Reviewed: The Selma of the North, by Patrick D. Jones

Review by Madeleine Stout (@madstout2569)

Patrick D. Jones, The Selma of the North: Civil Rights Insurgency in Milwaukee. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2009. Pp. 259. $26.72.

“The story of race relations and the civil rights insurgency in Milwaukee during the 1960s forcefully illustrates that the urban North was, in fact, the site of dramatic and important struggles for racial justice.” [1] Patrick D. Jones tries to prove the aforementioned statement in his work, The Selma of the North: Civil Rights Insurgency in Milwaukee. Jones articulates the change in African American resistance, from calm accommodation to confrontational yet nonviolent protesting, of racial inequality in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in the 1960s. Jones connects the growing militant resistance to segregation and the reforms occurring in the Catholic Church. Jones’ research focuses on the efforts of Father James Groppi in rallying the church and African American youth against systems of white supremacy seen in the Eagles Club, housing districts, and public schools. Jones places Selma and Milwaukee in constant conversation with each other by highlighting the overlapping conflict in the two cities. He points out that African American youth in Milwaukee adapted tactics of resistance first used in the South, such as sit ins and boycotts, to combat racial injustice in the North. Jones ultimately argues that studying the urban North not only broadens historian’s understanding of the geographic scope of the Civil Rights Movement, but also contextualizes the contemporary tragedy of race.[2]

It is his analysis on the significance of the North, as well as religion, in understanding the Civil Rights movement that allows Jones to be able to add another layer to the historiography of the Black Freedom Struggle. Jones builds upon the work done on resistance to white supremacy in the North during the 1950s to 1960s through his analysis of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.[3] His work is a microhistory as it focuses on a single northern city during the 1960s. Jones chose Milwaukee because, in the 2000s, he considers it still one of the most segregated cities in the United States. Jones alludes to the idea that the Civil Rights Movement in the North was a failure because of the enduring inequality facing African Americans in the twenty-first century. In addition to focusing solely on African American resistance to inequality in Milwaukee, Jones tells the story of James Groppi, a white priest of the Catholic Church in Wisconsin.

Jones highlights that in a time when the Catholic Church in Milwaukee used a hands-off approach on issues of racial injustice, Groppi instead became heavily involved in teaching freedom schools and fostering a confrontational non-violent resistance with African American youths in the cities “inner core” district.[4] Jones repeatedly credits Martin Luther King Jr., and the events taking place in Selma, as Groppi’s source of inspiration in the 1960s. By placing Groppi and King in conversation with each other, as religious figures advocating for non-violent resistance in the face of massive white resistance, Jones is able to argue that Milwaukee is the Selma of the North.

The strength of Jones’ work resides in his primary sources. Jones not only uses papers and interviews of surviving members of the Milwaukee National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s (MNAACP) Youth Council, but African American newspapers, such as Ebony and the Milwaukee Defender. Jones uses African American and white presses, such as the Milwaukee Sentinel, New York Times and Wall Street Journal, to illustrate the atmosphere of Milwaukee, contextualize events, and reveal the opinions of white and black actors during the Civil Rights Movement. Jones utilizes James Scott’s theory of the “hidden transcript” when analyzing media coverage of desegregation campaigns.[5]  Jones’s sources coupled with James Scott’s theory expand the understanding of the role of age, gender, ideology, religion, and geography during the 1960s Civil Rights Movement. An additional strength of Jones’s research is his honoring of the impactful activism of women during the Civil Rights Movement in Milwaukee. He credits Vel Phillips, Margaret Rozga, and Alberta Harris as backbones of the push for racial justice in the North.

The main weakness in The Selma of the North is seen in Jones’s concentration on Martin Luther King Jr. as the main actor of the movement in the South. When discussing Groppi’s influence and contextualizing events in the North with the movement in the South, Jones focuses on the actions and activism of King. Solely focusing on King’s triumphs in the South not only shortens the timeline of the fight against injustice, it removes the perspective of African American women in the South and how those women may have influenced the female activists in the North.[6] In addition, Jones does not compare the events of Milwaukee to other large cities in the Midwest to illustrate whether or not similar events occurred in the 1960s outside of the South.

Jones concludes that a racial crisis in Milwaukee still persists despite the actions of James Groppi and the MNAACP Youth Council. He claims the crisis continues because of inaction of both white government officials and African American black leaders from 1960 to 2000. While his conclusion is grim, he ends with a call to action that there is still work to be done and that the movement is not over. Jones’s work highlights what can be gained by studying resistance to racial inequality in the North is an understanding that the problems facing African Americans today have persisted since the 1960s and are not only restricted to the South. The complex theories of race, religion, and ideology as well as the historiographical argument make the work best suited for academic audiences, such as historians of the Black Freedom Struggle and American history, rather than the general public.

[1] Patrick D. Jones, The Selma of the North: Civil Rights Insurgency in Milwaukee (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2009) 253.

[2] Jones, The Selma of the North, 7-8.

[3] For more on the significance of the North in the Civil Rights Movement, see Ed. Komozi Woodard & Jeanne Theoharis, Freedom North: Black Freedom Struggles Outside the South, 1940-1980 (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003), and Martha Biondi, To Stand and Fight: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Postwar New York City (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2003).

[4] Jones, The Selma of the North, 85, 96-107.

[5] James Scott argues that the historical record is full of “hidden transcripts”, which he defines as, “a critique of power spoken behind the back of the dominant”. Scott advocates historians read between the lines and try to uncover the hidden meaning behind primary sources. James C. Scott. Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts. (New Haven; Yale University Press, 1990) xii.

[6] For more information on the significance of African American women and Black Freedom Struggle, see Erik S. McDuffie, Sojourning for Freedom: Black Women, American Communism, and the Making of Black Left Feminism (Durham: Duke University Press, 2011), Ed. Betty Collier-Thomas & V.P. Franklin, Sisters in the Struggle: African American Women in the Civil Rights-Black Power Movement (New York: New York University Press, 2001), and Keisha N. Blain, Set the World on Fire: Black Nationalist Women and the Global Struggle for Freedom (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018).

