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Ella Josephine Baker (1903–1986) was a grassroots activist who helped to found the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), after having already worked with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People for several years. Among the SNCC’s major accomplishments were the 1961 Freedom Rides and numerous initiatives to register African Americans to vote. The speech below is taken from a voter registration drive in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, where Baker was introduced by fellow activist Dr. Aaron Henry (1922–1997). Her message in this excerpt demonstrates her commitment to making the civil rights movement more democratic—specifically, Baker often criticized civil rights organizations for being dominated by men. In this address, she playfully chastises Henry for suggesting that her involvement in the movement is a mere “fling,” and later calls out another leader who prematurely declares the movement to be nearing its completion.

Primary Source

In March 2010 Shirley Sherrod b 1948 the Georgia State Director of Rural Development for the United States Department of Agriculture USDA delivered a speech before the state chapter of the NAACP What was supposed to be an inspirational address detailing Sherrod s rise to prominence and years of service instead became the fodder for a racially charged partisan debate that played out in the national news media In the speech reproduced below Sherrod frankly discusses her painful childhood in Georgia When Sherrod was a teenager her father was murdered by a white man who was never prosecuted for his crime The event compelled Sherrod to commit herself to combating the racial inequalities in the Jim Crow South At the same time she admitts to harboring a deep distrust of white people When I made that commitment she states I was making that commitment to black people and to black ...

Article

Jeremy Rich

Nigerian educator, civil servant, and women’s rights activist, was born in Ile-Ife, Nigeria, on 17 May 1925. Her family was extremely affluent, as she was the daughter of Sir Adesiji Aderemi (1889–1890), the traditional king of the city of Ile-Ife, one of the most important sacred sites in the spiritual traditions of the Yoruba people. One of her sisters, Awujoola Adesomi Olagbaju, went on to become a schoolteacher and headmaster in her own right.

Alakija received her early education in Nigeria. She attended the Aiyetoro Primary and the Aiyetoro Central Schools in Ile-Ife from 1933 to 1937. She also studied at the Kudeti Primary boarding school in Ibadan for a time. Eventually Alakija moved to England in 1946, where she enrolled in Westfield College at the University of London. She acquired her undergraduate degree in 1950 in history and then proceeded to continue her ...

Article

Charles Rosenberg

college president, activist for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA). Born Mary Rice in Harrisonburg, Virginia, she was the acknowledged daughter of confederate general John R. Jones and Malinda Rice, who was hired as a servant in his household at the age of seventeen in 1873. There appears to have been some enduring affection between Jones and Rice. He acknowledged paternity of Mary and her brother William, and his first wife, Sarah, ill and often confined to bed, asked to see the children and gave them presents. Mary Rice was raised in part by John Rice, Malinda's brother, and his wife Dolly. She also spent time in Jones's household, and after Sarah Jones died in 1879 the general bought a house for Malinda and her children The immediate neighborhood was racially mixed ...

Primary Source

Henry McNeal Turner 1834 1915 a prominent bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal Church AME became attracted by the idea of black Americans returning to Africa at a time when the civil rights gains of the Reconstruction Era were slowly being chipped away replaced with Jim Crow policies that would continue for almost a century Turner had lived an active life before his appointment as bishop in 1880 After serving as a pastor in several communities he became a chaplain in the Civil War and participated in nine battles Following the war he organized for the Republican Party and was elected to the Georgia state legislature When the Democrats voted to expel all black members Turner responded with a powerful speech on the floor of the legislature rebuking the racist decision Although Congress restored the seats Turner lost the election of 1870 due to rampant voter fraud by his opponents ...

Article

Mecca Jamilah Sullivan

Black queer feminism is a set of approaches to thought, expression, and political action that critiques structures of racism, sexism, heterosexism, classism, and several other forms of oppression. The term “black queer feminism” expands existing modes of feminism and queer/LGBTQIA + activism (activism by and for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer, Intersex, and Asexual people, as well as others who experience structural gender and sexual oppression) by highlighting the connections between racial, gender, and heterosexist oppression. It also expands on some popular understandings of “black feminism” by placing the voices and political lives of black queer and LGBTQIA + people at the center of black feminist movements both past and present.

One of the key ways black feminism makes these critiques is through an intersectional approach a framework for understanding the political and social world that centers the inseparability of oppressive structures such as racism sexism classism and heterosexism homophobia The term ...

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Lisa E. Rivo

elocutionist, educator, women's and civil rights leader, and writer, was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the daughter of Thomas Arthur Brown, a riverboat steward and express agent, and Frances Jane Scroggins, an educated woman who served as an unofficial adviser to the students of Wilberforce University. Thomas Brown was born into slavery in Frederick County, Maryland, the son of a Scottish woman plantation owner and her black overseer. Brown purchased his freedom and that of his sister, brother, and father. By the time of the Civil War, he had amassed a sizable amount of real estate. Hallie's mother, Frances, was also born a slave, the child of her white owner. She was eventually freed by her white grandfather, a former officer in the American Revolution.

Both of Hallie's parents became active in the Underground Railroad. Around 1864 the Browns and their six children moved to Chatham Ontario where ...

