This trust can be an important constraint and a source of anguish for the women. The less skilled and more deprived members of the community see the middle-class trappings of their work and lifestyle and assume the women have more power than they actually possess. The women, on the other hand, because of their upward mobility, perceive more clearly the depths of the crisis confronting the community and the all-too-real limits of power. Excessive trust in the women's ability to get things done may sometimes undercut their ability to organize massive community participation before a problem reaches crisis proportions. Among the most powerless in the larger society, Black women community workers have moral power and prestige because they are women who represent the total community's interests and who build carefully a culture of resistance through community work in many critical places.
Katie G. Cannon has described four basic struggles that shape the consciousness of Black women -- the struggle for human dignity, the struggle against white hypocrisy, the struggle for justice, and the struggle for survival. As a result of the historical constancy of those struggles, she argues, black women "articulate possibilities for decisions and actions which address forthrightly the circumstances that inescapably color and shape black life." 13 The historical tradition and contemporary practice of community work is a predominantly female social institution 14 that demonstrates the powerful way in which consciousness is shaped and an alternative history is forged. No matter how high they rise, and no matter how diverse and many the places they go to build, Black women community workers are the ones who will come home to the community.
An earlier version of this study was presented in 1982 at the Kirsch Center for Marxist Studies of the University of Massachusetts -- Boston. Support for various stages of the research and writing was provided by the National Fellowships Fund, the Minority Fellowship Program of the American Sociological Association, and the Center for Research on Women at Memphis State University, Memphis.