 

Reviewed: A People’s Tragedy: The Russian Revolution, 1891-1924

By Madeleine Stout

Figes, Orlando. A People’s Tragedy: The Russian Revolution 1891-1924. New York: Penguin Books, 1996. Pp. 923. $23.18

“It is mistaken to suppose, as so many historians do, that the Russian peasantry had no moral order or ideology at all to substitute for the tsarist state.”[1] Orlando Figes’s work, A People’s Tragedy: The Russian Revolution 1891-1924, is full of sentences in which he crafts counter arguments to previous works on the Russian Revolution. Figes credits his work with being the first attempt at producing a comprehensive history of the period of the Revolution, beginning in 1891.[2] The strength of his work is seen in the primary sources from archives and libraries in Russia that were previously unavailable to scholars from the West. The result is an in-depth tome, neither a monograph nor a textbook, of the Russian Revolution from the perspective of the peasants, soldiers, and urban workers. Figes resists crafting a top-down narrative with a focus on the well-known actors, Lenin, Trotsky, Tsar Nicholas II, and instead focuses on the social and cultural aspects that created a climate for revolution in the Russian Empire. He avoids giving sole credit for the Revolution to the failed autocratic ambitions of Nicholas II and the political genius of Lenin. Figes argues “Russian democratic failure was deeply rooted in its political culture and social history…that what began as a people’s revolution contained the seeds of its own degeneration into violence and dictatorship.”[3] In short, Figes argues the Russian people, meaning peasants, workers, and soldiers, were not passive actors in the February and October revolutions of 1917, but were rather actively involved and ultimately the most harmed by the outcome.

A People’s Tragedy is not the first book on the Russian Revolution, but it does try to refute previous arguments on the topic. Figes walks a balanced line between critiquing historians of the Left, such as Sheila Fitzpatrick, and those of the Right, mainly Richard Pipes.[4] Figes claims both have not fully grasped the truth behind the events of 1917-1918. He explains how his work diverts from the revisionist “bottom-up” approach to the Russian Revolution by including analysis of government officials and powerful characters.[5]  The result of Figes’s carefully crafted work is a book that caters to leftist and revisionist social history, while also emphasizing the ruthless politics of Lenin and Bolshevism praised by right leaning and conservative scholars of Russian history.

Figes began the revolutionary period in Russia in 1891 with a large scale famine which he argues politicized Russian society through the discredit of the Imperial government and its industrialization policies.[6] He proceeds to organize the book chronologically from 1891-1924, ending with Lenin’s death and Stalin’s ascent to power, but also covers different themes within each year. Figes’ timeline deviated from previous historians, such as Sheila Fitzpatrick, who began the revolutionary period in 1917 with the fall of the old Tsarist regime.[7] Additionally, Figes does not solely focus on Lenin’s involvement in the Russian Revolutions of 1917. He instead brings the stories of urban workers, peasants, soldiers, writers, national minorities, members of the Russian court, and politicians center stage. Figes crafts a narrative of the rise of the Bolshevik regime involving minute details of the lives of individuals such as Maxim Gorky, Semen Kanatchikov, Alexei Brusilov, and Dmitry Os’kin. Figes does not ignore the involvement of well-known actors like Lenin, Stalin, Nicholas II, Petr Stolypin, and Rasputin, but he condenses their presence in the book in order to focus on a more diverse representation of Russian society to provide a better understanding of the social forces behind the revolutions of 1917. Figes attempts to give a voice to the understudied Russian peasantry and everyday worker who before the fall of the Soviet Union were mostly unknown to history.

The strength of Orlando Figes work lies in his primary source research. Writing after the dissolution of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics provided Figes with new sources previously inaccessible to historians of the West in Russia. He is able to support his argument with memoirs, journals, diaries, papers, and eye witness accounts from 1891-1924. His work is also reliant on secondary sources by historians of Western Europe, the United States, and the former Soviet Union. An additional strength of Figes work is his ability as a writer. He navigates complex themes in Russian politics, economics, and society with tight prose and in some instances, like the failures of Russian military, the unpreparedness of the Tsar, and the Bolshevik seizure of the state bank, humorous timing.

A People’s Tragedy offers a new perspective of the driving forces behind the Russian Revolution: the peasants, soldiers, and urban workers. The only criticism to be launched at the book is its density. The massive size, complex themes, repetitive writing style, and vast number of individuals mentioned make the work difficult to navigate for readers who have little background in Russian history. The thick index and bibliography provide scholars with a reference point for further study on Russian history from 1891-1924. While the size is daunting to anyone lacking a passionate interest in the subject, the work does provide academics with new information and perspectives of Russian society during the end of the Tsarist regime and beginning of the Bolshevik rise to power.

 

Works Cited

Figes, Orlando. A People’s Tragedy: The Russian Revolution 1891-1924. New York: Penguin Books, 1996.

Fitzpatrick, Sheila. The Russian Revolution. 4th Edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017.

[1] Orlando Figes. A People’s Tragedy: The Russian Revolution 1891-1924. (New York: Penguin Books, 1996) 98.

[2] Figes, A People’s Tragedy, xv.

[3] Figes, A People’s Tragedy, xvi.

[4] An example of Figes push-back against Right-leaning historians, such as Richard Pipes, is seen in his analysis of the Bolshevik party in 1917. Figes states, “The idea that the Bolshevik Part of 1917 was a monolithic organization tightly controlled by Lenin is a myth – a myth which used to be propagated by the Soviet Establishment and one which is still used by right-wing historians in the West.” His push-back against leftist and revisionist historians is seen in his interpretation of Lenin. Figes claims, “historians on the Left have favoured [sic], that Lenin was a libertarian at heart.”

Figes.  A People’s Tragedy, 392-393, 503.

[5] Figes, A People’s Tragedy, xvi.

[6] Figes, A People’s Tragedy, 161.

[7] Fitzpatrick provides a condensed history of the Russian Revolution. Her book, only 174 pages, lacks the detail and in-depth analysis of the life and society of the common Russian peasant as seen in Figes’ work. A reason for this is the lack of access to primary source archives in Soviet Russia when the original edition was published in 1982. Sheila Fitzpatrick, The Russian Revolution, 4th Edition. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017) 4.