Article

Vivian Njeri Fisher

Brown proclaimed, “Full citizenship must be given the colored woman because she needs the ballot for her protection and that of her children.” Brown was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the fifth of six children of Thomas Arthur Brown and Frances (Scroggins) Brown. A former slave from Frederick County, Maryland, Thomas Brown had purchased his freedom in 1834. Frances Brown, a native of Winchester County, Virginia, was freed by her white grandfather, who was her owner and an officer in the American Revolution. When Hallie was born, her father was a riverboat steward and express agent, traveling from Pittsburgh, where he owned a considerable amount of real estate prior to the Civil War, and worked actively with the Underground Railroad in assisting fugitive slaves to freedom.

Thomas Brown moved his family to Chatham, Ontario, in 1864 because of his wife s poor health and to begin farming ...

Article

Brian Tong and Theodore Lin

retiring room attendant, activist, most renowned for winning the 1873 Supreme Court Case Railroad Company v. Brown, was born Katherine Brown in Virginia. There are many variations of her name; in some documents, she is referred to as “Catherine Brown,” “Katherine Brown,” “Kate Brown,” or “Kate Dodson.” In the New York Times article “Washington, Affairs at the National Capital,” her name appears as “Kate Dostie.” Very few records of Brown's life survive today; as a result, much of her childhood and personal life remains unknown.

Kate Brown's recorded personal life begins with her marriage to Jacob Dodson. Jacob Dodson had a colorful past. Born in 1825, Dodson was a freeman. He spent most of his early life as a servant for the Missouri senator Thomas Hart Benton, but in 1843 Dodson began to accompany John C. Fremont, son-in-law of Senator Benton ...

Article

Nicole S. Ribianszky

free woman of color, property holder, and slave owner, was a resident of Natchez, Mississippi. Nothing is known about her early life. Her status at the time of her birth, free or enslaved, as well as her parentage, is undetermined. Butcher lived in Natchez for at least twenty years of her life and accrued property during that time due to a relationship with a white man, John Irby. She then came close to losing it when another white man, Robert Wood, attempted to wrest it from her by exploiting her vulnerability as a free woman of color.

In 1834John Irby wrote his last will and testament which clearly named Butcher as the administrator of his estate which consisted of the White House Tavern surrounding land buildings two horses and buggy household and kitchen furniture his bank deposits and two slaves Alexander and Creasy Two years later ...

Primary Source

In 1968, Shirley Chisholm became the first African American woman elected to Congress, representing New York City’s twelfth Congressional district. Although freshmen members of Congress traditionally defer to their more senior colleagues on proceedings and keep a rather low profile, one of Chisholm’s boldest actions occurred only four months into her first term. Given the floor of the House of Representatives, Chisholm argued vociferously in support of the Equal Rights Amendment, the controversial women’s rights bill proposed by suffragist Alice Paul in 1923. Her brief speech, below, is often considered one of the most famous in Congressional history.

What is particularly noteworthy is Chisholm s declaration that within politics at least her gender has been a much greater impediment than her race White America is beginning to admit that racial injustice exists Chisholm says whereas prejudice against women is still acceptable She backs up her claim with a litany of ...

Article

Wim Roefs

When Rosa Parks in December 1955 refused to give her seat to a white man on a segregated city bus in Montgomery, Alabama, she was not a tired little old lady turning accidental hero, as many have perceived her. She was only forty-two years old and no more tired than usual after a day’s work. More importantly, Parks was an experienced local civil rights activist who had defied bus segregation laws several times before 1955. She had been an official in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), which she had joined in 1943. She had worked in voter registration campaigns. Parks did not just stumble into history. She already was an impo rtant, albeit not the most important, example of the many black women in the struggle against white supremacy and for racial equality in the United States.

Other African American women also were ...

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Marcia G. Synnott

African American women demonstrated leadership skills in all the major civil rights organizations during the 1950s and 1960s. They legally challenged segregation, mobilized young people, and actively participated in freedom rides, sit-ins, and voter registration drives. They usually did not hold titled, formal positions, because religious beliefs, cultural conditioning, and gender conventions subordinated women to men. The hierarchically organized and male-dominated black churches reinforced women’s roles as wives, mothers, and helpmates. Black churches were crucial to the movement, far more important than the federal government, courts, the media, northern white liberals, and philanthropic foundations, according to the sociologist Aldon Morris’s The Origins of the Civil Rights Movement: Black Communities Organizing for Change Using a resource mobilization model Morris illustrated the close ties that black churches led by charismatic black male ministers had to such nonbureaucratic formal organizations as the Montgomery Improvement Association MIA the Southern Christian Leadership Conference ...

Article

Flore Nobime

Beninese feminist, human rights activist, and lawyer, was born Grace Antonia Almeida Benoite Adamon on 21 March 1951 in Dakar, Senegal. She attended primary school there before returning with her family to Dahomey to continue her secondary schooling. In Cotonou she enrolled in studies at the College of Our Lady of the Apostles. She then moved to Guebwiller on the upper Rhine in France where she finished her secondary degree.

