Colored Women and Civil Rights Movement
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During the period between 1950s and 1970s, colored women were in a difficult situation. Despite the emergence of feminist movements during the era of civil war, and establishment of civil right movement, colored women did not have a strong support from these movements. This was so despite the fact that colored women, specifically the black women, were the main founders, and campaigners of the civil rights movement. Their contributions would be de-emphasized based on their skin color (Penrice). The emasculation of the views and opinions of colored women in the civil rights movement was driven by the white society, which felt compelled to adopt patriarchal roles (Penrice). When colored women joined the feminist movements, white women would discriminate against them. White members of feminist movements paid little attention to class issues, which affected many colored women. However, these actions did not prevent colored women from fighting against racism, sexism, inequality in the workplace, class segregation, and voting rights.
After the end of the civil war, colored women continued to suffer political, economic, and social oppression (Willis 3). They bore the pain of discrimination in employment and education, class segregation, and demoralization of verbal abuse (Willis 3). As oppression continued, women felt the need to liberate themselves. Many women thought that since they had played significant roles in the civil rights era, the civil rights movement was the best avenue for them to attain liberation. However, many civil rights organizations allocated women to lower positions, while their colored men counterparts took the leading positions (Smith 14). Domination of men in the liberation movements prevented active contribution of women in such organizations. To illustrate this, in 1963, thousands of women including activists Ella Baker, Jo Ann Robinson, and Fannie Lou Hamer, joined the March on Washington (Smith 14). The committee to this movement was male dominated. During their activities, the committee members would neglect to invite women to make speeches before crowds, despite their active involvement in the movement. The role of women leaders in the movement was to type minutes, prepare food, wash dishes, and provide moral support to the male activists.
While some women accepted these roles, others such as Kathleen Cleaver, Elaine Brown, and Ericka Huggins refused to take subordinate positions (Smith 15). Instead, they started to fight for equal positions in the movement. This led to the formation of the Black Panther Party for Self Defense (Smith). The party provided a platform for equality of all women. It attracted many women recruits where they continued with the struggle for political, social, and economic equality. The party was able to enter into an agreement with male Panthers where all members, male and female, were to treat each other as ‘comrades’ (Smith 15). All group activities and responsibilities were to be shared equally between the two genders. This arrangement provided an opportunity for women Panthers to earn respect from their male counterparts. Gradually, colored women of black origin were able to participate in leadership activities.
According to Smith, during the World War I, Black women suffered from sexual exploitation and racial discrimination (16). After the end of the war, many black women migrated to urban areas, in a bid to find secure places for their families. Many of these back women migrated to Chicago, New York, and Illinois (Smith 16). A few of them were able to secure employment in shops, departmental stores, factories, and low-status formal jobs such as secretaries, and sales clerks. However, many of them were unable to find employment. This is because; many of the available jobs in the urban areas were reserved for either black men or war veterans of white origin (Smith 17). In fact, those who had already secured industrial jobs were fired to make way for the male war veterans. This led to increased poverty and oppression of black women. In the 1920s, a group of black women artists and poets started the Harlem Renaissance where they would sing and write about the frustration of black women during and after the war period (Smith 17).
During the Great Depression, in the 1930s, poverty among black women living in urban areas increased significantly. However, this did not stop black women from participating in the fight against oppression and poverty. In the southern cities, black women participated in communists parties, where they fought against racial discrimination in steel industries (Barnett 163). On the other hand, black women in northern cities established nationalist economic programs and consumer groups such as the Housewives’ League of Detroit (Barnett 163). The Housewives’ League assisted in stabilization of economic status of Blacks. They achieved this by having all Negro owned businesses to adopt a non-discriminatorily policy where black people secured jobs without any discrimination, establishing training opportunities for Negro youth in commercial and trade related activities, and conducting educational campaigns where all Negros were taught how to spend wisely (Barnett 164). Activities of the Housewives’ Leagues were also characterized by boycotting of whites’ owned stores in black neighborhoods. Towards the end of 1930s, seventy-five thousand job opportunities had been created, meaning, seventy-five thousand blacks were able to secure employment.