African American Women of the Modern Civil Rights Movement – Daisy Bates

(Daisy Bates Photo Courtesy of The Chicago Defender)

*This article is part of a month long series on underrepresented women within the Modern Civil Rights Movement.

by Madeline E. Stout (@cellowolfe)

The final woman discussed in this project is Daisy Bates. Bates spoke at the March on Washington, on behalf of women, to aid men in their goals for Civil Rights. Even though she did appear on the podium at the March on Washington, she too has been left behind by history. Bates is the most known for training the Little Rock Nine: nine black students who integrated Central High School in Little Rock Arkansas on September 4, 1957.[1] Bates was also the president for the Arkansas branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Like Ella Baker and Septima Clark, Bates advocated for mass protest and grassroots activism.[2] Bates argued for the desegregation of Arkansas schools prior to the Brown v Board of Education cases.

Daisy Bates 2[3]

Prior to the events in Little Rock Arkansas and the March on Washington, Daisy Bates found her work were constantly under threat by white supremacists in Arkansas. In 1941, Bates and her husband started a weekly black newspaper, State Press, which grew into Little Rock’s voice for racial justice.[4] Similar to Pauli Murray, Bates found an outlet to fight racial injustice through writing, but she didn’t only focus on racism in Arkansas the State Press also focused on housing discrimination, legal injustice, and job discrimination.[5] In 1942, Bates and her husband joined the NAACP, and she became the co-chair for the State Conference’s Committee for Fair Employment Practices in Arkansas.[6] Bates spent the 1940s challenging Jim Crow laws through her newspaper’s publications.

Despite owning and writing for State Press, Daisy Bates remained under the radar to the larger Civil Rights Movement. She faced threats and acts of violence in the 1950s leading up to 1957. Bricks were thrown at her house, crosses were burned on her lawn, and night riders would shoot into her home, but yet she persisted.[7] On May 17, 1954 Brown v Board of Education was decided in favor of school integration. The South resisted integration. In Arkansas, Governor Faubus refused to operate the proper channels to begin integration. It was decided by Little Rock superintendent Virgil Blossoms, and Daisy Bates that a small group of nine students would initiate integration in Little Rock’s Central High School.[8]

Virgil Blossoms selected the students and Bates organized and planned how the integration would happen on morning of September 4, 1957. Bates had been up late the night before the event and had not contacted Elizabeth Eckford’s family with the logistics for the plan.[9] What resulted was a young black girl approaching a screaming mob of angry white parents and teenagers, yelling slurs, and chanting, “Two, Four, Six, Eight, we don’t want to integrate” at Eckford.[10] The tension between the white and black students did not end after the first day of black students entering Central High.[11] After that day, Bates became the spokeswoman of the Little Rock Nine and the Arkansas branch of the NAACP. Almost two months after the Little Rock Nine integrated Central High, Daisy Bates was arrested for her role within the NAACP under new Arkansas legislation against NAACP activity in the state. Unlike Baker, Clark, and Murray, Bates spent a lot of time in the spotlight, receiving recognition from the NAACP and Civil Rights male activists during the late 1950s.[12] Bates’s recognition culminated when she and the nine students were awarded the “Citizen of the Year” award from the Omega Psi Phi fraternity in December of 1957.[13]

It wasn’t until 1958, when the NAACP awarded the Spingarn Award, one of the most prestigious honors the organization bestowed, that Bates encountered the patriarchal system of the Civil Rights movement. The NAACP awarded the Spingarn Award to the Little Rock students, not Daisy Bates. Prominent black women such as Pauli Murray, cried out that Bates had been slighted by the organization and deserved to be included with the students.[14] The NAACP did eventually concede to the criticisms by the members of the organization and awarded the Spingarn Medal for outstanding achievement to both Bates and the nine students. In 1958-1959 Bates worked with Martin Luther King Jr. on the second Youth March for Integrated Schools. At the end of 1959, State Press closed down due to threats and loss of money. In November 1961, Bates resigned from her position as head of the Arkansas branch of the NAACP, but still remained active within the organization. She began advocating for voter education and rights in 1963 and marched, unnoticed by the press and in the middle of the crowd, with other prominent women at the March on Washington.[15]

The four women discussed this month are examples of how women were involved within the Civil Rights Movement before the March on Washington in 1963. Despite their activism in law, education, voter registration, desegregation, and anti-lynching throughout the 1930s-1960s these women, excluding Bates received no attention during the March on Washington. Ella Baker, Septima Clark, Pauli Murray and Daisy Bates were not permitted to walk alongside the male leaders of the Movement let alone speak at the Lincoln Memorial. These women influenced the student activists, like Diane Nash, who is most noted for her work in the Freedom Rides and sit-ins, coming into the Movement in the 1960s.

It is because of women like Baker, Clark, Murray and Bates that the Civil Rights Movement succeeded; their stories help to illustrate the extent that women were the backbone of the Movement through their dedication to education and true equality for all citizens. Their stories deserve more attention than being consigned to footnotes or a few paragraphs within the history of the Modern Civil Rights Movement.

[1] Peter B. Levy. The Civil Rights Movement (Westport: Greenwood Press, 1998) 11, 108. See also, Elizabeth Jacoway, Turn Away Thy Son: Little Rock, The Crisis That Shocked the Nation (New York: Free Press, 2007), 3. Hampton, Henry, Judith Vecchione, Orlando Bagwell, James A. DeVinney, Callie Crossley, Jon Else, Mark Samels, Steve Fayer, and Julian Bond. Eyes On the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Years. Fullscreen. [United States]: PBS Home Video, 2010.

[2] Olson, Freedom’s Daughters, 134.

[3] National Park Service; courtesy Special Collections, University of Arkansas. https://www.nps.gov/people/dbates.htm.

[4] Olson, Freedom’s Daughters, 134-136.

[5] Olson, Freedom’s Daughters, 134-137.

[6] Gayle J. Hardy, American Women Civil Rights Activists: Biobibliographies of 68 Leaders, 1825-1992. (Jefferson: McFarland & Company Inc., Publishers, 1993) 33.

[7] Olson, Freedom’s Daughters, 134-137. See also, Poston, Ted. “A WOMAN WHO DARED..” Daily Defender (Daily Edition) (1956-1960), Dec 04, 1957. http://ezproxy.villanova.edu.ezp1.villanova.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezp1.villanova.edu/docview/493718685?accountid=14853.

[8] Stockley, Daisy Bates, 65-67.

[9] Stockley, Daisy Bates, 122-127.

[10] Daisy Bates, The Long Shadow of Little Rock: A Memoir by Daisy Bates (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1986) 65-66. See also, Hampton, Henry, Judith Vecchione, Orlando Bagwell, James A. DeVinney, Callie Crossley, Jon Else, Mark Samels, Steve Fayer, and Julian Bond. Eyes On the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Years. Fullscreen. [United States]: PBS Home Video, 2010.

