Dating back to the 1930s and 1940s, black women had been active in local chapters of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), an organization founded in 1909 that took the lead in raising public awareness of lynching and also orchestrated the legal challenges that eventually produced victories like the 1954 Brown decision.Another important institution was the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee, a unique blend of adult education and political activism.Black women in their communities laid the groundwork in the 1940s and 1950s for the civil rights revolution and then worked to translate public victories such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 into concrete local results and initiatives.Ella Baker, often identified as the mother of the movement, said it best: “The movement of the fifties and sixties was carried largely by women.”African-American women’s participation in the civil rights movement was encouraged and facilitated by a number of factors.Daisy Bates created an NAACP youth council in her hometown of Little Rock, Arkansas, and later provided emotional and physical support to the “Little Rock Nine” who desegregated the high school in 1957.Septima Poinsette Clark served as the director of workshops at the Highlander Folk School and later spread her concept of citizenship education through the South.You’ll have to get your body language game up and maybe learn sign language or something. And don’t think that their reserve is because you’re black.
For years she had been active in her local NAACP, and she had recently attended a workshop at the Highlander Folk School.Her refusal to give up her seat was part of a carefully crafted strategy to force the issue.The ensuing yearlong boycott of the Montgomery bus system was organized and carried out primarily by black women, who turned to carpools instead of city buses to take them to white neighborhoods where they worked as domestics. A strong and principled woman who had worked as a field organizer for the NAACP in the 1940s, she often bumped up against the men leading the organizations she worked in, especially male ministers like Martin Luther King, Jr.Building on existing networks of kin and friendship embedded in local institutions such as black churches, black women knew who to turn to and how to get things done.This kind of local knowledge from “everyday kind of people” is how social movements work at a grassroots level.As I’m learning more and more about Canada, I learning a few things about the social culture there. Be sure to subscribe to our mailing list so you can get your FREE travel guide once it’s produced.