Sisters in the Struggle: African American Women in the Civil Rights-Black Power Movement

By Bettye Collier-Thomas; V. P. Franklin | Go to book overview

Part I

Laying the Groundwork
African American Women and Civil Rights
Before 1950

The essays in Part I focus on the period before 1950 and examine the civil rights activities and concerns of African American women and their organizations. In many ways, the activities of these women laid the groundwork for the modern phase of the Civil Rights Movement that began in the 1950s. Elaine M. Smith in her introduction to the speech “Closed Doors” points out that during her lifetime, Mary McLeod Bethune was sometimes referred to as the “First Lady of the Race.” Widely known as an educator, institution builder, and civil rights activist, Bethune was one of several black women leaders who often worked in a variety of mixed-gender and feminist organizations to eliminate legal segregation and discrimination from American life. In “Closed Doors,” Bethune described the conditions under which African Americans were forced to live and work, and the barriers they confronted in their effort to achieve first-class citizenship. Using her own personal experiences as a black woman, Bethune dramatically expressed the frustrations and hindrances African Americans faced in an American society supposedly committed to “liberty and justice for all.”

V. P. Franklin and Bettye Collier-Thomas's essay, “For the Race in General and Black Women in Particular: The Civil Rights Activities of African American Women's Organizations, 1915–1950,” describes how black women's organizations attempted to pry open the “closed doors” confronting African Americans. We point out that contrary to the arguments presented in some of the emerging scholarship on black feminism, African American women did not define an exclusively feminist agenda for advancing the race. The women's groups had as part of their overall mission a commitment to engage in activities for the advancement of the African people at the local, national,

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