Edited by Gerald Boerner
Today we look at the first five African American women politicians and activists who have made major contributions to the human and civil rights landscape of the 20th century. Many of these individuals are still alive and continue to work for the improvement of the status and experience of Blacks, both in the United States and abroad. Many of these works help to fight for the rights of the Black people in this country from slavery to freedom. Many of them have also participated in both the Congress and freedom struggles against the forces of bias, segregation, and relegation to second-class status; the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and the legislation of the Great Society have given many of these women the opportunity to serve their people. These women continue to fight for the rich heritage of the African Americans.
Let us celebrate the lives and works of these women in politics and the Civil Rights movement. We now will proceed to examine the lives and works of these African American Women in more detail... GLB
These Introductory Comments are copyrighted:
Copyright©2012 — Gerald Boerner — All Rights Reserved
[ 2830 Words ]
Quotations Related to Milestones in History — Black Women Politicians:
“And I think there is too much bloviating around from politicians.”
— Barney Frank
“America gets the politicians they deserve. That’s it. And you keep struggling.”
— Al Lewis
“A politician’s goal is always to manipulate public debate. I think there are some politicians with higher goals. But all of them get corrupted by power.”
— Dean Koontz
“All politicians should have 3 hats – one to throw into the ring, one to talk through, and one to pull rabbits out of if elected.”
— Carl Sandburg
“Anyone can write one book: even politicians do it. Starting a second book reveals an intention to be a professional writer.”
— Len Deighton
“A group of politicians deciding to dump a President because his morals are bad is like the Mafia getting together to bump off the Godfather for not going to church on Sunday.”
— Russell Baker
“And for well over a hundred years our politicians, statesmen, and people remembered that this was a republic, not a democracy, and knew what they meant when they made that distinction.”
— Robert Welch
“Both politicians and journalists face situations which strain their honesty and humanity. My opinion is that politicians on the average stand up somewhat better than journalists.”
— John McCarthy
Unsung Heroes of History: Black Women Politicians, Part 1…
The term African American carries important political overtones. Earlier terms used to identify Americans of African ancestry were conferred upon the group by colonists and Americans of European ancestry. The terms were included in the wording of various laws and legal decisions which some thought were being used as tools of white supremacy and oppression. There developed among blacks in America a growing desire for a term of self-identification of their own choosing.
The desperate conditions of African Americans in the South that sparked the Great Migration of the early 20th century, combined with a growing African American community in the Northern United States, led to a movement to fight violence and discrimination against African Americans that, like abolitionism before it, crossed racial lines. The Civil Rights Movement from 1954 to 1968 was directed at abolishing racial discrimination against African Americans, particularly in the Southern United States. The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and the conditions which brought it into being are credited with putting pressure on President John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson.
Johnson put his support behind passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that banned discrimination in public accommodations, employment, and labor unions, and the Voting Rights Act (1965), which expanded federal authority over states to ensure black political participation through protection of voter registration and elections. By 1966, the emergence of the Black Power movement, which lasted from 1966 to 1975, expanded upon the aims of the Civil Rights Movement to include economic and political self-sufficiency, and freedom from white authority.
Our focus here is upon the unsung heroes of this African American experience as they have contributed to the Arts and Literature over the last two hundred years or so. Today, we focus upon those Black Women who have made significant contributions as politicians and activists. Typically, their contributions have been ignored in favor of the contributions of their male counterparts, such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Frederick Douglass, and W.E.B. DuBois. But the dozen women that we feature here have made significant contributions to the body of American political scene. For that contribution, we salute them. (Part 1 of 2)
History Channel’s Unsung Heroes:
Black Women Politicians and Activists, Part 1
Barbara Jordan (1936–1996)
Barbara Jordan represented Texas in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1972-78 and was the first African-American congresswoman from the Deep South. (Photo Credit: Corbis)
Jordan campaigned unsuccessfully in 1962 and 1964 for the Texas House of Representatives. Her persistence won her a seat in the Texas Senate in 1966, becoming the first African American state senator since 1883 and the first black woman to serve in that body. Re-elected to a full term in the Texas Senate in 1968, she served until 1972. She was the first African-American female to serve as president pro tem of the state senate and served one day, June 10, 1972, as acting governor of Texas.
In 1972, she was elected to Congress, the first woman to represent Texas in the House in her own right (the first woman from Texas, Lera Thomas, had been elected after the death of her husband, Albert Thomas). She received extensive support from former President Lyndon B. Johnson, who helped her secure a position on the House Judiciary Committee. In 1974, she made an influential, televised speech before the House Judiciary Committee supporting the impeachment of Richard Nixon, Johnson’s successor as President.