[11] Kemp, R. (1957, Dec 19). Tension in little rock high as school adjourns. Daily Defender (Daily Edition) (1956-1960) Retrieved from http://ezproxy.villanova.edu.ezp1.villanova.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezp1.villanova.edu/docview/493735050?accountid=14853

[12] Stockley, Daisy Bates, 186-188. See also, Bates, The Long Shadow of Little Rock, 107-110.

[13] “Mrs. Bates, Atty. Hill, Little Rock 9 Honored.” Daily Defender (Daily Edition) (1956-1960), Dec 31, 1957. http://ezproxy.villanova.edu.ezp1.villanova.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezp1.villanova.edu/docview/493659754?accountid=14853.

[14] Olson, Freedom’s Daughters, 137.

[15] Hardy, American Women Civil Rights Activists, 32-34. See also, Bates, The Long Shadow of Little Rock, 177-179, 227-230.

African American Women of the Modern Civil Rights Movement – Anna Paulina (Pauli) Murray

(Image of Pauli Murray Courtesy of the Pauli Murray Project[1])

*This article is part of a month long series on underrepresented women within the Modern Civil Rights Movement.

by Madeleine Stout (@cellowolfe)

Anna Paulina (“Pauli”) Murray was a Civil Rights lawyer and religious leader. She spent her life fighting for equal rights against racial and gender oppression.[2] Murray experienced southern segregation firsthand in her middle school and high school years. When it came time for her to attend college she was turned rejected by Columbia because she was a woman and turned from Barnard College for being too poor. She was directed to enroll in Hunter College, a city school for women with free tuition, but to get into Hunter College, Murray had to relocate to New York and finish her high school years in New York City.[3] She enrolled in Hunter College in 1928 and graduated in 1933, one of only four black women in a class of 247 students.

In the 1930s, Pauli Murray attempted to find work and was hired within the Works Progress Administration (WPA, later the Works Project Administration). Murray began by teaching for the WPA and was later transferred to the Worker’s Education Project which set her to work with members of unions to learn about trade union laws, labor education, and collective bargaining.[4] Late in the decade, Murray took an interest in racial studies and decided to pursue a graduate degree at the University of North Carolina, but was rejected in 1938 because of racial discrimination.[5] Murray sent a copy of her rejection letter and correspondence with Dean Pierson and President Graham of the University to Walter White, the executive secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

According to Murray, “on January 5th, 1939, the story of my application broke in Chapel Hill and was quickly picked up by the local press…” and “the days immediately following the first press stories were anxious ones for me. I had touched the raw nerve of White supremacy in the South.”[6] Even before Murray was an activist, she fought back against the unequal treatment of segregation in the South. Unfortunately for Murray, her racist rejection from the University of North Carolina did not result in a legal battle headed by Thurgood Marshall. This was the first instance of Murray butting heads with the patriarchal system in the Civil Rights Movement.[7] Murray’s experiences resulted in two more possible cases for the NAACP to select in their fight against Jim Crow interstate transportation laws. In the 1940s, she was arrested twice in Virginia for conduct on Greyhound buses. She maintained contact with the NAACP in both short jail terms, but both legal cases against the Virginia state legislature on interstate travel were lost.[8] Murray’s constant experience with Jim Crow segregation laws led her to become a lawyer.

Pauli Murray 2

(Pauli Murray – Photo courtesy of The Chicago Defender)

 

Murray entered Howard Law School and earned her law degree in three years. She claimed Howard Law School “provided excellent training for anyone devoted to the struggle to enforce civil rights”.[9] Murray was one of two women within her program at Howard, until the other woman dropped out, leaving her the sole female in her class. When she started at Howard Law in 1940, Murray was hired part time to the Workers Defense League’s (WDL) administrative committee. During the 1940s, in cooperation with the WDL, the National Urban League, Eleanor Roosevelt, and the NAACP, Murray worked to organize and carry out the fourth annual National Sharecroppers Week. The National Sharecroppers Week was full of programming meant to inform the public of the problems sharecroppers faced in the South and to raise money to finance programs toward remedial action.[10]

While with the WDL she worked on the appeal case of the black sharecropper Odell Waller, and tried to prevent his execution.[11] Despite Murray and the WDL’s correspondence with Eleanor Roosevelt, Waller was executed on July 2, 1942. In response to the Waller execution, A. Philip Randolph wanted to organize a March in New York City and persuaded Murray to aid him in carrying out the march under the umbrella term of the “March On Washington.”[12] He had confidence in Murray’s ability to garner support for the event, but Murray was surprised and frustrated when Randolph left New York for a NAACP convention in Los Angeles leaving her to organize and plan the march by herself.

The result was a small, silent anti-lynching march from 56th street and Eighth Avenue to Union Square held on July 25, 1942. This silent march would not have been possible if not for the leadership and planning of Murray, Dollie Lowther, Maida Stewart, and Anna Arnold Hedgeman.[13] This event received some recognition in newspapers, but history has neglected it within broader conversations about the Civil Rights Movement. Overshadowed by A. Philip Randolph’s attendance, the women involved were given little praise.

In addition to organizing marches and working for the WDL, Murray became an established Civil Rights author in the 1940s. While in law school in 1941, Pauli Murray published the article “Negro Youth’s Dilemma” in the National Youth Administration’s magazine Threshold. Murray’s article posed questions about black involvement in World War I such as “What are we fighting for?” and called out the lack of democracy and equality in the United States for people of color.[14] Murray credits “Negro Youth’s Dilemma” as, “the beginning of my student activism.”[15]

Nearly twenty years before the Woolworth sit-in that inspired the creation of Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in 1960, Murray and her fellow Howard students held a sit-in of their own. In April 1943, Murray and her colleagues marched to the Little Palace Cafeteria where they were refused service and in retaliation silently sat at a table with their notebooks, pens, and pencils and refused to move.[16] The police arrived, but since the students were not being rowdy or breaking any laws, they were not arrested. The owner of the restaurant closed the Little Palace early. The students picketed and performed sit-ins at the restaurant until the owner capitulated and began serving African Americans.[17]

