Female Leaders of the Civil Rights Movement 
 Female Leaders of the Civil Rights Movement 

 Female Leaders of the Civil Rights Movement 

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  • Published: July 21, 2021
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When students first get to learn about the Civil Rights Movement in their history class, they most likely will talk about leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr., and at times maybe even Malcolm X, and Rosa Parks. There is no mention of Ella Baker, Septima Poinsette Clark, or any other female leader involved in the Civil Rights Movement. All of this, gives the students the impression that men were the only ones involved in leading the movement, making it seem that women were just at home watching this all happen. This of course was not what happened, for there were plenty of women involved. Sadly, countless numbers of the female leaders were hardly mentioned. At the time, women were never actually allowed to do much compared to what they can do now, which is the reason why their contributions were mostly excluded. People were more biased towards black men, in contrast, just as Charles Payne exclaimed, “Men led, but women organized.” In other words, although men were the ones who got the credit, women were working behind the scenes, which had helped with the improvement of all the work done. Subsequently, the Civil Rights Movement was composed of numerous leaders, but much of the work that helped shape the movement for what it had become was impacted by the female leaders involved, such as Rosa Parks, Gloria Richardson, and plenty of others, though most of their work was overlooked.

Gladly, most women did not see their gender as a restriction, for they found various ways to get involved

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in order to help with the movement. In fact, some even seem to forget that the Civil Rights Movement all started because of a woman, whose name was Rosa Parks, for without her help, people wouldn’t have been inspired to push for change and start the Civil Rights Movement when they did. To illustrate, it happened in Montgomery, Alabama, on December 1, 1955. That day Rosa Parks took a seat in the middle of a bus behind the whites-only section. After stopping to pick up a few more passengers, the driver ordered the black seamstress to yield her seat to a white passenger and move further back. However, Rosa Parks refused. Her subsequent arrest angered local black activists, including Dr. King. They formed the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) and began a bus boycott that pushed the drive for desegregation into the light and propelled King to national prominence (source). Refusing her seat was the cause of the initiation of the Civil Rights Movement, and the chain of events that occurred afterwards, or as stated in the article “ Rosa Parks: mother of the Civil Rights Movement 1913-2005,” Malcolm R. West exclaims, “Though she did not know what it would become, Rosa Parks nurtured the seed of freedom planted in her generations before, as she became the mother of the Civil Rights Movement. For it all began when she refused to give up her seat and at that moment in Montgomery, AL, gave birth to a cry for equality that would be consoled by nothing less.” This just goes to show how much

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Rosa Parks had influenced the start of the movement, for when she did it, she didn’t realize what was to come as consequences of her actions, but she did in fact know what she was doing when she choose to refuse her seat. 'People always say that I didn't give up my seat because I was tired, but that wasn't true,' Parks said in her autobiography Rosa Parks: My Story. 'I was not tired physically, or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day. I was not old, although some people have an image of me as being old then. I was forty-two. No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in' (Tired of giving in, Rosa Parks sat). In a way, her refusing her seat was a small step into protesting the inequality that occurred during her time, for as stated before, she knew exactly what she was doing, for she had gotten tired of the unfair treatment she had to go through. Without knowing, her small denial of her seat had provoked the need for change. So, this just goes on to show how the impact of women in the movement is going to go, for it was a woman who started it all.

Furthermore, women did a variety of work correlating to the movement, and the growth of it, even if plenty of them went unnoticed due to the fact that they were female. We’re first going to start with Gloria Richardson, which in fact, barely any people know about her, but just because she wasn’t as well known or as popular as Martin Luther King Jr., doesn’t mean that she wasn’t able to affect the movement. Gloria Richardson was the daughter of a successful drugstore owner, a graduate of Howard University, and mother of two children, a woman who took charge of the struggle. It was said that she found begging for basic rights demeaning and at one point actually encouraged blacks to vote against a city referendum on integration (Wiseman). However, Gloria Richardson was able to start the Cambridge movement, but due to her somewhat aggressive manner, she was mostly criticized, and due to her being a woman, she was mostly not taken into account. Though it was nonviolent, the group was more aggressive than other civil rights groups. It fought for the desegregation of public institutions and for better economic rights of black citizens. Nevertheless, as illustrated by Bettina Aptheker in her article “Freedom’s Architects,” it is expressed, “In a long, stunning essay, Gloria Richardson, who led the movement in Cambridge, Maryland, describes her own radical, not-so-pacific militancy-which led to her unfortunate exclusion from the platform honoring the women of the movement at the 1963 March on Washington. Finally allowed on stage, she managed to get out the word 'hello' before an NAACP official yanked the microphone from her hand. The moments of division, anger, and hurt are also part of the story.” This example is able to demonstrate how women were overlooked. Whist Richardson became the leader of the Cambridge movement, she was still unappreciated only

due to the fact that she was a women, regardless of the work she accomplished.