In 1976, Jordan, mentioned as a possible running mate to Jimmy Carter of Georgia, became instead the first African-American woman to deliver the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention. Her speech in New York that summer was ranked 5th in "Top 100 American Speeches of the 20th century" list and was considered by some historians to have been among the best convention keynote speeches in modern history. Despite not being a candidate, Jordan received one delegate vote (0.03%) for President at the convention.
Rosa Parks (1913–2005)
Rosa Parks a civil rights activist and member of the NAACP gained national attention when she refused to give up her bus seat to a white man, an action that sparked a boycott of the Montgomery bus system. (Photo Credit: Corbis)
On December 1, 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama, Parks refused to obey bus driver James F. Blake’s order that she give up her seat to make room for a white passenger. Parks’ action was not the first of its kind to impact the civil rights issue. Others had taken similar steps, including Lizzie Jennings in 1854, Homer Plessy in 1892, Irene Morgan in 1946, Sarah Louise Keys in 1955, and Claudette Colvin on the same bus system nine months before Parks, but Parks’ civil disobedience had the effect of sparking the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
Parks’ act of defiance became an important symbol of the modern Civil Rights Movement and Parks became an international icon of resistance to racial segregation. She organized and collaborated with civil rights leaders, including boycott leader Martin Luther King, Jr., helping to launch him to national prominence in the civil rights movement.
At the time of her action, Parks was secretary of the Montgomery chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and had recently attended the Highlander Folk School, a Tennessee center for workers’ rights and racial equality. Nonetheless, she took her action as a private citizen "tired of giving in". Although widely honored in later years for her action, she suffered for it, losing her job as a seamstress in a local department store. Eventually, she moved to Detroit, Michigan, where she found similar work. From 1965 to 1988 she served as secretary and receptionist to African-American U.S. Representative John Conyers. After retirement from this position, she wrote an autobiography and lived a largely private life in Detroit. In her final years she suffered from dementia, and became involved in a lawsuit filed on her behalf against American hip-hop duo OutKast.
Fannie Lou Hamer (1917–1977)
Fannie Lou Hamer at the 1964 Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, NJ. Hamer was the vice-chairperson of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. (Photo Credit: Getty)
She was instrumental in organizing Mississippi Freedom Summer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and later became the Vice-Chair of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, attending the 1964 Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, New Jersey, in that capacity. Her plain-spoken manner and fervent belief in the Biblical righteousness of her cause gained her a reputation as an electrifying speaker and constant activist of civil rights.
During the 1950s, Hamer attended several annual conferences of the Regional Council of Negro Leadership (RCNL) in the all-black town of Mound Bayou, Mississippi. The RCNL was led by Dr. T.R.M. Howard, a civil rights leader and wealthy black entrepreneur, and was a combination civil rights and self-help organization. The annual RCNL conferences featured entertainers, such as Mahalia Jackson, speakers, such as Thurgood Marshall and Rep. Charles Diggs of Michigan, and panels on voting rights and other civil rights issues. Without her knowledge or consent, she was sterilized in 1961 by a white doctor as a part of the state of Mississippi’s plan to reduce the number of poor blacks in the state.
On August 23, 1962, Rev. James Bevel, an organizer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and an associate of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., gave a sermon in Ruleville, Mississippi and followed it with an appeal to those assembled to register to vote. Black people who registered to vote in the South faced serious hardships at that time due to institutionalized racism, including harassment, the loss of their jobs, physical beatings, and lynchings; nonetheless, Hamer was the first volunteer. She later said, "I guess if I’d had any sense, I’d have been a little scared – but what was the point of being scared? The only thing they could do was kill me, and it seemed they’d been trying to do that a little bit at a time since I could remember."
Angela Davis (1944–)
Angela Davis is a black feminist activist. This photograph was taken at a press conference following her 1972 arrest. (Photo Credit: Corbis)
Angela Davis is an American political activist, scholar, and author. Davis emerged as a nationally prominent activist in the 1960s, when she was associated with the Communist Party USA, the Civil Rights Movement and the Black Panther Party. Prisoner rights have been among her continuing interests; she is the founder of "Critical Resistance", an organization working to abolish the prison-industrial complex. She is a retired professor with the History of Consciousness Department at the University of California, Santa Cruz and is the former director of the university’s Feminist Studies department. Her research interests are in feminism, African American studies, critical theory, Marxism, popular music and social consciousness, and the philosophy and history of punishment and prisons.
