The civil war (1861-1865) and the abolishment of slavery in 1865, with the 13th Amendment in the United States of America marked a milestone for the black community; however, social injustice and discrimination didn’t end because the Jim Crow laws were established in 1877. These laws enforced racial segregation in the South where “black people couldn’t use the same public facilities as white people, live in many of the same towns or go to the same schools. Interracial marriage was illegal, and most Black people couldn’t vote because they were unable to pass voter literacy tests” (Civil Rights Movement: Timeline, https://www.history.com/topics/black-history/civil-rights-movement).
The Civil Rights Movement was initiated to combat the Jim Crow laws, so the black community could have equal rights. The movement organized boycotts, sit-ins, and pacific protests. For instance, in 1961, the Freedom Rides and in 1963, the March on Washington.
The movement was given impulse by black males and females. Among the male leaders, we have Marting Luther King Jr. Malcolm X, W.E.B. Du Bois, A. Philip Randolph, and Kwame Toure (formerly Stokely Carmichael). But why the stories of the males are mostly told and seldom times the female’s role mentioned?
In the book, Ain’T a Woman Black Woman and Feminism, by bell hooks, she expresses the invisibility of women in the movement:
Black females participated but did not strive to overshadow black male leaders. Black male leaders of the movement made the liberation of black people from racism oppression synonymous with their gaining the right to assume the role of patriarch, of sexist oppressor. They were not liberated from the system but liberated to serve the system.nd., pp.177,181
A few years ago, I read an article that mentioned the role of Dorothy Hight in the movement. This took me to research who she was. During my research, I discovered that many other black females involved in the Civil Rights Movement played a pivotal role. Just to mention a few, Ella Baker, Josephine Baker, Ruby Bridges, Johnnie Carr, Angela Davis, Thelma Glass, McCree Harris, Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks, Shirley Sherrod, Gwendolyn Zoharah Simmons, and so on.
Besides the above list, I would like to introduce six more females. Their role as strategists and advocates were crucial in the Civil Rights Movement in the United States of America.
Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash
Amelia Boyton (1911-2015 )
She was a crucial figure in the Civil Rights in Selma, Alabama, and one of the leaders who convinced Martin Luther King Jr. to march from Selma to Montgomery, on March 7th, 1965. This is known also as “Bloody Sunday”. On the Edmund Pettus Bridge, over the Alabama River in Selma, the protesters were attacked by policemen and Boyton was brutally beaten. In 1964, she ran for a seat in Congress, being the first African American woman and the first female Democratic candidate from Alabama to postulate for this position.
Bates was an activist, journalist, and publisher in Arkansas. Together with her husband, she founded The Arkansas Press, which was published on May 9, 1941, and mainly supported African American stories and advocated civil rights. In 1954, the Supreme Court landmarked segregation as unconstitutional in Brown v. Board of Education. Bates played a significant role in the desegregation at schools by mentoring and organizing the “Little Rock Nine” students to integrate Little Rock Central High School in 1957.
Septima Clark (1898-1987)
She was an educator in South Carolina who evolved the A Citizenship Schools, which taught and motivated Black Americans to learn literature, education, and citizenship rights to empower their communities. She also fought for equal pay for black teachers.
Dorothy Height ( 1912-2010)
She is known as the “Godmother of the Civil Rights Movement”. Her activism started in the 1930s, which advocated for women’s rights such as unemployment, illiteracy, and voter participation. For over 40 years, she was the president of the National Council for Negro Women and one of the organizers of the March on Washington. Moreover, she had a big influence on leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr. and John Lewis.
Georgia Gilmore (1920-1990)
She was a cook at the National Lunch Company who was fired for participating in the bus boycott. She embraced her talent to cook from home and support the movement. She founded the Club From Nowhere, which motivated African women to cook and bake goods to be sold outside their houses and at protest gatherings. The fund from this action was used to support the bus resistance.
Diane Nash (1938-)
Nash got involved in the civil movements in Nashville, Tennessee, while studying at the Fisk University. She was a leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and organizer of the Freedom Rides.
You can read about other women’s roles here.
Photo by Colin Lloyd on Unsplash