The Little Palace Cafeteria sit-in gained little media attention and still receives little recognition within Civil Rights Movement history. It was during her time spent at Howard University that Murray became more aware of the women’s movement and drew parallels between the battle against racial segregation and the battle for suffrage. She began theorizing on how to vanquish gender discrimination within higher education. Murray made it her goal to try and bring down what she had dubbed “Jane Crow.”[18]

Murray graduated from Howard Law School in 1944 and in 1946 she accepted a job at the Commission on Law and Social Action, an agency tied to the American Jewish Congress, but left nine months later to try and establish herself as a lawyer. Murray was met with constant rejection because of racial and gender discrimination.[19] In 1948 Murray experienced difficulties with her application to the New York State Bar. The postwar United States experienced high levels of red-baiting and the of Communism hindered Civil Rights activists’ daily lives. Her time in prison in Petersburg, Virginia coupled with her arrests for picketing, her alias, and the articles she had written challenging American status quo all affected her application status.[20]

In the end, Murray prevailed and was admitted. She then received employment from Carson DeWitt Baker, one of New York’s most successful black lawyers. Working with Baker gave Murray the opportunities to establish herself as a lawyer in New York. Throughout the 1950s, Murray took on multiple cases defending sharecroppers and black women. In 1956, Murray accepted a job as an associate attorney with Paul, Weiss, Ridking, Wharton & Garrison; a law firm in New York.[21] She continued to take on civil rights and small claim cases through the 1950s.

In 1962, Murray was recommended by Eleanor Roosevelt to serve on John F. Kennedy’s Commission on the Status of Women due to her activity as a civil rights and women’s rights activist. Murray had made connections between the fight for Civil Rights and the need for gender equality to benefit all women. Murray knew that black women faced hardships based on both race and gender.[22]

In 1963, Murray battled the patriarchal hierarchy of the Civil Rights Movement. A. Philip Randolph had agreed to speak at an all-male National Press Club and refused to speak on the issues of women in the 1960s. To make matters worse, Bayard Rustin and Randolph had excluded women from the list of speakers at the upcoming March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.[23] Murray had worked with both men closely in legal cases for the WDL, NAACP, and protests so this decision felt like a personal betrayal to Pauli Murray. Murray publicly criticized the decision of Randolph and Rustin in a Washington Post interview. Murray claimed, “Women who have been active in local branches of the NAACP have observed the efforts of men to push them out of positions of leadership.”[24]

Murray’s criticism of the March on Washington was based on her experience behind the scenes of the Civil Rights Movement. Murray spent her lifetime working on legal battles against Jim Crow and Jane Crow legislation, as well as fighting against discrimination in different arenas from restaurants to academia. Not only did Murray battle racial discrimination from whites, but gender discrimination from black males within the Civil Rights movement. Murray’s life illustrates the way in which women met resistance within the movement and ultimately were pushed out of the historical spotlight. A woman who helped fight against segregation, went to prison for the movement, and helped legally defend blacks in the South, Murray has for the most part been skipped over by historians.

[1] “Imp, Crusader, Dude, Priest: An exhibit about the life and legacy of 20th Century human rights champion Pauli Murray” The Pauli Murray Project. https://sites.fhi.duke.edu/paulimurrayproject/

[2] In her memoir, Song in a Weary Throat, Murray mentions countless instances when she was rejected for either being black or being female. She mentions facing bus segregation, school segregation, and even gender discrimination in both her educational and occupational life. Historians have begun investigating whether or not Murray faced discrimination based on sexuality in her lifetime as well. Some such as Rosalind Rosenberg in her book, Jane Crow: The Life of Pauli Murray, mentions the theory that Murray was either a lesbian or transgendered.

[3] Pauli Murray, Song in a Weary Throat: An American Pilgrimage (Cambridge: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1987) 66-69.

[4] Murray, Song in a Weary Throat, 92, 102-103

[5] Murray connects her rejection from the University of North Carolina with the historical Missouri Ex Rel Gaines v Canada case of 1938. When she responded back to the Dean of the University he told her that her enrollment was, “for the state to decide”. Murray, Song in a Weary Throat, 115-116.

[6] Murray, Song in a Weary Throat, 117-118.

[7] Murray, Song in a Weary Throat, 126.

[8] Murray, Song in a Weary Throat, 146-149. Murray was in contact with Eleanor Roosevelt at this time, and even with Roosevelt calling to speak to the judge on behalf of Murray the cases were lost, showing just how difficult it was to challenge segregation laws throughout the South.

Allida M. Black. “A Reluctant but Persistent Warrior: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Early Civil Rights Movement” in Women and the Civil Rights Movement, 244.

[9] Murray, Song in a Weary Throat, 182.

[10] “85 Citizens to Sponsor National Sharecroppers Week March 4-11.” The Chicago Defender (National Edition) (1921-1967), Feb 03, 1940. http://ezproxy.villanova.edu.ezp1.villanova.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezp1.villanova.edu/docview/492589891?accountid=14853.

[11] Her job with the WDL put Murray in close connection with Civil Rights Leaders such as A. Phillip Randolph, Norman Thomas, Thurgood Marshall, and Leon Ransom. To make an appeal of Waller’s sentencing the WDL had to raise $350 for legal fees. Murray had to travel to Virginia, something she herself did not want to do due after spending time in the Petersburg Prison back in 1940.

Murray, Song in a Weary Throat, 150-156. See also, Rosalind Rosenberg. Jane Crow: The Life of Pauli Murray (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017) 97-101. See also, “FIGHT TO SAVE SHARECROPPER FROM ‘CHAIR’.” The Chicago Defender (National Edition) (1921-1967), Nov 16, 1940. http://ezproxy.villanova.edu.ezp1.villanova.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezp1.villanova.edu/docview/492636125?accountid=14853. “Mother of Condemned Seeks Aid.” 1941.The Chicago Defender (National Edition) (1921-1967), Feb 01, 4. http://ezproxy.villanova.edu.ezp1.villanova.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezp1.villanova.edu/docview/492639228?accountid=14853.

[12] Rosenberg, Jane Crow, 105-108. From 1941-1946, the March on Washington Movement led marches across the country in the hope of creating a march in D.C.

[13] Rosenberg, Jane Crow, 105-109.

[14] Murray, Song in a Weary Throat, 184-185.

[15] Murray, Song in a Weary Throat, 188.

