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

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

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

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

Synopsis

A compelling and readable narrative history, How Long? How Long? presents both a rethinking of social movement theory and a controversial thesis: that chroniclers have egregiously neglected the most important leaders of the Civil Rights movement, African-American women, in favor of higher-profile African-American men and white women. Author Belinda Robnett argues that the diversity of experiences of the African-American women organizers has been underemphasized in favor of monolithic treatments of their femaleness and blackness. Drawing heavily on interviews with actual participants in the American Civil Rights movement, this work retells the movement as seen through the eyes and spoken through the voices of African-American women participants. It is the first book to provide an analysis of race, class, gender, and culture as substructures that shaped the organization and outcome of the movement. Robnett examines the differences among women participants in the movement and offers the first cohesive analysis of the gendered relations and interactions among its black activists, thus demonstrating that femaleness and blackness cannot be viewed as sufficient signifiers for movement experience and individual identity. Finally, this book makes a significant contribution to social movement theory by providing a crucial understanding of the continuity and complexity of social movements, clarifying the need for different layers of leadership that come to satisfy different movement needs. An engaging narrative history as well as a major contribution to social movement and feminist theory, How Long? How Long? will appeal to students and scholars of social activism, women's studies, American history, and African-American studies, and to general readers interested in the perennially fascinating story of the American Civil Rights movement.

Excerpt

This book was inspired by childhood memories of the civil rights movement. As a child growing up in South Central Los Angeles, I was fortunate to attend schools in Compton, California, where Black people were the principals and teachers. This experience provided me with a sense of pride and an understanding of my Black heritage and community. Within this context, I was aware of the struggle for freedom and can still recall the emotional feelings sweeping over me while listening to Martin Luther King's speeches on the television.

My family had long endured the struggles against racism; my father's family is still in possession of my great-great grandmother's freedom papers. My father grew up poor but managed to obtain a college education through theG.I. Bill. But his bachelor's degree in biochemistry did not translate into a better job until after the civil rights movement. He, as well as many of my educated aunts and uncles, survived by taking any job he could get. My father, for example, was employed as a cafeteria bus boy, and my aunt worked in the post office. In the late 195os and the early 1960s, it was not unusual to find Black people with PH.D.S working in the post office.

I can still recall the many sacrifices my parents made for our survival. Equally vivid are the memories of a family vacation in the South and my parent's fear when we made a wrong turn onto a backwoods road in Texas. Lynchings, rapes, and murders on such roads were prevalent at that time, and the fear did not subside . . .

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