Additionally, another woman who had accomplished plenty of work was Ella Baker, for she was one of the various women who played critical roles in organizing all of the civil rights campaigns. She was an activist and an organizer whose work touched many lives. She helped found and eventually became coordinator, and then director of the Young Negroes Cooperative League (YNCL), which organized stores and buying clubs to achieve economic self-sufficiency among the African American community. Baker had also become the organizer of various different campaigns (Baker, Ella Josephine (1903-1986)). Not to mention the help she provided to smaller movements, or as said in ?? by ??, “She had helped start many small movements, but while SNCC members recognised Baker as their mentor, a surprising number of historians of the Civil Rights Movement barely mention her. Even more black women than men supported the Civil Rights Movement. She was also a tough fighter, a sharp thinker and a savvy political strategist and tactician. She did not simply 'facilitate' someone else's vision, she had her own. At the same time, collective deliberation was a part of that vision, so she never imposed it on anyone or sought to ram it down anyone's throat.” This is an explanation of the work Ella Baker accomplished, even if she was disregarded by many. It is said that there were more women supporting the movement than men, which is surprising knowing for a fact that most history teachers only seem to talk about male leaders. This did not distract Baker from all her work, for she was also urging many other smaller movements. As a matter of fact, Baker had encouraged students to set up their own, non-hierarchical organisation. She had helped establish the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and shaped its goals of politicisation of local communities and empowerment of ordinary people into self-sustaining activism (Sanders). All of this is a reminder of the inadequacy of civil rights historians that exclude women, even with all of the effective change they were able to achieve that had impacted the movement.

Diane Nash; Diane Nash emerged as a passionate civil rights advocate while being a student at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee. While a student at Fisk, she was a leader of the Nashville Student Movement. The movement helped coordinate a sit-in campaign to end racial segregation at lunch counters. Along with being a part of the Nashville Student Movement, Nash took on other roles that showed how dedicated and passionate she was about promoting racial equality. She became active with the Freedom Riders, who worked to desegregate interstate bus travel, and was a founding member of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, a co-initiator of the Alabama Voting Rights Project and a supporter of the Selma Voting Rights Movement.

Lastly, an ultimate influence was Septima Poinsette Clark, which is said to be a name that should be as familiar to us as Rosa Parks. Both women contributed significantly to the African American freedom struggle, and striking similarities exist in their stories. Each had a

long record of participation in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), they both challenged segregation and were arrested as a result of it, and each worked with Martin Luther King. In fact, four months before Rosa Parks's infamous arrest, she attended a workshop at the Highlander Folk School, an interracial adult education center in Monteagle, Tennessee, where activists gathered to devise solutions for problems in their communities and where Clark served as Director of Education. Also, Septima Clark spent forty years as a public school teacher and civic organizer in the Jim Crow South, teaching citizenship by helping people to help themselves. She was able to draw on her experiences to develop a citizenship education program that directly linked self-help to politics by teaching African Americans to read and write so they could pass the literacy tests required by southern states to register to vote. As a teacher and civic activist, Clark had been able to have spent most of her life working within woman-centered networks. (Charron). Indeed, this informed her recognition of women's crucial roles in realizing Civil Rights goals as well as the reasons why they did not receive recognition for their contributions.

To conclude, the Civil Rights Movement was composed of numerous leaders, but much of the work that helped shape the movement for what it had become was impacted by the female leaders involved, sadly, most were not credited for all the work they did. However, women were still able to make a big impact on the movement, helping it shape it into what it has become today. This movement encouraged many female leaders to take a stance, influencing the creation of many organizations that were aided for change. Women that were believed to have had the most impact were Rosa Parks, Gloria Richardson, Ella Baker, Diane Nash and Septima Poinsette Clark, even if their names aren’t as famous. Rosa Parks, a woman who refused to give up her seat, and in which her actions had sparked the starting of bus boycotts and the chain of events afterwards, which caused the initiation of the movement. Gloria Richardson, was the leader of the Cambridge Movement in Maryland during the 1960s. Ella Baker was an organizer for the Young Negroes Cooperative League in Depression-era Harlem, the NAACP, and many other organizations. Diane Nash, a woman who also happened to be a prominent student activist in Nashville while attending Fisk University, and helped found the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and was part of the Freedom Riders and Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Lastly, Septima Poinsette Clark, who was the one who had helped impact the movement indirectly, for she taught others, to make an impact, which in cause made her the reason why it's important. In history books, we learn about MLK, and Malcolm X, but there is hardly ever any female leaders we hear from, other than Rosa Parks every now and then, but even though they’ve had their own actions that had helped with the movement. Although a lot of the names of female leaders of the movement go unaccredited, their work and their actions

that had shaped the Civil Rights Movement so that equality may finally be achieved certainly didn’t go unnoticed.