D’Almeida Adamon attended university in France. At the University of Paris II Panthéon-Assas, she earned a diploma, and followed with a master’s degree. At the University of Paris I Panthéon-Sorbonne, she continued advanced studies in law and earned a DEA postgraduate degree. In order to become a lawyer, she returned to Paris II Panthéon-Assas where she left with her professional law degree (CAPA). In 1977 she began practicing in Paris as a lawyer but one year later she returned ...

Article

Olivia A. Scriven

feminist scholar, historian, physicist, engineer, and advocate for minorities and women in science, was born in Atlanta, Georgia, the oldest of two girls of William Emmett Hammonds, a postal worker, and Evelyn Marie Hammonds, a reading specialist and elementary school teacher. At age nine, Hammonds's father gave his daughter a chemistry set. For Hammonds, the chemistry set, along with later gifts of a microscope, and building sets, sparked an interest in science that would be encouraged by both parents. The events also set her on a path that would force her to think more critically about her own identity and the struggles and contributions of blacks and women in science.

Growing up in Atlanta, Hammonds attended all-black public elementary schools. This would change in 1967 when as a fourteen year old ninth grade student she was bused to a predominately white school ...

Article

Cecily Jones

Seminal socio‐historical study exploring, for the first time, the diverse, though frequently overlooked, realities of black women in Britain after the Second World War. Written by Beverley Bryan, Stella Dadzie, and Suzanne Scafe, black feminist activists in the 1980s, and published in 1985, the book uses the voices of ‘ordinary’ women and historical texts to document, describe, and celebrate the contributions of black women to the making of the British nation. The Heart of the Race, subtitled Black Women's Lives in Britain, accomplishes two important goals. First, it acts as a corrective to mainstream women's history, which, for the most part, excludes the significant contributions of black women as historical actors, and, secondly, disrupts the tendency to narrate the post‐war experiences of black peoples from a masculine perspective.

The Heart of the Race is at once a sobering and uplifting book which places ...

Article

Lisa Clayton Robinson

For most of her life Dorothy Height was a leader in influential African American women's organizations. Born in Richmond, Virginia, Height grew up in Pennsylvania and graduated from New York University in 1933 with bachelor's and master's degrees in educational psychology. While employed as a social worker, she became a leader with the United Christian Youth Movement, which gave her the opportunity to travel widely and work alongside Eleanor Roosevelt.

In 1937 Height accepted a post with the Harlem Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA). She continued to hold leadership positions with the YWCA, first at the local and then at the national level, for the next 40 years. Among Height's accomplishments at the YWCA was her help in organizing the 1946 conference at which the association formally committed to integrating its programs.

Height continued to work with Roosevelt through the YWCA, and in November 1937 as she ...

Article

Robert G. McGuire

Born in Atchison, Kansas, on March 24, 1870, Amanda V. Gray Hilyer was educated in the public schools there, married Arthur S. Gray in 1893, and came to Washington, D.C., around 1897. She then attended Howard University and received the pharmaceutical graduate degree in 1903. Both Grays operated a pharmacy at 12th and U Streets NW, in the heart of the black commercial district of that day. They became deeply involved in the social and civic activities of the city. She was the secretary of the Treble Clef Club. As a member of the Booklovers Club, she helped organize the Phillis Wheatley Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA) in Washington. She became the YWCA's first recording secretary upon its incorporation in 1905. In addition to establishing facilities for young black women, the YWCA organizers attempted to make their political views known. In 1911 ...

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Nicole Sealey

intellectual, feminist, educator, cultural critic, social activist, and poet, was born Gloria Jean Watkins in Hopkinsville, Kentucky, to Veodis Watkins, a custodian, and Rosa Bell Watkins, a housekeeper. One of seven children, hooks grew up in a poor family in which poetry was a well-respected art form. On stormy nights the Watkins family would host talent shows in their living room. As a youth, hooks would recite poems by such authors as Langston Hughes and James Weldon Johnson. By the age of ten, hooks was already writing and reading her own work.

Hooks attended Booker T. Washington Elementary, a segregated black school. Her teachers, mostly single black women, nurtured and fostered her young mind. With the integration of public schools in the 1960s, however, black students were bused to white schools. Hooks soon learned that the white teachers at Crispus Attucks ...

Article

Bairu Tafla

was a woman of high birth who played a distinguished political role during the Zamana Mesafent (Era of the Judges, 1769–1855) in the region now recognized as Eritrea. Her fame is underlined in nineteenth-century sources by the unusual reference to Ras Woldemichael as the “son of Ilen” without any connotation of disparagement. The society’s norm otherwise required one to be called after the father. She was no doubt the most emancipated woman in Marab-Millash (highland Eritrea) in the nineteenth century.

Very little is known about her upbringing education and family history Even the name of her father is not given with certainty Killion calls him Aite Hagos Kantibai of Zagher p 25 ff and the informants of Kolmodin refer to him as Ayte Fisseha the son of Ayte Seltan p 142 while Yesehaq Yosef uses pp 41 f both names alternately However all sources agree that she was extraordinarily intelligent ...