Women Remapping Boundaries of
Race, Gender, and Vocation
BARBARA R. I. ISAACS
This chapter explores how the socially constructed boundaries of gender and public discourse were challenged when Black and white female students “sat down” at the segregated white lunch counters in the South. To illustrate how some of these students were empowered and “desilenced” even as others were silenced, I have chosen to contrast the experiences of female students at two Methodist Church-related institutions of higher education: Bennett College, a single-sex, historically Black institution of higher education in Greensboro, North Carolina; and Randolph-Macon Woman’s College in Lynchburg, Virginia. I will focus on the students’ relationships with the presidential leadership of these two campuses. My primary resources for this study include these presidents’ addresses and statements; campus, local, and national newspaper articles; and personal interviews with women from these campuses who participated in the sit-ins.
When a Black female walked into white Southern public space in the 1950s, the Hebrew Scriptures’ figure of Jezebel was never far behind her. “The creation of Jezebel, the image of the sexually denigrated Black woman,” notes Patricia Hill Collins, “has been vital in sustaining a system of interlocking race, gender, and class oppression.”1 The raped bodies of slave and non-slave females also lingered in the long shadow of the Black female standing before the white Southern male. In 1960 the courageous leadership of Dr. Willa Player and the