The Brown decision marked the beginning of a piecemeal dismantling of Jim Crow laws throughout the South. In the midst of the sedition appeal in Louisville in 1955, an African American seamstress and NAACP leader named Rosa Parks boldly sat down in the front of a Montgomery, Alabama, bus. Her action ignited a mass nonviolent movement that helped break the pall of the Cold-War 1950s.
As with Parks in Alabama and Anne Braden in the Wade purchase, women across the South from young to old helped to propel and sustain the civil rights movement. In fact, despite photos in abundance of well-known male leaders, the majority of the movement’s participants were women. Most were African American, but Anne Braden was not alone locally or regionally as a staunch white supporter.
Women more often served as secretaries of local organizations than as presidents, and were less often quoted in newspaper coverage of the movement, but could also lead in ways men could not. Often connected to their churches or neighborhoods, women coordinated day-to-day activities from stuffing envelopes to knocking on doors in voting drives to leading picket lines.
In Louisville, women mobilized action in all areas of the movement, including desegregation, fair housing, and voting rights, with pioneering African American female state legislators Georgia Davis Powers and Mae Street Kidd leading in the passage of state civil rights laws.
Both African American and white women were leaders in national racial and social justice organizations like the NAACP, Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. Women spearheaded local grassroots civil rights activism in neighborhood-based organizations like the West End Community Council and many more.
Viola Gregg Liuzzo, a housewife and mother of five from Detroit, is the only white ally killed in the civil rights movement. She was 39 when Klansmen shot her after the March in Selma, AL, in 1965.
Georgia Davis Powers (1923-2016): In 1968, Georgia Davis Powers became the first African-American and the first woman elected to the Kentucky Senate.
Murray, Gail S. “Throwing off the Cloak of Privilege: White Southern Women Activists in the Civil Rights Era.”
Browning, Joan C. & Dorothy Dawson Burlage. “Deep in Our Hearts: Nine White Women in the Freedom Movement.”
Robnet, Belinda. “How Long? How Long?: African-American Women in the Struggle for Civil Rights.”
Davis Powers, Georgia. “I Shared the Dream: The Pride, Passion, and Politics of the First Black Woman Senator from Kentucky.”