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Since many Civil Rights organizations connected with the black community through churches, the political consciousness of the movement was propagated via the church. It is also important to note that black pastors have traditionally been men. As a result, access to the leadership and power of the black minister was denied to black women, who served as ushers, choir members, and secretaries within the church's formal hierarchy.
Because the church was a major source of movement leadership potential, its gendered church positions indirectly hindered the potential leadership of black women in the movement from the very beginning. Like the church, HBCUs provided a base for movement support via black college students. Many of the students who would later become SNCC members were politically active on their respective black campuses.
Because most HBCUs were coeducational from the moment they opened after the Civil War, black male and female students had a more egalitarian relationship. During the Civil Rights Movement, black male and female students worked collaboratively to organize movement actions. The report used the demographics of white student activists to examine the activism of HBCU students.
White student activists usually came from middle-class homes with better educated and higher earning parents. The demographics of most HBCU students correlated with those for white student activists. Thus, HBCU students who became activists in the s were usually reared in financially prosperous homes with educated parents, at least in comparison to the general black population. HBCUs, as private institutions, served as a significant resource, not only for educated movement participants, but also for organizational and safe spaces for movement activists.
Although the collective actions of individuals in schools, churches, and communities were responsible for the formation and progression of the Civil Rights Movement, the existence of formal civil rights organizations established a firm foundation to mobilize necessary resources and political activism. I will discuss the structure of these organizations and how the role of gender affected the mobilization of resources in these organizations.
The role of politics within and without these organizations will also be discussed. It tried numerous court cases to challenge racist Jim Crow legislature Freeman, Board of Education case, which abolished educational segregation. The case was also considered to be a major movement precipitant Freeman, Although the NAACP had local chapters throughout the nation, membership in southern chapters grew more rapidly in the s and wanted to move faster than northern chapters, which created tension within the organization.
Additionally, the difference in the oppression of northern and southern blacks made it difficult for the NAACP to effectively cater to the social needs of the general black population. Women, who represented half of the general black population, were not as capable of participating in the NAACP as men for two reasons.
Most female NAACP members were married and were in a better economic position than women in female single-headed households. The costs to participate in the NAACP were too expensive for a poor single mother who had to provide for her children in a male-biased society. With regards to Resource Mobilization Theory, the NAACP did not have as much success in the South because the organization constituency lacked resources, both money and people.
The centralized hierarchy of the organization made the NAACP inaccessible to many Southern blacks, especially the poor, uneducated, and some women, who lacked the material resources that were needed to try court cases or the educational background to understand the legal proceedings of the NAACP. Despite an increasing membership in southern offices, NAACP membership began to level off and the organization could not establish a mass base because of southern white repression, its complex structure, and legal procedures.
In analyzing the NAACP, Morris argues that bureaucratic organizations are unlikely to initiate a mass movement since their tactics are not "designed to accommodate mass grassroots insurgency The inability of the NAACP to connect with southern blacks prevented the organization from establishing a significant movement base in the region. Additionally, the use of litigation to facilitate social change was conservative and considered politically safe. Even though numerous court cases were tried and unsuccessful, these cases challenged and sought to overturn discriminatory laws, not the entire system.
When cases were won, the movement was given political leverage to continue to struggle. There was not as much of a perceived social threat to the existing status quo as the Black Power Movement would later present. SCLC was able to sustain a significant amount of success because it developed as a result of networks formed among southern black preachers during the Montgomery Bus Boycott of The founding members present agreed that the church should function as the institutional base of protest movement, that aggressive nonviolent action was necessary by blacks to overthrow segregation, and that an organized mass force was needed to supplement NAACP activities Morris, The founding members felt that "movements could be generated, coordinated, and sustained by activist clergy and organized black masses working in concert" Morris, , p.
The development of the SCLC from black clergy accounts for why gender roles regarding black men and women became silently institutionalized in the organization's structure. Black ministers were by definition men and black women did not have easy access to leadership for this reason. The SCLC's first board consisted of all middle-class, educated males.
School Segregation and Its Discontents: Chaos and Community in Post–Civil Rights Memphis
Although black ministers had a network, it was a tight-knit network, which disregarded female participation that deviated from feminine roles i. The high status position of black ministers gave them significant access to black community resources in the forms of people, money, and churches to hold Civil Rights meetings. Resource mobilization among black women in the SCLC was more limited as they did not have access to the same resource potential.
Black women contributed time and other resources to SCLC, but it was only encouraged if those women followed feminine conventions. The emphasis of black male leadership in the SCLC systematically excluded the potential resource mobilization of black women. With regard to political strategy, the SCLC utilized sit-ins, boycotts, and other nonviolent tactics to promote social change in the South. The use of nonviolence 4 as a political strategy encouraged participants to be nonretaliatory and often confused white antagonists who could not understand why Civil Rights activists did not respond to attacks.
Because the SCLC was directly affiliated with the black church, the politics and political activism was similar to that of the black church. If ministers encouraged their congregations to take a stand for their rights, members were more likely to do so. The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee developed as a result of the sit-ins, which occurred near Southern black college campuses in the early s.
