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Culture Briefs
Number 6 · Spring 2014                                  www.purdue.edu/bcc/culturebriefs.html

African American Women of the Civil Rights Movement: Women of Character, Courage, and Commitment

Juanita Crider

The 2014 National Women’s History Month theme is “Women of Character, Courage, & Commitment” and in this year of the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Movement in America it is timely during the month of March to consider the lives of sheroes of the Civil Rights Movement. Many of us have heard of the men who are most often portrayed as the architects of the movement. Yet, many women were written out of important events of movement history.

Most of us know the story of Rosa Parks but have you heard of Claudette Colvin? In 1955 at the age of fifteen, Colvin was also arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a bus to a white passenger in Montgomery, Alabama. However, because Colvin was an unmarried teen and expecting, many believed she was not the best person to represent this civil action which would eventually result in the Montgomery Bus Boycott. The Montgomery Bus Boycott Movement was the brainchild of the Montgomery Women’s Political Council (WPC) under the leadership of Jo Ann Robinson. Founded in 1946 as a civic organization for black women, the WPC was like many black women’s clubs in cities across the United States. Some of their early efforts included voter registration and classes for the literacy tests which blacks were required to pass before they could register to vote in Alabama.

Diane Nash and Ella Baker were also two other very important African American women of the Civil Rights Movement. Baker helped to found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and also the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), two of the most prominent organizations during the height of the U.S. Civil Rights Movement. While attending Fisk University, Nash was stirred to action by the lunch counter sit-ins initiated by four students from North Carolina A&T University; i.e. The Greensboro Four. She began to work with others in Nashville to organize similar sit-ins at lunch counters in the area. Meanwhile, Ella Baker, still working for the SCLC, began to notice the passion and energy of black college students who were protesting and pressured the SCLC to organize a conference for these students which Nash attended. It was out of this conference that SNCC was born. African American women of Character, Courage, and Commitment were numerous as foot soldiers of the Civil Rights Movement.


Olson, Lynne (2001). Freedom's daughters: The unsung heroines of the civil rights movement from 1830 to 1970. New York: Scribner.

Robinson, Jo Ann (1987). The Montgomery Bus Boycott and the women who started it: The memoir of Jo Ann Gibson Robinson. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press.

Ross, Rosetta E. (2003). Witnessing and testifying: Black women, religion, and civil rights. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.