Throwing off the Cloak of Privilege: White Southern Women Activists in the Civil Rights Era

By Gillespie, Joanna B. | Anglican and Episcopal History, June 2006 | Go to article overview
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Throwing off the Cloak of Privilege: White Southern Women Activists in the Civil Rights Era


Gillespie, Joanna B., Anglican and Episcopal History


GAIL S. MURRAY, ED. Throwing Off the Cloak of Privilege: White Southern Women Activists in the Civil Rights Era. Gainesville, Florida: University Press of Florida, 2004. Pp. xiv + 229, introduction, bibliography, index. $59.95.

This anthology exemplifies all that's crucial about women's history-and all that makes it a detailed, painstaking process. It demands more work from researcher and reader alike than those with the narrower scope referred to as "great man history." White middle-class churchwomen's activism in the Civil Rights movement's story-undramatic compared with newspaper headlines, yet highly noticeable against the stereotype of passive conformity-tends to accumulate by droplets rather than a torrent. The editor's dedication states that purpose: "to all the female civil rights activists whose names have yet to appear in our written histories."

Unsurprisingly, most of the women here were veterans of YWCA advocacy, that female version of the "Y" which was the first American voluntary organization (for either gender) to adopt racial equality in its national platform. In truth, this type of assembled history is the very quintessence of usually overlooked "women's work"-a series of small, meaning local, life-work stories that collectively create the mosaic of women's generations of history, person by person, religious and secular.

This collection names women, otherwise known only locally, who were called to participate in the great twentieth-century quest for racial desegregation. Chapters about individual activists (all viewed as radical by their white fellow citizens) trace their influence spreading out in the way "women's work" does-through engaging other women, until they were big enough to attract public attention. Dorothy Tilly, Southern Regional Council's director of women's work in Georgia, Alice Norwood Spearman's group of white and black women activists in South Carolina, and Frances Freeborn Pauley of the Georgia Council on Human Relations drew many others into their determined campaigns.

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