How Long? How Long?: African American Women and the Struggle for Civil Rights

By Belinda Robnett | Go to book overview
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ELEVEN
Theoretical Conclusions Black Women as Leaders, Not Just Organizers

What is abundantly clear is that movement participants cannot be conceptualized in a dichotomous fashion as simply leaders and followers. Neither can it be suggested that women's civil rights movement participation was primarily of an organizing nature, as has been suggested by previous scholars. For example, Charles Payne, in his earlier work on Black women's activism in the Mississippi Delta, has suggested that "men led, but women organized." 1 In a later analysis, which clearly enriches our knowledge of movement organizing in Mississippi, he labels them leaders but describes their work as that of organizers. 2 Bernice McNair Barnett, who also studies Black women in the civil rights movement, agrees with Payne that women organized and that their organizing was an important aspect of leadership. 3

The present study illustrates that African-American women's activism included much more than organizing. While formal networks, leaders, institutions, and movement centers were significant factors in the recruitment process, they do not adequately reflect who, on a daily basis, provided the local leadership necessary to bridge, extend, amplify, and transform the movement's message to potential recruits.

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