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So that they occupied a place outside the conventional social norms of the whole university student body. But with men, I think, we can just say, ‘Kiss my black ass’ and go on about our business.It wasn’t so clear to me that a woman could do the same thing.” Older interviewees emphasize the opportunities that were available to an earlier generation of women.And if somebody had XYZ skills, and somebody only had ABC, we had to come together.
In the struggle, the women were strong.” Ruby Nell Sales, who later overcame psychological traumas from the racial violence she witnessed in the movement, encourages us to look beyond the simplistic story of Rosa Parks refusing to move to the back of the bus in Montgomery.
As she explains, Parks was a long-time activist who had sought justice for African American women who were frequently assaulted—both verbally and physically-- in their daily lives: “…When we look at Rosa Parks, people often think that she was – she did that because of her civil rights and wanting to sit down on the bus.
Many women played important roles in the Civil Rights Movement, from leading local civil rights organizations to serving as lawyers on school segregation lawsuits.
Their efforts to lead the movement were often overshadowed by men, who still get more attention and credit for its successes in popular historical narratives and commemorations.
That was back in the '30s and '40s before it became fashionable or popular for women to travel.
You have women who subsequently held positions in the NAACP nationally as program directors and as leaders of various divisions.” She goes on to discuss the contributions of many women to the success of the NAACP.
Gwendolyn Zoharah Simmons was a member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and one of three women chosen to be a field director for the Mississippi Freedom Summer Project.
She discusses the difficulties she faced in this position and notes that gender equality was not a given, but had to be fought for: “I often had to struggle around issues related to a woman being a project director. We had to fight to get a good car because the guys would get first dibs on everything, and that wasn’t fair…it was a struggle to be taken seriously by the leadership, as well as by your male colleagues.” She continues, “One of the things that we often don’t talk about, but there was sexual harassment that often happened toward the women.
And so, that was one of the things that, you know, I took a stand on, that ‘This was not – we’re not going to get a consensus on this.
There is not going to be sexual harassment of any of the women on this project or any of the women in this community.