black students until all seats in the restaurant were filled. The students were often physically assaulted by whites who were raged by the sit-ins. No retaliations occurred, mainly because of Martin Luther King’s nonviolence approach. Ella Baker who attended Shaw University in North Carolina became involved in this campaign and in October of 1960, helped establish the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).[1]

With the establishment of SNCC many opportunities were available; it was SNCC that helped bring the next movement of feminism into America. SNCC wanted to change society; it would provide a model for the feminist movement. In 1964, the organization published a paper that described the situation that women faced within SNCC itself, giving examples of the problems which they faced. There are numerous situations listed to where female members were placed in positions below their skill level; while those who were less qualified and were males were placed above women. (to see the published paper http://www2.iath.virginia.edu/sixties/HTML_docs/Resources/Primary/Manifestos/SNCC_women.html) As a result of this, women did hold important leadership positions within SNCC, which provided further leadership towards the feminist movement. Many of the leaders within local SNCC projects were women. In the 1965 election, all of the black Freedom Democratic Party Congressional (FDPC) candidates from Mississippi were all women, which was very important at that time.[2]

There are many examples of women who worked for the SNCC and the hardships of which they faced while in it. For examples, In Atlanta, Spelman University students started maximizing the impact of sit-ins by moving from one segregated business place to another, this was done quickly before police could arrive to arrest students. Another example is of a Female SNCC worker, Doris Derby who played key roles in creating the Free Southern Theater (a cultural and educational civil rights movement in the South), the Poor People’s Corporation, as well as many other projects. There were also stories of Carolyn Daniels, who housed SNCC workers in her home in Terrell County, Georgia after the sheriff had beat her 16 year old son for bringing people to the courthouse for voter registration; her son had been going door to door working to gain registration among black voters.[3]

SNCC allowed women of both races to become leaders and become active in American politics. Unfortunately, women would lose their leadership roles and influence within SNCC after Stokely Carmichael took over SNCC, as he focused more on a male dominated view of  “black power”.

*To read more stories of the Women in SNCC read “Hands on the Freedom Plow: Personal Accounts by Women in SNCC”


[1] http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USACbakerE.htm

[2] http://www.ibiblio.org/sncc/feminism.html

[3] http://www.theroot.com/views/women-sncc

by dawn

They Would Not Be Kept Down

October 22, 2010 in 1960s-1970s, Social history

Black woman were often more successful due to the promoted value of education in African American Community. According to Paula Giddings, blue collar male workers were paid more than females so sons were encouraged to drop out before daughters (329). 7.2% of Black females held profession jobs compared with 3.1% of Black males (Giddings, 329). A 9.6% of the African American physicians were black woman compared to only 7% of White female physicians (332). African American woman also felt more confident within their successful occupation when asked 74% felt if they suited their career were as only 49% of White females felt that they did a study done in 1964 (Giddings, 333).

During the civil rights movement Black organizations fighting for African American rights often were not interested in supporting female African Americans. Black men within such organizations such as the SNCC, Black Panther Party, CORE, and the SCLC seemed to only allow women within to gain so much power. According to Giddings, the men concerned about their masculinity tried to keep woman from speaking , having positions over men. They expected woman to do the grunt work and other non-leadership jobs such as taking notes, serving food and such.

Ella Baker a woman heavily involved in the SCLC, wrote: “There would never be any role for me in a leadership capacity with the SCLC. Why? First, I am a woman…. The combination of the basic attitude of Men, and especially ministers, as to what the role of women in their church setups is- that of taking orders, not providing leadership.”(Giddings, 312).
Angela Davis worked with the Los Angeles chapter of SNCC. In When and Where I Enter, Davis discussed how the men did less work than the women but then “women where involved in something important, they began to talk about women taking over the organization calling in a matriarchal coup d’etat.” (Giddings, 316).

This kind of treatment was common though out Black organizations. Within the Black Panther Party Kathleen Cleaver who was an officer encountered similar problems stating “if I suggested them, the suggestion might be rejected; if they were suggested by a man the suggestion would be implemented… the fact that the suggestion came from a woman gave it some lesser value.” (Giddings, 317).
Gloria Richardson participation in a rally was shouted down by member of CORE who called her a “Castrator” (Giddings, 317). Richardson’s experience expresses the fears of the men so bluntly. Men who were already oppressed by whites did not want to lose power and masculinity to their female counterparts.

Giddings, Paula. When and Where I Enter.  1983. William Morrow and Company, Inc.

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