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Many students from those campuses organized to discover more strategies for combating Jim Crow statutes. SNCC, a multiracial organization, questioned existing strategies of change in U. Thus, SNCC sought to create community through social struggle by engaging and involving local Southern blacks. As a result, SNCC had very little money when it started organizing controversial direct action projects in , demonstrating that financial resources are not necessary for social actions to be organized and executed Morris, However, the organization's financial situation improved in the summer of after receiving funds from different foundations that were sympathetic to Civil Rights Morris, Unlike other civil rights organizations that had centralized hierarchies, SNCC was a decentralized organization with an executive committee and rotating chairpersons Robnett, As a result, titled positions in SNCC did not carry as much organizational weight as they did in centralized organizations.
This decentralized structure created more equal power dynamics between male and female SNCC members; SNCC women had more power than women in other organizations. According to Robnett:. Leadership potential and accessibility was encouraged and practiced in SNCC because of the organization's decentralized structure. SNCC's decentralized structure and encouragement of black female leadership made it very successful for generating movement resources. SNCC workers of both genders were willing to organize and help mobilize impoverished, disempowered black communities.
In many towns throughout the South, SNCC field members moved into communities and established relationships with respected community members, usually older black women, who were significant members of social networks. Black women were the informal leaders of black communities and were a significant resource for SNCC. These relationships and networks allowed SNCC to utilize the tangible and intangible resources of Southern black communities.
Even though many of these communities could not provide SNCC with substantial financial resources, these communities provided foot soldiers for the struggle, further developing more female and youth leadership along the way. Although SNCC implemented this strategy, its organizational structure was more politically liberal, giving women more access to participation and leadership. The next chapter will examine the structural conditions that made it advantageous for black women to participate in the Civil Rights Movement.
The black women who became involved in the Civil Rights Movement did so to improve the qualities of their lives and their communities. Despite being disadvantaged racially and on the basis of gender, black women used their structural position to develop social change. In this chapter, I will use the concept of Belinda Robnett's bridge leaders from social movement theory to explore the structural intricacies that motivated them.
Robnett defines bridge leaders as individuals who foster ties between the movement, the community, and political strategies Robnett, Black women served in this capacity, fighting for racial equality with regards to education, jobs, and citizenship rights. Black women have been agents of social activism since their arrival in the Americas and have demonstrated their commitment to equality using various concrete strategies i.
The symbolic aspect of their social involvement represents a legacy of activism that goes beyond their physical contributions. Defining black women as bridge leaders encapsulates all of their efforts to improve their communities, the nation, and the world. Belinda Robnett, author of How Long? How Long?
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African American Women in the Struggle for Civil Rights , critiques social movement theories discussed in the previous chapter and argues that social movements should be analyzed on different relational levels. These levels, which could be considered bridges, examine relationships between the individual in a collective and the collective, between a collective and competing collectives, and between the collective and society Robnett, In examining the structural position of black female activists, I will explore the relationship between the individual and the collective to illustrate the ways these activists were bridge leaders within their communities.
Bridge leaders had the ability to distinguish between their personal lives and the political life of Civil Rights organizations as well as the public life of movement organizations and the private spheres of participants Robnett, Robnett identifies four types of bridge leaders: mainstream, professional, community, and indigenous. Race, class, gender, and culture usually determined which type of bridge leader a person could be Robnett, Because of the movement's sexist attitudes regarding female leadership, the position of bridge leader was most accessible for women.
Although men could be bridge leaders, women served as bridge leaders more often because that was one of the few organizational spaces open to them whereas men could be formal leaders. According to Robnett, "Gender, which operated as a construct of exclusion, produced a particular context in which women participated" , p. Race played a role for mainstream bridge leaders, who forged connections between mainstream white institutions or organizations and the movement Robnett, White women activists usually served as mainstream bridge leaders because their racial and often class privilege gave them more access to mainstream institutions.
Professional bridge leaders had significant experience before the start of their movement activism and held positions within formal organizations Robnett, The bridge leaders also usually worked with more than one group. Ella Baker, who served in formal leadership positions in various organizations, would be considered a professional bridge leader. The next type of bridge leader, a community bridge leader, usually worked in a particular movement organization and was a formal leader in local communities before her movement involvement Robnett, Fannie Lou Hamer would be an example of a community bridge leader.
Community bridge leaders often worked with indigenous bridge leaders, who served as contacts for community bridge leaders upon their arrival in the community. Indigenous bridge leaders were usually active, trusted women in the community and were regarded as individuals who stepped up in community crises Robnett, These trusted women were gatekeepers of the community because they were familiar with and had a good relationship with everyone.
The position of black female activists as bridge leaders of different types shows that they were active leaders. The mobilization of people and resources in black communities by these bridge leaders brought about social change, transforming racial oppression into social action. Although some male bridge leaders may have been regarded as formal leaders within civil rights organizations, Robnett distinguishes between the two, one basis being the form of activism. Bridge leaders took a more community-oriented approach to social activism with less emphasis on institutional power, responding to the various needs of community members.
Bridge leaders' agency was oriented towards the people Robnett, Bridge leaders' organizational and mobilization skills were not confined to the centralized formal civil rights organizations. On the other hand, formal leaders, usually men, had more institutional and organizational power as a result of their gender Robnett, Furthermore, such organization power prevented male leaders from genuinely connecting with the communities they were attempting to serve.
Working in formal leadership positions usually meant more time was spent in executive board meetings and less time was spent with people in communities.