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African American Women and Civil Rights
Through the analysis of gender issue in the movement of the civil rights, this work represents women minorities’ psychology and explores the role of women as the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement. The main point of the study is that until the late 19th century, African American women were successfully organizing their efforts to fight with the discrimination based on the gender and race. Dealing with the degrading stereotypes that were widespread among the white citizenry, as well as African American people, these women have shown the strength of spirit and decisiveness that is not always common among females. To broaden the opportunities, women were working with a wide range of the local communities and the national organizations. The emergence of the civil rights of the black women had led to the mass demonstrations throughout the country. Nevertheless, African American intellectual women and the organizers of the working class community kept struggling to demarginalize black females. Lastly, Rosa Parks and Ella Baker can be defined as the most outstanding figures leading the movement to success.
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The Civil Rights Movement was organized on all US territories, and in time, these demonstrations have dramatically changed the political and social status of African Americans, including females. Essentially, civil rights are fundamental rights of every person and they must not depend on the gender factor. Until the late middle of the nineteenth century, discrimination was a great problem that was negatively influencing the minorities of the US society. Exactly African American women played a huge role in the Civil Rights Movement aimed to tackle this problem. They were sacrificing their energy, time, and reputation; frequently, they were risking their families and friends only to continue the struggle for own ideas and goals. The social values had changed and the society could not ignore the situation: in the moment, African American women believed that they could have goals outside of their homes and families. Moreover, these women were strongly convinced that the Civil Rights Movement was the opportunity to reach the equality in the society and decrease the level of the gender and race discrimination. Importantly, the gender psychology played a major role in these events. Therefore, this paper focuses on the African American women’s significant contribution to the Civil Rights Movement, the impact they provided on the understanding of the social values, and the influence of the women minorities’ psychology on the events.
Before the Civil Rights Movement, the psychology area, as well as practically all others, was marked by the domination of men. However, everything has drastically changed due to the active involvement of women. The Civil Rights Movement had a considerable impact on the life of all women, although black females were especially active during these events. It is critical to notice that at the beginning of the movement, white people were not taking African American women’s activities seriously because they considered black women less threatening than white ones. Furthermore, African American females had a long history full of the discrimination not only because of the gender but also because of the race, which was setting them apart from the white women, who enjoyed the movement (U.S. Department of State, 2012). However, African American women decided to use such unserious attitude of other people to their advantage. They believed in themselves and understood that they could defend themselves – from that moment, the history has changed.
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A great women’s responsiveness during the Civil Rights Movement has profoundly changed the gender role in the society. Due to those actions, the psychology area became full of women, who fully understood the psychological problems of the minorities (Barnes, 2005). Moreover, women actively participated in the demonstrations and meetings of the Civil Rights Movement; by doing that, they contributed to the fight for the civil rights even more than men did (Collier-Thomas & Franklin, 2001). To exemplify, the women created a wide range of the organizations fighting for the equality in the society and were always involved in their activities, as well as policy development and program execution (Robnett, 1996). Consequently, many organizations were open to women as never before.
In addition, the churches played an important role in the dramatic changes in the society (Joseph, n.d.). Specifically, in the churches, women obtained a high possibility to participate in different activities, and as the Movement appeared exactly in these religious institutions, women became actively involved in its events. However, such situation was more common for the urban South than the rural one (Joseph, n.d.). Hence, due to the Civil Rights Movement, women became more involved in understanding that the race and gender psychology could have a significant influence on the society (Barnes, 2005). Finally, exactly black women, who suffered from discrimination more than others, could help the US society enormously.
In the 40-50s of the 19th century, black females provided the background work for the Civil Rights Movement in their communities. Later, they were working tirelessly to show their victory in the form of the Civil Rights Act that was established in 1964 and the Voting Rights Act that was enforced in 1965. Essentially, the participation of the African American females in the Civil Rights Movement was encouraged by the various factors. Looking back at the 30-40s of the 19th century, black women were involved in the numerous activities of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s local chapters (Marková, 2008). This organization was founded in 1909 and its main goal was to raise public awareness concerning the legal challenges the African Americans frequently faced. In 1954, the institution’s dogged persistence and concerted effort resulted in such victory as the Brown decision (Marková, 2008). The next important organization fighting against discrimination was the Tennessee Highlander Folk School that turned out to be an effective mix of the political activism and adult education (Marková, 2008). In 1934, it was founded as the labor activists’ training center, and within some time, despite all attempts of the whites to cancel it, the institution was developed into a great base for the civil rights activities during the 50-60s.
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However, one of the most important parts of the black women’s participation in the Civil Rights Movement was their daily help and their constant struggle to survive in their communities and protect their families. As it was already mentioned before, many things were done due to the churches, and black women knew what to do and where to receive help in the case of emergency. Such knowledge helped the social movement enormously, and in future, raised it to the new unique level (Hall, 2005). Moreover, participation in these events helped the black women to become more confident and believe that their actions would change the society’s attitude. Finally, except organizing demonstrations and boycotts, these women began to receive an education, one of the most popular areas of which was the psychology.
African American Female Leaders
Rosa Parks was one of the most outstanding women in the Civil Rights Movement, who played a crucial role in the Montgomery Bus Boycott that was often marked as the initial point of the global Civil Rights Movement (Joseph, n.d.). She became world-famous when she refused to move away from her seat on the bus so that a white man could take it. Nowadays, there is nothing surprising in her actions but in the 19th century, it was extremely brave decision, which many people did not dare to do. Due to her actions, the psychology of many women drastically changed: they stopped positioning themselves as the victims or the representatives of the minority; on the contrary, they started believing that they were fighters, who could radically change the society.
