Women & Civil Rights


“The success of the civil rights movement of the 1950’s and 1960’s was, in large part, a result of the crucial role that women played in propelling and sustaining mass action.  Women in communities throughout the South acted as leaders, organizers and members of the rank and file from the movement’s beginnings.  African American women already had begun organizing and protesting the discriminatory treatment of Blacks in urban transportation systems.  Civil rights activist, Rosa Parks, refused to give up her seat on a segregated bus in Montgomery, Alabama, and was arrested on December 1, 1955.  Parks’ action was not coincidental, but rather a response to years of organizing experience in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

The first major federal legislative response to the Civil Rights Movement, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, prohibited discrimination on the basis of race, national origin, and religion in several important arenas, including public accommodations, education, and employment.  The employment provision (Title VII) also barred discrimination on the basis of sex.  No provision of the Civil Rights Act prohibited discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.  The authors of the Civil Rights Act did not intend to include sex discrimination in any of its provisions.  Sex discrimination was introduced into the civil rights debate by southern opponents of the measure who south to flummox its supporters and kill it through ridicule.”  

Source: WH

“Up to the 1940s, white southern female activism manifested itself through all-female, church-related groups. Most of these women belonged to the middle- and upper-class, and remained within the bounds of respectability as « southern ladies ». Yet they often found themselves at odds with their male-dominated institutions, and laid the groundwork for the following generations of activists.”

Source: Amnis Open Edition Journal

Women in the Civil Rights Movement | Articles and Essays | Civil Rights History Project | Digital Collections

8 historic women who pioneered the Civil Rights Movement