Women of Change…Freedom Sisters
Freedom Sisters….Women of True Change
Women have been key in the civil rights movement for African Americans and continue to be a crucial part of the advancement of the United States as a whole. Women are often left behind when civil rights leaders are honored but a great Exhibit you must check out when it comes to your town is Freedom Sisters.
Freedom Sisters is a traveling exhibit, sponsored by The Ford Motor Corporation’s featuring women who have made great contributions to America, the Civil Rights Movement and feminism.
Here are brief profiles of the 20 women honored by Ford, who have had a profound impact on the landscape of the U.S. and the world educationally, socio-politically and artistically:
Ella Jo Baker (1903-1986)
Ella Jo Baker organized a series of civil rights organizations that promoted communication and cooperation among all Black people (the working class and the middle and upper class; the young and the old). She helped establish the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) as a result of sit-ins in Greensboro, NC in 1960. Under Baker’s guidance, SNCC became one of the foremost advocates of human rights in the U.S.
Mary McLeod Bethune (1875-1955)
Mary McLeod Bethune ranks high among the great women of America. Her life story is the compelling rise from a field hand picking cotton to the position of educator as well as confidante and friend of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. The youngest of 17 children born to South Carolina sharecroppers, Bethune almost single-handedly established Bethune-Cookman College (now Bethune-Cookman University).
Shirley Chisholm (1924-2005)
Shirley Chisholm was the first Black woman to be elected to the United States Congress. She served seven consecutive terms (1969-82) as a representative from New York’s 12 District. Chisholm was an educator before entering the New York State Assembly in 1964 and then winning election to Congress in 1968. She ran for the Democratic nomination for President of the United States in 1972, and became the first Black woman to run for the office. She was defeated by George McGovern at the party’s national convention (McGovern then lost the presidential election to Republican incumbent Richard Nixon). Chisholm’s memoirs include “Unbossed and Unbought” and “The Good Fight.”
Septima Poinsette Clark (1898-1987)
“The greatest evil in our country today is not racism,” Septima Poinsette Clark once insisted, “but ignorance.” Clark is most famous for creating “Citizenship Schools” that taught reading skills to Black adults throughout the South. While the project served to increase literacy, it also served to empower Black communities. Learning reading skills encouraged Southern Blacks to push for the right to vote. In addition to literacy, Citizenship Schools taught African Americans to act collectively and protest racism.
Kathleen Cleaver (1945-present)
“Chameleon” is a term that could best describe Kathleen Cleaver. She first rose in the Black consciousness movement as a social revolutionist with her then-husband, Eldrige Cleaver, as part of the Black Panther Party. In the early 1980s, she enrolled at Yale University and became a respected student who graduated with honors (bachelor of science-history, 1983; master of science-law, 1989). She is now a revered educator, teaching law at Emory and Yale universities.
Myrlie Ever-Williams (1933-present)
The widow of slain civil rights activist Medgar Evers, Myrlie Evers-Williams built her own legacy. She has been a corporate executive, was the first Black woman to serve as a commissioner on the Board of Public Works in Los Angeles, and the first woman to serve as chair of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Fannie Lou Hamer (1917-1977)
Serving as an activist for the poor and a champion of voting rights, Fannie Lou Hamer was regularly threatened, faced beatings, survived a bombing and ridiculed. Nevertheless, she was a founding member of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, formed in 1964 to challenge the all-White Mississippi delegation to the Democratic National Convention. On national television, Hamer spoke of the huge racial barriers that Blacks faced in the South in pursuit of civil rights. She was a catalyst for the development of various programs to help the poor in her community, including the Delta Ministry (an extensive community development program) and the Freedom Farms Corporation (a nonprofit operation designed to help needy families raise food and livestock. It also provided social services, encouraged Black business opportunities, and offered educational assistance).
Frances Watkins Harper (1825-1911)
Born free in the slave state of Maryland, Frances Watkins Harper later gained recognition for using compelling poetry to inspire social activism. Harper was educated at Baltimore’s William Watkins Academy for Negro Youth, an institution known for thorough training in language arts, Bible studies, and social and religious activist development. Moving to Columbus, Ohio, at the age of 25, she became the first woman hired as a professor at the newly created Union Seminary (now Wilberforce University). She later moved to Philadelphia, where she lived in an Underground Railroad station, and devoted her life and work to abolishing slavery and other social reform movements. Harper’s literary work was combined social issues, Afro-Protestant theology and poetic innovations. Her notable pieces include “The Dying Christian,” “The Slave Auction,” “Ethiopia,” “Christianity,” “Women’s Rights,” and the classic “Iola Leroy.”
