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by kcjohn2

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."

Invaluable Resource

October 21, 2010 in Oral history, Primary source, Research methods

This week of HIS 351 class was very helpful with the development of our groups service learning project. Starting with guest-speaker Professor Sonia Gipson Rankin from the Department of Africana Studies, University of New Mexico; then an oral history presentation by Doug Boyd, Director of the Nunn Center at the University of Kentucky; and in finally, Dr. Jim Klotter, Kentucky State Historian and Professor at Georgetown College. Thank you to all and to Dr. Randolph Hollingsworth and Librarian Reinette Jones for your continued guidance.

Professor Rankin was helpful in suggesting books in which key components of Women’s History in Kentucky during the Civil Rights Era can be explored further. Two authors, Paula Giddings and Joan Morgan were recommended to help understand historical context better. An interesting question Rankin proposed to our class was: where would Women’s History be today if black and white women had worked together in advocacy of civil rights and equality?

The oral history presentation given by Doug Boyd expounded on effective interviewing strategies. In addition to methods, ethical considerations and perspective are just as important. Building an instant rapport with your interviewee is the key that opens the door to the story sought after. Ask your interviewee to tell you about themselves and listen for key ideas, events, or themes that surface in their monolog. Follow up on something they said. Doug says also be ready to defend why you are asking certain questions when challenged by your interviewee. He calls this an elevator statement, much like a mission statement; the purpose of the question and how it serves the project.

Kentucky State Historian, Dr. Jim Klotter’s first order of advice was how to eliminate hours of leg work in our research by examining the sources and bibliography of current writings about our subject. In the case of no secondary sources, he explains how to effectively search Special Collections, but without the promise that it could be done in ten minutes! He says we’re now detectives of cold case files. Throughout Dr. Klotter’s lecture, he engages us may times with the question: “Why write history?” Share and validate knowledge before it is lost. The lives and experiences of Kentucky Women need to be told.

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