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Tag: March on Washington

Black History Month Series #2: Women in the Civil Rights Movement

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“You had these women who were just amazingly strong… that didn’t mean there wasn’t sexism,” recalled Judy Richardson in an interview with the Choices Program about her experiences in the Civil Rights Movement. Richardson was explaining the involvement of women in SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee), one of the most important Civil Rights organizations in the 1960s. SNCC’s most valuable work was in grassroots, community-led initiatives like voter registration drives, where the members and activists worked directly with the most downtrodden of disenfranchised people of color. Richardson, in remembering the work, makes reference to how important this hands-on interaction was and how it was often forgotten by larger Civil Rights organizations that took a more elite, patriarchal approach to racial justice.

The Civil Rights era is one of the most important moments in African-American history and in women’s history. It is a moment when African-American women played a vital part in defining U.S. history. Women of color were instrumental in leading the Movement, in engaging in powerful acts of protest, and in dynamically shaping action against discrimination. Judy Richardson remembers one of these women, her mentor and leader, Ella Baker, in the following video.

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The powerful leadership and bravery Richardson celebrates in remembering Baker’s contribution can be attributed to many women of color who played defining roles in the Civil Rights Movement. Rosa Parks, for example, became a role model for courage and commitment in the face of racial injustice when she refused to give up her seat to a white man on an Alabama bus. Women like this are a vital part of the memory of the Civil Rights Movement.

But so many women of color have been excluded from how this history is often told. While other women had already been arrested for refusing to give up their bus seats, they did not gain the fame that Parks achieved. Many scholars suggest that this was because Parks fit a very specific model of how black women should act and appear. Women of color who did not project this precise image of quiet respectability were not held up as heroes. In fact, the very issues that Judy Richardson recalls seeing in 1960s American society and that she remembers as limiting certain parts of the Civil Rights Movement have also limited our own perceptions of the history. Women of color have far too often been forgotten as unimportant and insignificant, and many have been ignored because of their class, sexuality, or gender-expression as well as their race. Some of the incredible acts of heroism by LGBT women of color have been written about, but they are not part of the broader, more widely known history of the Movement, which prefers traditional, male figures for its heroes. These women are the tragically excluded heroes of the American past.

 

For more on forgotten figures in black history and “politics of respectability” see this HuffPostLive discussion.

For more on women civil rights activists, see this collection of biographies.

 

Interviews with Judy Richardson are an accompaniment to the full-length Choices unit,

Freedom Now: The Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi

View more video interviews on Civil Rights and other topics at our Scholars Online page.

 

The March (1963)

The National Archives recently released a digitally restored version of the 1963 documentary The March directed by James Blue. The 30-minute film chronicles the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on August 28th, 1963.

http://youtu.be/DQYzHIIQ1O4

While (regrettably) the most iconic moment of that event, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech has been redacted for copyright reasons, it’s the rarely seen footage of ordinary citizens traveling across the country and participating in the march that make this film remarkable.

Details on the making of the film can be found here.

50 Years after the March on Washington: Student Activist Stories

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. This day gives us an exceptional reason to reflect on that event, the civil rights struggle, and the challenges that remain. It is important that students not only focus on the philosophy and work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but also on the experiences of women, students, local organizers, and others who fought for equal rights. In this Teaching with the News lesson, 50 Years after the March on Washington: Student Activist Stories, you will hear the voices of activists who worked in local communities to bring about change. The lesson features short films with three veterans of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC): John Lewis, Judy Richardson, and Charlie Cobb. They share their motivations for joining the movement as young people and describe their daily life in the fight for equal rights. We hope your class (or friends, or whoever you may share this with) will consider what they would have done if they had been students in 1963. What lessons can we learn from these activists? What causes or movements do we feel connected to today?

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This lesson builds off some of the core themes covered in the Choices curriculum, Freedom Now: The Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi, an entire unit dedicated to understanding the local work in Mississippi, from sit-ins to voter registration drives. As your class discusses the March on Washington, consider using these resources and others to incorporate a wide array of perspectives on the movement. Below are a few additional links.

50 Years Forward

PBS: Freedom Riders

Time Magazine: One Dream

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