Progressive Women in Conservative Times: Racial Justice, Peace, and Feminism, 1945 to the 1960s

Progressive Women in Conservative Times: Racial Justice, Peace, and Feminism, 1945 to the 1960s

Progressive Women in Conservative Times: Racial Justice, Peace, and Feminism, 1945 to the 1960s

Progressive Women in Conservative Times: Racial Justice, Peace, and Feminism, 1945 to the 1960s

Synopsis

Susan Lynn explores women's progressive social reform efforts in the 1940s and 1950s, an era when women activists promoted a postwar vision of a society based on an expanded welfare state, a powerful labor movement, a strong tradition of civil liberties, racial equality, and a peaceful international order. Lynn focuses on two organizations, the YWCA and the American Friends Service Committee, to explore this agenda.

Excerpt

In 1951, the American Friends Service Committee hired two women--Irene Osborne, who was white, and Alma Scurlock, who was black--to staff an experimental project in Washington, D.C. Their goal was to create sufficient public pressure to convince the school board and the Department of Parks and Recreation to integrate the city's schools and parks. Washington restaurants, theaters, hotels, and schools were all strictly segregated by race. A minor exception was the municipal system; the Department of Parks and Recreation had adopted a policy of gradual desegregation of playgrounds in 1949, but after three years only 30 of 140 areas were operated on an integrated basis.

Osborne and Scurlock set to work to form a joint Committee on Education from representatives of private agencies and individuals who supported integration. The committee blanketed the city with information by publishing a newsletter, sending speakers to church and civic groups and college and university classes, and sponsoring a series of mass community meetings. "It was terribly exciting," Osborne recalled. "Almost from the beginning we could feel that we were on the edge of a breakthrough." Before the project "you couldn't mention the word integration--it was so shocking it was like using a swearword. Within a few months, we created an atmosphere where we were all talking about it." When in 1954 the Supreme Court declared school segregation unconstitutional in Brown v. Board of Education, the Washington school board moved quickly to integrate the schools. The organization that Osborne and Scurlock had put together could claim some of the credit for the smooth transition to racial integration in the nation's capital.

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