For the better understanding of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, one should know that at that time, Montgomery was extremely segregated city with unequal facilities for the whites and the blacks. The city buses adhered to the same scheme. Therefore, there were some common rules for the blacks. In the buses, the high level of segregation was shown due to the seating attitude: the first ten seats were only for the whites; the middle section could be occupied with black people but only if there were no staying whites in the bus; finally, the last ten places were in free access for the blacks. If the white person was without a seat, the black person had to stand up and offer his/her place. Additionally, black people were persuaded to pay money in front of the bus, then exit it and get in its end part. It was a usual practice when bus drivers were waiting for black people to pay and exit the bus, and then, they were simply driving without them. After the famous event took place on the bus, Rosa Parks became the first African American who started ignoring the city’s segregated facilities, including the buses.
It is important to mention that Rosa Parks finished school in Alabama and wanted to become a teacher but had to refuse from her dream because of her grandmother’s illness. In time, Rosa started to work as a seamstress in Montgomery, and after her marriage in 1931, she began showing considerable interest in the civil rights organizations: Mrs. Parks became a member of the Montgomery Voters League and encouraged black people to register their votes despite the resistance of the white people. The woman was trying to register her own vote for two years and in 1945, she finally succeeded. Her actions were showing that she was annoyed with the mistreatments of the blacks and was taking them very seriously. Moreover, Rosa Parks was ready to meet all challenges to deal with such unfair mistreatments as she believed that the sex difference psychology, as well as the race difference psychology, are inapplicable in the real life (Barnes, 2005).
Another critical part of the Rosa Parks’ participation in the civil rights revolution was her position of the youth group’s advisor in the Montgomery National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, where she was counseling the African American young people and organizing the campaigns against segregation. One of her works was a desegregation campaign with E.D. Nixon in the main library in Montgomery. Furthermore, right before the situation in the bus, Rosa Parks attended some desegregation workshops organized by the Tennessee Highlander Folk School. Exactly on one of these workshops, she met some civil rights workers, among which was Septima Clark. In general, Rosa Parks was a world-famous woman who encouraged people to organize the open actions, one of which was famous Montgomery boycott that became a starting point of more global actions. In this Boycott during the whole year, black women turned to the carpools to reach their workplaces and completely ignored the city buses.
Another prominent fighter against race and gender discrimination was Ella Baker, who was born in Virginia in 1903. After graduation from the university, she moved to New York and started to work as a newspaper editor in the Negro National News and American West Indian News. In 1930, she became one of the founders of the Young Negros Cooperative League, where she worked as the national director (Ransby, 2003). The major aim of the League was to support the poor by creating special cooperatives. In short time, Ella became widely known as a real professional ensuring consumer protection; this was the reason why she became the Education Project leader of the Works Progress Administration in 1935. During three years of work there, she organized numerous consumer workshops and wrote several brochures.
In 1938, Ella Baker decided to join the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and became a field organizer there. Hence, she started forming new chapters and recruiting new members of the organization. In 1943, she took a position of a director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and at that time, she had the highest rank among the female staff (Ransby, 2003). On her new position, Ella had to deal with all secretaries fields and coordinate the local charters through the national office. Moreover, she decided to make the organization more powerful, and therefore, she organized the series of local leadership conferences, where she was teaching people the importance of education, political pressure, and mass protests. However, the fact that Ella Baker was criticizing the organization openly dissatisfied many colleagues and the organization’s leaders. This tension led to her resigning from the position of the national branch director in 1946. Nevertheless, this event did not stop Ella from taking part in the civil right organizations.
Within the short time, she began her work in the Harlem National Association for the Advancement of Colored People as a counselor in the youth program and soon, she became the first woman, who was elected as the president of the organization’s branch in New York. That position gave Ella a power to promote her own ideas and work with many civil rights organizations, thus, providing effective campaigns against the segregation. In a few years, she managed to make the New York branch one of the organization’s most active branches in the country. However, the same tension with the Association’s leaders made Ella leave her work again.
In 1956, Ella Baker became one of the founders of the In Friendship organization in New York, the main aim of which was to help the South activists with the resources. Among the activists were also people who participated in the Montgomery Bus Boycott. During that time, Ella became close with Rosa Parks. In 1957 in Atlanta, Ella Baker organized the SCLC founding meeting, the president of which became Martin Luther King Jr. The major tactic of the organization was to promote nonviolence and stop the racial violence and segregation. Until her death in 1986, Ella Baker was tirelessly doing her civil rights activities.
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The role of Ella Baker in the formation of new psychology among minorities in general and female minorities in particular was extremely important because she proved with her own example that the women’s activities did not have any barriers. Furthermore, she demonstrated that all women could be the leaders and could control serious projects. Due to her actions, many females understood that they were not worse than males and they deserved the equal rights. In the case of the black women, their psychology changed toward not only the gender but also the race. Because of Ella Baker’s actions, African American women believed that they could have the same possibilities as the others.
In summary, it is of critical importance to understand that Ella Baker and Rosa Parks were only two of the great number of women who decided to change the history with their brave actions. The Civil Rights Movement had an enormously profound effect on the further social movements, especially the feminism. The development of the African American status became a serious challenge to the American legal, social and economic structures and depended heavily on the actions of the whole community as well as private individuals. Moreover, these efforts of women strongly challenged traditional civil rights in the country and encouraged the feminist organizations to increase the women’s representation level and, thus, provide the wider diversity of the women’s voices. In essence, the Civil Rights Movement changed not only the history but also the women’s psychology and understanding of the role of gender and race in the society. Due to many famous activists, women became more confident in their views, which led to the change of roles in the US society.
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