[16] The majority of the students involved were women, and all of the students who had organized the sit-in, including Murray, were female according to her memoir. Newspapers did report on the Sit-in stating that some white patrons of the Little Palace Cafeteria understood the students “fight for democracy” and that it would “get my vote” if voted on integration of restaurants.

Murray, Song in a Weary Throat, 207. See also, Harry McAlpin Defender, Washington Bureau. “Howard Students Picket Jim Crow Restaurant.” The Chicago Defender (National Edition) (1921-1967), Apr 24, 1943. http://ezproxy.villanova.edu.ezp1.villanova.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezp1.villanova.edu/docview/492688976?accountid=14853.

Olson, Freedom’s Daughter, 20.

[17] Murray, Song in a Weary Throat, 208-209.

[18] Murray, Song in a Weary Throat, 238-244.

[19] Murray mentions that many white run law practices didn’t want to risk having her on their team due to her skin color, while black law practices were either suffering economically at the time, or didn’t want to hire a woman.

Murray, Song in a Weary Throat, 270- 272.

[20] Rosenberg, Jane Crow, 180-181.

[21] Rosenberg, Jane Crow, 209.

[22] Rosenberg, Jane Crow, 142-143, 242, 266.

[23] Rosenberg, Jane Crow, 266-267. See also, Julie A. Gallagher. Black Women and Politics in New York City (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2012) 151.  PAULI MURRAY, New Haven, Conn, BETTY K. KERLEY, HAROLD B. ATKINSON, Frank Harris, Wis Boaz, LEON SHAPIRO Baltimore, Annandale R.A. REEMSNYDER, and LOIS M. RETTIE. “Letters to the Editor.” The Washington Post, Times Herald (1959-1973), Aug 24, 1963. http://ezproxy.villanova.edu.ezp1.villanova.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezp1.villanova.edu/docview/142030025?accountid=14853.

[24] By, Sue Cronk. “Women Given A Back Seat.” The Washington Post, Times Herald (1959-1973), Nov 16, 1963. http://ezproxy.villanova.edu.ezp1.villanova.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezp1.villanova.edu/docview/141955320?accountid=14853.

African American Women of the Modern Civil Rights Movement – Septima Poinsette Clark

(Photo from Bob Fitch Photography Archive – Stanford University Libraries.[1])

by Madeleine Stout (@CelloWolfe)

*This article is part of a month long series on underrepresented women within the Modern Civil Rights Movement.

Until recently, women such as Ella Baker, Septima Clark, Pauli Murray, and Daisy Bates have been confined to the shadows within the history of the Modern Civil Rights Movement (1954-1965). This month-long series looks at the accomplishments and activism of women of color leading up to the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in August 1963. By analyzing the lives of Baker, Clark, Murray, and Bates, women of color emerge as the backbone of the Civil Rights movement before 1963. These women are among the many that deserve a place alongside Martin Luther King, Jr., A. Philip Randolph, John Lewis, and Stokely Carmichael.

Septima Poinsette Clark was another influential matriarch of the Civil Rights Movement. Her activism focused on voter registration, citizen education, and women’s rights. Both The Crisis and Ebony magazines share no information on Septima Clark’s death or her life as an activist. As a result, the dates concerning the early years of Clark’s activism vary.[2] Clark’s father was a former slave, while her mother lived in Haiti for a time. Clark wanted to be a teacher, and she spent the majority of her life doing just that. Similar to Baker, Clark met with resistance from the patriarchal hierarchy of organizations such as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). She was an independent activist who believed that the Civil Rights Movement would benefit from engaging with black communities in poor and rural areas throughout the south. Both Clark and Baker excelled at educating and inspiring others to act against white supremacy and racial inequality.[3] They also were both known for trying to stay out of the limelight and for playing parts within the development of the grassroots struggle for racial equality.

Martin Luther King, Jr. referred to Clark as the “Mother of the Movement.”[4] In contrast to his glowing referral, Septima Clark left behind little personal sources from her life, working in the shadows to educate African American men and women. Clark’s activism began in 1918-1919 when she joined the Charleston chapter of the NAACP and attempted to take up teaching there. Because Charleston law prohibited blacks from teaching students in the public school system, Clark’s first teaching job was on Johns Island, just off the coast of Charleston.[5] Clark made it her mission to end teacher segregation. She used her connections within the NAACP to lead a petition drive and shortly after the ban on black teachers was lifted.[6] After fighting teaching segregation  in Charleston, Clark devoted her attention to fighting unequal salaries between white and black educators. When she was not teaching students in elementary schools, Clark could be found helping illiterate adults learn how to read, to write, and to learn about their rights as citizens.[7] In 1935, Clark became a teacher in the South Carolina Adult Education Program where she helped illiterate black soldiers learn to read and write.[8]

In the 1940s, Clark earned Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in education from Benedict College of Columbia and the Hampton Institute, and became instrumental in multiple organizations. She joined the Black Columbia Young Women’s Christian Association, Federated Women’s Club of South Carolina, the state teachers’ association, and the Columbia Chapter of the NAACP.[9] She spent her time in these organizations engaging in the local community of Columbia and continued her work when she moved to Charleston. Clark not only continued to fight for equality between educators, but also advocated for community advancement. In the mid-1940s, Clark worked with fellow activists Elizabeth Waring, wife of Judge Waties Waring, Thurgood Marshall, and Harold R. Boulware, to end unequal pay among teachers.[10] Throughout the 1940s, Clark involved herself in community outreach programs, she taught not only children, but adults the importance of citizenship.

Septima Clark 2

(Septima Clark (Right) photo found through NewYork Times courtesy of Bob Fitch Archive/Stanford University Library.)

In the 1950s, Clark became more involved in teaching and in her Civil Rights activism. In 1954, Clark travelled to the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee to continue her training as an activist. The Highlander Folk School was an institution that encouraged Civil Rights leaders to interact and live together. The school was known for defying the state law prohibiting black and white individuals from eating and sleeping in the same spaces.[11] Clark repeatedly returned to the Highlander Folk School after 1954. At first she attended the workshops and then became a teacher and leader within the school. It was at the Highlander Folk School that Clark met Rosa Parks, in a workshop which Clark was directing.[12] This is another common connection between Clark and Baker; both women influenced and taught Rosa Parks about leadership within the Civil Rights Movement. While Clark found a place to continue inspiring ordinary people that their actions could lead to change, her job as a teacher met resistance.

