Witnessing and Testifying: Black Women, Religion, and Civil Rights

By Rosetta E. Ross | Go to book overview

2
Continuing the Traditions

Attention to the "Least" in Civil Rights Activism

Nannie Helen Burroughs and Black women of her generation may be seen as successors in religious activism to antebellum freedwomen and slavewomen like Sojourner Truth. Burroughs and other Black race women (especially, but not only, Black club women) born soon after emancipation and during the Reconstruction period attended to issues facing African Americans during emancipation and well into the twentieth century. Women born after Reconstruction, near the turn of the twentieth century, both helped carry on work of late nineteenth-century activists by attending to African American quality-of-life issues, and benefited from the work of those activists, often having more access to education, sometimes through schools Burroughs and her peers helped establish. As material circumstances of African Americans began to change, and as the social and political climate of the new century slowly yielded to African Americans' efforts toward full citizenship, some Black women activists born near the beginning of the twentieth century also initiated particular practices to improve life through full participation as citizens of the United States.

Ella Josephine Baker and Septima Poinsette Clark, college-educated professionals born around the turn of the century, were two women of this generation. They not only carried on the work of improving African Americans' immediate material conditions but also saw the bigger picture and more possibilities. They helped inaugurate and shape the Civil Rights Era. Their social status, defined largely by their having an advanced education and not having endured the Southern sharecropping system, significantly determined ways they entered, participated in, and experienced the Civil Rights

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