In 1964 an anonymous woman addressed a paper entitled ‘Women in the Movement’ to the Student Non-violent Co-ordinating Committee (SNCC), one of the major Black Civil Rights organisations. She wrote:
it needs to be known that many women in the movement are not ‘happy and contented’ with their status. It needs to be made known that much talent and experience are being wasted by this movement when women are not given jobs commensurate with their abilities. It needs to be known that just as Negroes were the crucial factor in the economy of the cotton South, so too in SNCC, women are the crucial factor that keeps the movement running on a day-to-day basis…
And maybe sometime in the future the whole of the women in this movement will become so alert as to force the rest of the movement to stop the discrimination and start the slow process of changing values and ideas so that all of us gradually come to understand that this is no more a man’s world than it is a white world, [my italics]
(SNCC 1964:116) 1
Drawing parallels between the position of African-Americans and women, which for some time was almost habitual in white feminist political discourse, has been discredited in recent years under the impact of Black feminist theory, to the point where it is now virtually taboo to make comparisons between Black and female oppression. 2 Yet what has become obscured by this guilt-ridden rejection of a discursive alignment of the plight of women with that of African-Americans is the common history of the Black movements of the 1960s and Women’s Liberation, a common history which we find articulated here, in the political language of the early New Left.
In 1976 Alice Walker returned to this moment, the genesis of Women’s Liberation in Civil Rights, in her novel Meridian which presents the story of a young Black woman’s progress from an utterly marginal and pathologised existence to political and personal agency. Meridian takes the politics of Civil Rights as one of its central themes and uses the development of the Black