 In 1955, the South Carolina legislature reacted to the Brown v. Board of Education decision by ruling  that no city or state employee could belong to the NAACP. As a result in 1956 Clark lost her job teaching and devoted the next few years to working at the Highlander Folk School, leading workshops and influencing future activists.[13] In the 1960s, she developed and launched the Citizenship Schools, funded by loans from the Highlander Folk School. These schools were disguised from southern whites by the installation of a grocery store at the front of the building.[14] Charles Payne defined the goal of the Citizenship Schools as to “create involved citizens, not just voters.”[15] Clark convinced Ella Baker to visit the Highlander Folk School in 1960. Clark and Baker saw the Highlander Folk School as a way to educate students in tactics of Civil Rights leaders.[16]

Under Clark’s leadership, the Citizenship Schools students created credit unions, nursing homes, a kindergarten school, and low-income housing projects. By 1961, the Citizenship Schools had spread throughout the South and Septima Clark had convinced the SCLC to bring the schools under the wing of the organization.[17] It took pressure from both Septima Clark and Ella Baker to convince Martin Luther King, Jr. to take over the program. Under the SCLC, 897 Citizenship Schools were established throughout the South.[18] Both women pointed out that the Citizenship Schools had not only led to the education of individuals in poor and rural southern areas, but also to an increase in voter registration of blacks in the South, an increase that was greater than that of the SCLC voter registration drives.[19] One of the strengths of Clark’s activism is that she, like Baker, believed that voter registration and education of blacks in the rural south were not the end goal, but the first step towards achieving equality in the United States.

In 1961, Clark became the SCLC director of education and training which made her the first woman elected to the Executive Board of the SCLC. This differed from Baker’s position in the founding of the SCLC when she held a temporary interim position until a man could be found to take over. Clark was recruited and elected by Martin Luther King, Jr. As a result, she had to leave her position at the Highlander Folk School as a Director of Workshops and Chief Fundraiser after working there for three years from 1957-1960. Clark took the position at the SCLC when she was in her late sixties. Her position on the SCLC staff required her to travel across the South directing workshops on how to become involved in non-violent grassroots activism.[20] In 1963, Clark’s work within the SCLC had gained attention for helping educate and register over 21,000 blacks to vote throughout the South.[21] As a result of Clark’s travels in the South, black people were able to register to vote and became active participants in body politics against white supremacy.

Not only was Clark able to fight against racial inequality, she advocated for the equal rights of women. Clark believed that by training women in citizenship education and creating teachers out of her female students, they would be able to realize their worth in society, although the main objective remained training quality educators.[22] Clark stayed on her position with the SCLC until 1970 when she finally retired.[23] Clark’s dedication to citizenship education influenced the Civil Rights Movement’s voter registration drives. She demonstrated the importance of education to voter registration and the Civil Rights Movement and inspired countless leaders in the Movement. Ella Baker and Septima Clark are known as two of the matriarchs of the Civil Rights Movement. Their engagement with and development of grassroots activism helped inspire and educate the masses of the Civil Rights Movement.

[1] “Clark, Septima Poinsette.” Stanford, Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute. https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu/encyclopedia/clark-septima-poinsette.

[2] An article in Time by Erin Blakemore claims Clark became a member of the NAACP in 1919, while Lynne Olson states it was in 1918 that Clark joined the organization.

[3] Olson, Freedom’s Daughters, 216-217.

[4] Septima Clark, Echo in My Soul (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1962) 131-133.

[5] Erin Blakemore. “The Woman Who Schooled the Civil Rights Movement” Time (New York, NY) February 16th, 2016. See also, Rosetta E. Ross. Witnessing and Testifying: Black Women, Religion, and Civil Rights (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003) 60-61.

[6] Erin Blakemore. “The Woman Who Schooled the Civil Rights Movement” Time.

[7] Ross, Witnessing and Testifying, 60-63.

[8] Grace Jordan McFadden, “Septima P. Clark and the Struggle for Human Rights” in Women in the Civil Rights Movement: Trailblazers and Torchbearers 1941-1965. Ed. Vicki L. Crawford, Jacqueline Anne Rouse, and Barbara Woods. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990) 88.

[9] Ross, Witnessing and Testifying, 66-67.

[10] Charles Payne, I’ve Got the Light of Freedom: The Organizing Tradition and the Mississippi Freedom Struggle (Berkley: University of California Press, 1995) 68-70. See also, McFadden, “Septima P. Clark and the Struggle for Human Rights” in Women in the Civil Rights Movement, 88.

[11] Payne, I’ve Got the Light of Freedom, 70-71.

[12] Payne, I’ve Got the Light of Freedom, 71.

[13] Payne, I’ve Got the Light of Freedom, 72-73. See also, Jacqueline A. Rouse “We Seek to Know…in Order to Speak the Truth” in Sister’s in the Struggle: African American Women in the Civil Rights-Black Power Movement. Ed. Bettye Collier-Thomas and V.P. Franklin (New York: New York University Press, 2001) 106-107.

[14] Payne, I’ve Got the Light of Freedom, 73-74.

[15] Payne, I’ve Got the Light of Freedom, 75.

[16] McFadden, “Septima P. Clark and the Struggle for Human Rights” in Women in the Civil Rights Movement, 88-90.

[17] Payne, I’ve Got the Light of Freedom, 75-76.

[18] Jacqueline A. Rouse “We Seek to Know…in Order to Speak the Truth” in Sister’s in the Struggle, 112-113.

[19] Payne, I’ve Got the Light of Freedom, 75.

[20] McFadden, “Septima P. Clark and the Struggle for Human Rights” in Women in the Civil Rights Movement, 88-90.

[21] “Thousands of Dixie Negroes Studying to Win Right to Vote.” Chicago Daily Defender (Daily Edition) (1960-1973), Mar 25, 1963. http://ezproxy.villanova.edu.ezp1.villanova.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezp1.villanova.edu/docview/493957292?accountid=14853. While Clark is mentioned in this article, Martin Luther King publicly received the credit for the actions of Clark’s Citizenship Schools.

[22] McFadden, “Septima P. Clark and the Struggle for Human Rights” in Women in the Civil Rights Movement, 94-95.

[23] Olson, Freedom’s Daughters, 223.