Her membership in the Communist Party led to Ronald Reagan’s request in 1969 to have her barred from teaching at any university in the State of California. She was tried and acquitted of suspected involvement in the Soledad brothers’ August 1970 abduction and murder of Judge Harold Haley in Marin County, California.
In 1980 and 1984, Angela Davis ran for Vice-President along with the veteran party leader of the Communist Party, Gus Hall. However, given that the Communist Party lacked support within the US, Davis urged radicals to amass support for the Democratic Party. Revolutionaries must be realists, said Davis in a telephone interview from San Francisco where she was campaigning. During both of the campaigns she was Professor of Ethnic Studies at the San Francisco State University. In 1979 she was also awarded with the Lenin Peace Prize from the Soviet Union for her civil rights activism. She visited Moscow in July of that year to collect the prize.
Davis has continued a career of activism, and has written several books. A principal focus of her current activism is the state of prisons within the United States. She considers herself an abolitionist, not a "prison reformer," and has referred to the United States prison system as the "prison-industrial complex". Davis suggested focusing social efforts on education and building "engaged communities" to solve various social problems now handled through state punishment. Davis was one of the primary founders of Critical Resistance, a national grassroots organization dedicated to building a movement to abolish the prison system.
Shirley Chisholm (1924–2005)
Shirley Chisholm was the first African American woman elected to the U.S. Congress. (Photo Credit: Corbis)
In 1964, Chisholm ran for and was elected to the New York State Legislature. In 1968, she ran as the Democratic candidate for New York’s 12th District congressional seat and was elected to the House of Representatives. Defeating Republican candidate James Farmer, Chisholm became the first black woman elected to Congress. Chisholm joined the Congressional Black Caucus in 1971 as one of its founding members.
As a freshman, Chisholm was assigned to the House Agricultural Committee. Given her urban district, she felt the placement was irrelevant to her constituents and shocked many by asking for reassignment. She was then placed on the Veterans’ Affairs Committee. Soon after, she voted for Hale Boggs as House Majority Leader over John Conyers. As a reward for her support, Boggs assigned her to the much-prized Education and Labor Committee, which was her preferred committee. She was the third highest-ranking member of this committee when she retired from Congress.
All those Chisholm hired for her office were women, half of them black. Chisholm said that during her New York legislative career, she had faced much more discrimination because she was a woman than because she was black.
In the 1972 U.S. presidential election, she made a bid for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. She survived three assassination attempts during the campaign. She campaigned in 12 states and won the Louisiana, Mississippi, and New Jersey primaries earning 152 delegates. However, she lost the hotly contested primaries to George McGovern at the convention in Miami Beach, Florida. At the 1972 Democratic National Convention, as a symbolic gesture, McGovern opponent Hubert H. Humphrey released his black delegates to Chisholm, giving her a total of 152 first-ballot votes for the nomination. Chisholm’s base of support was ethnically diverse and included the National Organization for Women. Chisholm said she ran for the office "in spite of hopeless odds… to demonstrate the sheer will and refusal to accept the status quo." Among the volunteers who were inspired by her campaign was Barbara Lee, who continued to be politically active and was elected as a congresswoman 25 years later. Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem attempted to run as Chisholm delegates in New York.
The paragraphs in italics above were taken from the slide show published by the History Channel (see References). Click HERE to access that slideshow. The photographs of the women are courtesy of Corbis and Getty Images.
Little Rock Nine… (2:28)
Led by civil rights pioneer Daisy Bates, these nine brave Arkansas teenagers broke through racial barriers to become the first black students to attend Little Rock High School.
Please take time to further explore more about African Americans, Barbara Jordan, Rosa Parks, Fannie Lou Hamer, Angela Davis, Shirley Chisholm, African-American Civil Rights Movement, Black Women Politicians, and Black Women Activists by accessing the Wikipedia articles referenced below…
Background information is from Wikipedia articles on:
Wikipedia: African Americans…
Wikipedia: Barbara Jordan…
Wikipedia: Rosa Parks…
Wikipedia: Fannie Lou Hamer…
Wikipedia: Angela Davis…
Wikipedia: Shirley Chisholm…
Wikipedia: List of African-American Civil Rights Movement (1955–1968)…
Wikipedia: Black Women in Art and Literature: Black Women Politicians & Activists…
Brainy Quote: Politicians Quotes…
Other Posts on related Topics:
Prof. Boerner’s Explorations: Black Women in History: Rosa Parks…
Prof. Boerner’s Explorations: Black Women in History: Shirley Chisholm…
Prof. Boerner’s Explorations: Black Women in History: Condoleezza Rice…
Prof. Boerner’s Explorations: Carol Moseley Braun: 1st African American Woman in U.S. Senate…