Dorothy Height (1912-present)
Dorothy Height has fought for equal rights for African Americans and women for decades. As the president of the National Council of Negro Women, she was often the only woman at top Civil Rights Movement meetings. She shared the platform with Martin Luther King Jr. when he delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington in August of 1963. Height has received many awards in her life from local, state, and national organizations. She was also awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1994, the highest civilian honor in the U.S.
Charlayne Hunter-Gault (1942-present)
Charlayne Hunter-Gault has built a reputation as a superb, award-winning investigative reporter with a great knack for uncovering social injustice. Hunter-Gault became known to millions of viewers as the national correspondent for PBS-TV’s MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour. Ironically, one of the springboards of her career was when she herself was the subject of a journalistic story. In 1961, Hunter-Gault made history as one of the two students who would be the initial Blacks to enroll at the University of Georgia.
Barbara Jordan (1936-1996)
A U.S. lawyer, politician and educator, Barbara Jordan came to national fame in 1974, when she participated in televised hearings of the House Judiciary Committee on the possible impeachment of President Richard Nixon. Jordan’s clarity of presentation, complete knowledge of U.S. Constitutional law, and superior speaking skills captivated the viewing audience. As more and more notorious evidence was revealed, it appeared that Nixon’s impeachment as a result of the Watergate scandal was inevitable. Before the committee made its final decision, Richard Nixon became the first U.S. President to resign from office on Aug. 9, 1974.
Coretta Scott King (1927-2006)
As the wife of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Coretta Scott King was the “First Lady” of the Civil Rights Movement. Following her husband’s assassination, King led protest marches, advised freedom movements around the world, founded the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, and championed the cause that led to creation of the Martin Luther King national holiday.
Constance Baker Motley (1921-2005)
The first Black woman appointed to a federal judgeship in the U.S., Constance Baker Motley led a notable career as both a civil rights attorney and a jurist on the federal bench. Motley was a key attorney in school desegregation cases (most notably Brown vs. Board of Education). Representing the voice of minorities and women during her decades as an attorney, she also addressed the rights of these same groups from her position on the U.S. District Court of New York State.
Rosa Parks (1913-2005)
Rosa Parks made international news in 1955, when she was arrested for refusing to give her seat to a White passenger on a city bus in Montgomery, Ala. This act of civil disobedience sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott and further fueled the Civil Rights Movement. Thus Rosa Parks became, in the view of many, “The Mother of the Civil Rights Movement.” She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1996.
Sonia Sanchez (1934-present)
As a child, Sonia Sanchez was shy and had a stutter. However, she found her voice in poetry and ultimately influenced a generation of writers. She became a powerful voice in the Black Power Movement in the 1960s and continues to give passionate expression to African American culture.
Betty Shabazz (1934-1997)
After the assassination of her husband, Muslim activist Malcolm X, Betty Shabazz was not embraced and comforted by the Civil Rights community as Coretta Scott King or Myrlie Evers (Williams) had been. Instead, she raised her six daughters on her own, earned a Ph.D., and built a career in health services and education. Dr. Shabazz continued to work for the freedom and progress of Blacks, the vision she and her husband shared.
Mary Church Terrell (1963-1954)
One of the first African American women to earn a bachelor’s degree, Mary Church Terrell was also the first to be appointed to the District of Columbia Board of Education. She led the successful fight to integrate restaurants in Washington D.C. by participating in picket lines.
Harriet Tubman (1820-1913)
Strong as a man, brave as a lion and cunning as a fox was among the descriptions of Harriet Tubman. Although unable to read or write, “The Moses of her People,” escaped in from Maryland. Then, as the leading “conductor” of the Underground Railroad, returned to the South 19 times and spirited more than 300 slaves North (Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, New England and Canada) to freedom. During the Civil War, Tubman served as both a nurse and spy for the Union army. She was also the first American woman to plan and lead a military operation—the raid at Combahee Ferry in 1863 that freed 750 slaves.
C. Delores Tucker (1927-2005)
C. Delores Tucker became Pennsylvania’s Secretary of State in 1971. She was the first African American and first woman to hold that position in the U.S. She went on to co-found the National Congress of Black Women and campaign against offensive lyrics used against women in hip-hop music.
Ida B. Wells (1862-1931)
In March 1892, three Black men were lynched by an angry, White mob for the “crimes” of being “uppity” and “too successful.” Ida B. Wells, writing under pen name “Iola,” published a detailed expose on the horrible action in her newspaper “Free Speech.” The night the expose appeared, a mob invaded her offices looking for Wells (she had left) and destroyed everything. Escaping danger and making her way to New York, Wells joined the staff of New York Age. The outspoken writer publicized the facts about the lynching of Blacks. In 1895, Wells wrote “Red Record,” the first serious statistical examination of the tragedy of lynching.
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