Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Unheard Voices in the Community Building Process: The Role of Poor Black Women in the U.S. during the Mid-20th Century

Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Unheard Voices in the Community Building Process: The Role of Poor Black Women in the U.S. during the Mid-20th Century

Article excerpt

Abstract

This work focuses on the process by which two Black women with little resources and education contributed to the development of community. These women were born in the mid-20th century and their narratives are included in the Black Women Oral History Project. Discovered here is that there was a path to community development that these women followed which involved their desire to help, the recognition and use of churches and other community organizations to implement change in their communities.

Keywords: Oral History, Black Women, Community Building

The contributions of Black women during the early to mid-1900's, in terms of community building, focuses on the work of the Black Women's Club Movement (Lerner 1972). However, there are many others who have done considerable work and made significant contributions to the Black community, yet their voices remain hidden. This study uses a data source that places at the center the lived experiences of two Black women, as heard in their own words through the Black Woman's Oral History Project. In much of the literature on Black woman's community activism middle-class Black woman spoke for all Black women (Hine, 1994; Scott 1990). Left obscured are the voices of poor Black women and the many contributions that they made towards community building. This research discusses their contributions to the development of community.

Recent research has begun to examine the current contributions of poor Black women in the creation of community (Mack, 1999; Waiters 2004; Wingfield 2008). However, their historic role has been overlooked. Kincheloe and Steinberg (2008), when discussing the creation of indigenous knowledge, suggest that "we must always be careful to avoid race or ethnic designations that fail to discern the differences between people included in a specific category" (p. 142). This form of essentialism leads to a lack of understanding of indigenous populations. Black women have never been a monolithic group and any research that denies the multiple experiences of Black women limits our understanding of their experiences. To get a sense of the contributions of poor Black women, I examine the authoritative Black Woman's Oral History Project as primary source data. Careful analysis of this data reveals a process by which they are able to create community. This process of community building is presented in the light of Black feminism.

Current research on the community building of Black women during the early 1900s does not capture the role of Black women who grew up in poverty. Obscured are the voices of the poor Black woman and the many contributions that she made towards community building. These voices are viewed through the lens of Black feminist theory, specifically the dichotomy of activism in the face of oppression (Collins 2000). Ultimately, this work highlights the connections of race, class and gender and their impact on community development. This work specifically focuses on the lives of two women, who grew up in poverty yet made significant contributions to the development of the Black community through community building activities during the 1930s and 1950s.

The Black Women's Club Movement

Early discussions that address Black women's contributions to the development of the Black community, during the early 1900s, involve a discussion of the Black Women's Club Movement. Middle-class Black women in American have a long history of organizing to better the Black community, however, this organizing led to the development of a contentious relationship between middle- and lower-class Black women.

Since Lerner's (1972) seminal work, on the Black women's club movement of the 19th and early 20th century, there has been considerable further research. Much of this research focuses on how each club is experienced in various cities across the nation (Hine 1994; Riley 2008; White 1999). What has been shared about this movement is that they report a record of self-help, institution building and philanthropy (Hine 1994; Lerner, 1974). …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.