Sisters in the Struggle: African American Women in the Civil Rights-Black Power Movement

By Bettye Collier-Thomas; V. P. Franklin | Go to book overview

Part V

Law, Feminism, and Politics

The essays in Part V examine the aftermath and legacies of the Civil Rights–Black Power Movement. Many African American women learned important lessons from their experiences in the movement and applied them in the social and political arenas. In the first half of the century there was little conflict between African American women's racial identity and feminist ideologies. However, after the emergence of Black Power and the increase in the male chauvinist and sexist attitudes and practices within civil rights organizations, as well as the rise of the Women's Liberation Movement, African American women became more aware of the potential for conflict between their racial consciousness and feminist values, and began to organize around issues and topics that reinforced their sense of “sisterhood.”

Genna Rae McNeil presents a case study in the development of sisterhood among African American women. In 1974 Joan Little, an African American woman, killed her white prison guard in North Carolina when he attempted to assault her sexually. She fled the prison, but later turned herself in to the FBI. When news of Little's incarceration on charges of first-degree murder was publicized, it galvanized African American women who were veterans of the Civil Rights and Women's Liberation Movements. Little's confrontation with the criminal justice system dramatized women's and African Americans' right to resist state-sponsored oppression. In “'Joanne Is You and Joanne Is Me': A Consideration of African American Women and the 'Free Joan Little' Movement,” McNeill documents the efforts of various women's groups and individuals from diverse social class and ideological backgrounds to obtain freedom for Joan Little. Participation in the Free Joanne Little Movement demonstrated to many African American women that “sisterhood is powerful.”

Duchess Harris's essay, “From the Kennedy Commission to the Combahee Collective: Black Feminist Organizing, 1960–80,” compares

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