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Heroines of Civil Rights. Who are these women?. Why do you NOT know their names?. Concepts defined. Civil rights are those legal rights bestowed on citizens within the boundaries of the state.

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Heroines of Civil Rights

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Heroines of Civil Rights

Who are these women?

Why do you NOT know their names?


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Concepts defined

Civil rights are those legal rights bestowed on citizens within the boundaries of the state.

What types of legal rights were denied African Americans and women and how did they gain those rights?


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Heritage of Civil Rights

Ida B. Wells fought the racial violence of lynching through

journalism, public speaking and organizing


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Mary Church Terrell fought for legal equality by personal protests to presidents and by organizing the NACW and the NAACP


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Black women understood there could be no legal equality without social and economic equity so they developed community agencies and social settlements

Jane Hunter


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Women’s Leadership in the Movement for Civil Rights

1954 Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education, Topeka, Kansas

established that separate was NOT equal in public school education

Constance Baker Motley completed the research for the argument

Linda Brown


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Women pushed for implementation

Daisy Bates, head of the Arkansas NAACP, led the fight to integrate Little Rock’s Central High using nine young teenagers as change agents

Elizabeth Eckford, Thelma Mothershed, Minniejean Brown, Gloria Ray, Melba Patillo, Carlotta Walls


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6 year-old Ruby Bridges was one of four children to integrate the public schools in New Orleans in 1960. Her escort into school was memorialized by the famous cover by Norman Rockwell

“The Problem We All Live With”


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15-year-old Dorothy Counts integrated Harding High School in Charlotte, NC.

She had to leave due to threats against her life.


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Integration of State Universities

Autherine Lucy integrated the University of Alabama in 1956 only to be expelled “for her own safety”


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Charlayne Hunter (Gault) entered the University

of Georgia in 1961 following a court order


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Constance Baker Motley won James Meredith entrance into the University of Mississippi in 1962

Viviane Malone confronted Governor George Wallace to enter the University of Alabama in 1963


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Desegregation of Public Accommodations

Montgomery Bus Boycott Organizers and Icons

Jo Ann Robinson’s Women’s Political Council organized the initial boycott

The arrest of Rosa Parks became the basis of the NAACP lawsuit that overturned segregation on the public bus system


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They Walked to Freedom

Coretta Scott King


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Their Preparation for Activism

Training at Highlander Folk School (TN)

brought the races together providing training in social justice and in the tactics of resistance

Septima Clark and Rosa Parks at Highlander


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  • Collaborative organizers in the community

    the church

    the schools

    the YWCA

    the club movement (NACW 1896-)

    supporters for fraternal orders and unions

  • Founders and national organizers in racial advancement organizations

    NAACP 1909-

    NUL 1910-

    NCNW 1935-


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Case Studies in Activism: Ella Baker and Septima Clark

  • Family background of Ella Baker

    • Grandparents owned land they had worked as slaves---grandmother refused to marry master’s light-skinned choice

    • Grandfather (dark) Baptist minister –pride and service. Took Ella around to community

  • Educational preparation

    • Shaw University studied sociology

    • New School for Social Research in New York City


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“Strong people don’t need strong leaders.”

  • A social critic working within system

    • As a journalist—Bronx Slave Market

    • As organizer/director Young Negroes’ Cooperative League

    • Field secretary to National Organizer NAACP

    • Organized In Freedom, northern support for MBB

Participated in creation of SCLC and became its first national organizer


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  • Family background of Septima Clark

    Mother Haitian upbringing: tough, racial pride

    Father (slave): devout Christian, compassionate

  • Educational preparation

    • Graduated Avery Institute and became teacher on St. Johns Island

    • Graduate work at Columbia University and Atlanta University (W. E. B. Du Bois)

    • Masters from Hampton Institute

  • Worked for equity issues

    • Black teacher salaries and right to administration—joined NAACP

    • YWCA collaboration for recreational opportunities


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  • Initiator of Citizenship Schools

    • Emerged from Highlander work 1955

    • Literacy was basis of voter registration 1956

    • Membership in NAACP=termination of job

    • Director of Workshops & fundraiser for Highlander

    • SCLC takes program over (Baker advice) 1959

      becomes Mother Conscience led by

      philosophy: Literacy and Liberation

      go hand-in-hand


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Recognition of potential leaders

  • Student leaders from sit-in movement (1960)

Diane Nash from the Nashville sit-in movement

Diane Nash trained for activism while a student at Fisk University


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Bernice Johnson Reagon became active as a student at Albany State College

Eleanor Holmes Norton became active as a student at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, OH

Norton, Baker, and Hamer


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Variety of roles


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  • These students called to Shaw University by Ella Baker during Spring break Baker=Fundi

  • The result was a new activist organization: SNCC Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee

  • New campaign:

    Freedom Rides 1961

    force implementation of interstate commerce directive to desegregate interstate transportation


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1961 Freedom Rides routed at Birmingham

Freedom Rides carried on by SNCC’s Diane Nash with female participation and resulted in change of federal enforcement rules on interstate travel


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Birmingham: women were integral participants

They sacrificed for desegregation


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March on Washington: August 1963

  • Planners included NCNW

  • Planners did not want younger leaders included---women insisted and students threatened protest

  • Women ignored—not one speaker (yet seated in “good seats” for media opportunity and Mahalia Jackson sang)

Dorothy Height


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Voter Education Project

  • COFO---Mississippi

  • Freedom Summer 1964

    tactic and impact

    Freedom Schools

  • MFDP

    • Proof of interest in voting

    • Influence on Democratic National Convention

Civil Rights Summit 1964


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Recognition of Potential Grassroots Leaders

  • Fannie Lou Hamer

    • 70% disfranchised

    • Volunteered to register

    • Lost job

    • Beaten

    • Commitment unwavering

  • Victoria Gray

  • Annie Devine


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Addressing the system: Attempt to get the MFDP seated at the Democratic National Convention

Annie Devine, Victoria Gray and Fannie Lou Hamer


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  • Refused compromise of 2 seats at large

  • Representation to Democratic Conventions thereafter reflective of population

  • Returned to continue registering voters and developing community

Unita Blackwell, mayor

Unita Blackwell, activist


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Diversity of Approaches and Issues

  • 1966 Black Panthers


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Pauli Murray

  • 1966 Founding of National Organization for Women

Shirley Chisholm


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Activist leaders

  • Marian Wright (Edelman) becomes first African American woman admitted to the bar in Mississippi (defended Head Start)

    • Becomes advocate for poor

    • Founder of Children’s Defense Fund


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Activism produced institutional change

  • 1964 Civil Rights Act Title VII

    discrimination (sexual harassment)

  • 1965 Voting Rights Act

    First African American Congresswoman

    First elected from South

Anita Hill

First Keynote Speaker

Eleanor Holmes Norton, EEOC

Rep. District of Columbia in Congress


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New Roles

  • Ambassador (1965) and Cabinet (1977)

  • Episcopal priest (1988)

  • Astronaut (1988)

Patricia Harris

Barbara Harris

Mae Jemison


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Know their history


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Heroines of Civil Rights

Why do you NOT know their names?

Who are these women?


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