Southern Black Women in the Modern Civil Rights Movement

Southern Black Women in the Modern Civil Rights Movement

Southern Black Women in the Modern Civil Rights Movement

Southern Black Women in the Modern Civil Rights Movement

Synopsis

Throughout the South, black women were crucial to the Civil Rights Movements, serving as grassroots and organizational leaders. They protested, participated, sat in, mobilized, created, energized, led particular efforts, and served as bridge builders to the rest of the community. Ignored at the time by white politicians and the media alike, with few exceptions they worked behind the scenes to effect the changes all in the movement sought. Until relatively recently, historians, too, have largely ignored their efforts. Although African American women mobilized all across Dixie, their particular strategies took different forms in different states, just as the opposition they faced from white segregationists took different shapes. Studies of what happened at the state and local levels are critical not only because of what black women accomplished, but also because their activism, leadership, and courage demonstrated the militancy needed for a mass movement. In this volume, scholars address similarities and variations by providing case studies of the individual states during the 1950s and 1960s, laying the groundwork for more synthetic analyses of the circumstances, factors, and strategies used by black women in the former confederate states to destroy the system of segregation in this country. In this wide-ranging collection of original essays, several truths emerge: African American women, many of whom had been marginalized within the larger body of civil rights literature, were part of the defining national trajectory of the black liberation movement; sources for mining African American women's history during the civil rights era have become more accessible; the use of gender as a tool in analysis has found its way into the emerging studies of southern history; and written histories have begun to shift toward a more balanced representation of black female reformers. Scholars and students will appreciate this book's summary and analysis of the research done to date on the period 1954-1974, as well as its compelling case for the work yet to be done.

Excerpt

Bruce A. Glasrud and Merline Pitre

African American women have played a significant role in the ongoing struggle for freedom and equality since the inception of this nation. Nowhere is this better illustrated than in the former Confederate states during the modern civil rights era, from 1954 to 1974. During the height of civil rights struggles, black women, like black men, were foot soldiers in sit-in, pray-in, and stand-in campaigns. They were crucial as grassroots and organizational leaders, stimulating mass participation in the movement. Women also served as chief sources for mobilization of people and capital within local communities. They organized black consumers, supported labor unions, and worked in politics and journalism. They particularly helped attack school segregation, coordinate lunch counter sit-ins, boycott buses, mobilize voter-registration drives, and establish communication networks. Yet during the era under study, black women were not typically quoted in the media or consulted by white politicians. Even in historians’ accounts, the contribution of women remained obscure for a long time. As Charles Payne has argued, this historical invisibility did not match the historical reality. What is now needed as a match for historical reality is a study that identifies, explores, and evaluates the roles and contributions of African American women in the modern civil rights movement throughout the South. Southern Black Women in the Modern Civil Rights Movement attempts to meet this need.

Even though black women performed prominent duties in the civil rights movement—bridge-building, organizing, protesting, participating, mobilizing, creating, energizing, and leading particular efforts—they seldom received credit either for their involvement or for their contributions. For example, no woman was a speaker during the 1963 March on Washington celebration, and . . .

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