In efforts to fight political powerlessness among colored women, Mary McLeod Bethune, a black activist for black women rights and a famous member of President Roosevelt’s New Deal Project, founded the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW) (Willis). NCNW was involved in collecting, distributing, and interpreting information concerning activities of black women in the United States of America. The aim of NCNW was to develop courageous and competent women, who would be easily integrated in the social, political, economic, educational, and cultural activities of the nation. When the Second World War broke in 1941, NCNW leaders such as Estelle Riddle and Church Terrell encouraged black women to fill vacant positions, which were left by men who went to serve in the war (Willis). This saw many black women secure jobs in male-dominated fields such as welding, aviation, and defense. In addition, through NCNW, black women were able to serve in the armed Forces Nurse Corps, which they were previously restricted from serving (Willis).
Black women involvement in civil rights movements did not end after the WWII. In the 1950s, black people faced a lot of segregation in public places and public transport. In public transport, black people had their seats reserved for the back in all public transport vehicles. However, the year 1955 marked the end of segregation laws against black people in the United States of America (Smith 17). This started when a 42 years old black woman, named Rosa Parks refused to give her seat to a white person. After she had been arrested, she filed a case against the bus company, in which she was the plaintiff. Rosa did not win the case, and she was fined $14.00.
However, her arrest attracted mass action, which contributed to the end of segregation of black people. After her arrest, a group of women leaders from the Women’s Political Council arranged for a boycott of the buses in Montgomery, Alabama (Smith 18). The women were successful in arranging for a boycott, which lasted for one year. During the year 1956, the buses in Montgomery would ride empty or half full. Consequently, bus companies in Alabama faced enormous financial losses. After losing her case in lower courts, Rosa lawyers helped her file a new case in the United States District Court, saying that segregation of black people in public transportation was unconstitutional. In June 1956, the District Court ruled in her favor, citing that bus segregation against colored people was unconstitutional (Smith 18). However, the Montgomery city commissioners appealed the decision of District Court to the United States Supreme Court. Their appeal did not succeed because the US Supreme Court also ruled that racial segregation in buses was unconstitutional (Smith 18).
Recent achievements of colored women through the civil rights movement include the adoption of Voting Rights Act of 1965, which allowed black women to participate in elections through voting (Smith 19). Today, more than a half of all Black graduates are women. Due to the increased level of education among Black women, employment level among Black women in the United States of America has increased steadily, resulting in reduction of the income gap between them and their white counterparts (Smith 19). Consequently, class segregation among black women by white women has drastically reduced. However, colored women participation in civil rights movement is far from the end. A good illustration is participation of Anika Rahman in reduction of the wage gap between men and women in the United States (Robb 34). According to Robb, women in the United States of America earn 77 percent of what men’s earnings. Apparently, black women earn less than 77 percent of what American men earn, while the percentage earned by Latino women when compared with what men earn is the US is excessively low.
Moreover, Robb points that the US domestic workers, who are largely made of women from Black and Latino communities, are excluded from federal rules, which protect all wage earners (34). Luckily, through the Ms. Foundation for Women, Rahman is helping to fight this inequality. Recently, Ms. Foundation for Women assisted granting of minimum employment guarantees: paid overtime, three annual paid off days, one off day per week and protection from harassment, for all nannies and domestic workers in the New York State. Currently, Ms. Foundation is working with different international organizations in bringing change to women through supporting women’s health, ending domestic violence, promoting democracy, and advocating for economic justice among women.
Irma McClaurin, the current president of Shaw University is also another example of colored women’s participation in civil rights movement in the modern era (Paying it Forward 17). She is a feminist scholar, where she engages herself in informing colored women about various forms of sexism, racism, and class intersect, and informing them how they can resist such vises. McClaurin writes about personal experiences of different women whom she works with, to help the society understand more about diversity and gender issues.
According to Burk, women of color, especially the Latinos, are the worse victims of the current global recession (46). Since many of them do not have college degrees, they earn very little from their jobs. Generally, due to recession, women are being forced to take low-skill level jobs or work part time, because they are unable to find full time jobs. As the federal government tries to reduce the economic deficit through employing cuts in education and health care funding, women, who comprise the biggest percentage of employees in these sectors, are losing their jobs faster than men are. In fact, the worse hit group by this phenomenon is the Blacks and Latinos (Burk 46). However, in the year 2010, increased participation of the women of color in supporting government action has been observed. This group of women is advocating for creation of more jobs through the use of stimulus money as opposed to laying-off public sector workers, and equality of men and women in terms of salaries (Burk 46).
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