Without doubt, Paul Hendrickson, Bernice McNair Barnett and Danielle L. McGuire assert that Black women made noteworthy contributions to the Civil Rights Movement. As Barnett (163) notes, Black women were at the forefront of formulating tactics and strategies, initiating protests and securing resources such as communication networks, money and personnel that necessitated the success of collective action.
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These included distinctive women such as Aurelia Browder, Jo Ann Gibson and Viola White among others. Such women formulated strategies and tactics such as declining to ride buses to work to boycott against the segregation laws, “I had stopped riding because I wanted better treatment” (Hendrickson 290).
They also refused to give seats to White passengers in buses, “I am not going to move out of my seat…I got the privilege to sit here like anybody” (Hendrickson 294) as a way of initiating protests. In addition, Black women with fair skin also used the sneering strategy; reminding the Whites who thought and treated them as Whites that they were not different from Blacks, “was a member of the darker race” (Hendrickson 293).
Conspicuously, Black women such as Mrs. Gilmore formed clubs that sought money to finance the movement (Barnett 168). In addition, they sought after the personnel that the movement required. For instance, the Albany Movement had a woman leader who organized young people to attend demonstrations and meetings (Barnett 168).
However, despite their paramount contributions, sometimes more than men “and it was women more than men” (Hendrickson 289), Black women remained invisible in reference to their recognition as leaders in the movement, except for a few such as Rosa Parks. Evidently, Black women were not under any male leaders’ directives, including the most influential male, Martin Luther King, a clear indication that they deserved recognition on their own.
The Black women took their own initiatives. This is because they “shared a common desire for freedom from oppression” (Barnet 163) that made them have the courage to start their initiatives without relying on men directives. They were angered by the unjust segregation laws that made them victims of racialism, and unjust treatment by officers and in the public (McGuire 59). Hence, they took their own initiatives because they “wanted better treatment” (290) which they would get if they cooperated with the Black people in the movement.
The key factors that left the Black women unrecognized or led to recognition of just a few of them as leaders are class, race and gender biases (Barnet 163). In terms of gender bias, focus on Civil Rights Movement research was on the elite Black male professionals such as Martin Luther King and ministers, not the women.
In addition, women were negatively stereotyped as poor, illegitimate and female-headed, thus making them unworthy of recognition as leaders. In reference to race, Feminist scholarship’s focus was on White women activism. In terms of class, there was a middle-class orientation ignoring and excluding the working-class and poor Black women experiences in the civil movement. This yielded the perception that Black women were politically passive, organizers or followers, not leaders.
In reference to the discussion above, it is crucial to talk about Black women’s contribution to the movement. While focusing on individuals would explore key women leaders in the movement, other women, the invisible, would be left out. Hence, it warrants that Black women be explored using an all- inclusive framework.
This demand exploring the sex-specific ways that Black women contributed to the movement because they collectively have a “history of their own” (Barnet 165), a reflection of their own role, concerns and values as women and Afro-Americans.
Barnett, Bernice McNair. “Invisible Southern Black Women Leaders in the Civil Rights Movement: The Triple Constraints of Gender, Race, and Class”. Gender and Society, 7.2 (1993):162-182. Print.
Hendrickson, Paul, “1944-The Ladies Before Rosa: Let Us Now Praise Unfamous Women”. Rhetoric & Public Affairs 8. 2 (2005): 287-298. Print.
McGuire, Danielle L. “At the Dark End of the Street”. Black Women, Rape, and Resistance- A New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2010. 40-67. Print.