African American Women of the Modern Civil Rights Movement – Ella Josephine Baker

(Photo from NC Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.[1])

by Madeleine Stout (@cellowolfe)

 

Until recently, women such as Ella Baker, Septima Clark, Pauli Murray, and Daisy Bates have been confined to the shadows within the history of the Modern Civil Rights Movement (1954-1965). They were given little recognition by scholars of American history, relegated to small paragraphs or a few sentences in books on the Civil Rights movement. Historians have only demonstrated the importance of women of color in the Civil Rights Movement through monographs for the past twenty years.

This month-long series looks at the accomplishments and activism of women of color leading up to the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in August 1963. It also engages with the argument that women of color during the Civil Rights Movement not only battled against white supremacy, but a patriarchal system within Civil Rights organizations as well. By analyzing the lives of Baker, Clark, Murray, and Bates, women of color emerge as the backbone of the Civil Rights movement before 1963. These women, and many others, deserve a place alongside Martin Luther King, Jr., A. Philip Randolph, John Lewis, and Stokely Carmichael.

Ella Josephine Baker was a teacher and mentor to numerous individuals within the Civil Rights Movement. She is known for being the main force behind the creation of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in 1960. A grassroots activist and supporter of mass resistance as a tactic in the Civil Rights Movement, Baker took on a plethora of causes and organizations prior to her role in SNCC. Before her entry into the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s she was an activist for economic equality between whites and blacks, but specifically for black women. She was a founding member of the Young Negroes’ Cooperative League (YNCL), which strove to obtain economic equality for blacks in the 1930s in response to the disparity brought on by the Great Depression. Baker utilized the YNCL to advocate equality for black women within consumerism co-operatives, and her passion for equality led to her being elected the national director of the YNCL in 1931.[2]

In addition to her work within the YNCL, Baker spent 1934 to 1936 involving herself in community outreach programs. She was chairman of the Youth Committee of One Hundred, organizing northern anti-lynching campaigns; she worked with the Young People’s Community Forum to help further educational opportunities for blacks; and she participated in a plan to get the New York City Public Library to hire blacks.[3] Her role within the community in Harlem continued as she engaged with Mothers in the Park to help with the education of adults. She was also an advisor to the New York Youth Council of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), where she continued to advocate against lynchings.[4]

In 1938, she applied for the Youth Director position in the NAACP, but was turned down despite her track record with the YNCL, Works Progress Administration, and American Labor Party.[5] It was not until 1941 that Baker gained a significant staff position with the NAACP as an assistant field secretary. In the early 1940s, Baker went on a tour visiting different branches of the NAACP in the south and increasing membership for the organization. Her time spent as assistant field secretary and then as a director of local branches for the NAACP in the late 1940s put Baker in positions of leadership, albeit small ones, bent on inspiring blacks in the south to employ tactics of mass resistance such as the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955-1956.[6]

It was her time spent working in the NAACP in the 1940s and 1950s that brought Baker into conflict with male leaders in the Civil Rights Movement. In 1943, Baker was traveling by train in Florida when military police attempted to remove her from a dining car and bruised her leg. She wanted to sue the railway, but those in charge at the NAACP refused to take the case.[7] There were instances when Baker and the leadership of the NAACP worked in harmony. Baker was able to persuade staff members at the NAACP of the importance of branch in-service training sessions as well as leadership training.[8] She orchestrated sessions that instructed leaders and staff members on how to meet the economic, social, and civic obstacles that faced many blacks in society.[9] The training sessions were successful, resulting in large scale membership campaigns where membership increased drastically into the quarter millions. The 1940s were a complicated era for Baker. She had begun to establish a reputation for herself within the NAACP, but she faced resistance from its leaders despite her success at recruiting and training members. While she did have some close relationships with men like Bayard Rustin and Amzie Moore, she still had difficulties seeing eye to eye with leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr. and W.E.B. Dubois.

 

zinn project baker

(Ella Baker Delivering a Speech in Atlantic City Photo Found on The Zinn Project)

The 1950s were a challenging time for Baker. The Civil Rights Movement was heating up with events such as the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the fight for integration in public schools across the United States. Baker was involved indirectly with the integration of schools. In 1955 she, Bayard Rustin, A. Philip Randolph and others formed the organization In Friendship, a liberal-labor order that aided activists pushing for integration of southern schools.[10] Baker not only influenced raising funds in support of the integration of schools, she also played a part in the beginning of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Rosa Parks, most known for refusing to give up her seat in the “whites only” section of a bus in Montgomery Alabama, was an active member in the NAACP. Prior to Parks’ decision to stay seated on her bus she had attended a civil rights workshop led by Baker.[11] In addition to working within the NAACP and traveling throughout the South to inspire people to get involved in the Civil Rights Movement, Baker helped form the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). As a result of a meeting of the Southern Negro Leaders Conference on Transportation and Non-Violent Integration held on January 11th, 1957, the SCLC came into being with King as the president of the organization and Baker serving as the “Interim Executive Director”.[12]

Baker continued her activism into the 1960s. She led the way in the SCLC’s “Citizenship Crusade” with the goal of educating African-Americans in the South on their status as U.S. Citizens and on their right to vote. In addition to the “Citizenship Crusade,” Baker also created and edited the SCLC newsletter and was responsible for making phone calls and writing letters to increase membership.[13] Baker eventually became frustrated with the SCLC male dominated leadership. She disagreed with their decision to keep women out of positions of authority within the organization and felt they were not interested in helping black sharecroppers and laborers. Baker also believed the SCLC was not involved enough in mobilizing black activists in rural and poor areas. Baker deemed their methodology as “slow preacher”, meaning they didn’t move fast and capitalize on the momentum of the Civil Rights movement.[14] Baker took a step back from the SCLC and became involved with mobilizing students. She was inspired by the sit-in protest at the lunch counter at Woolworth’s in Greensboro, North Carolina. She decided to become involved in the student movement growing in the 1960s, and helped found the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).[15]

Baker is most known for her work within SNCC in the 1960s, but it was her activism from the 1930s-1950s that led her to return to her alma mater, Shaw University, and found the most well-known student organization of the Civil Rights Movement in 1960. Baker not only helped found SNCC, but she advocated for the students to remain independent of older organizations such as SCLC and the NAACP. She saw a danger in having every organization revolve around the words and aura of Martin Luther King, Jr. and his inner circle.[16] It was through SNCC that Ella Baker was able to inspire activism and attention on the rural and poor areas of the south.

The student movement of the Civil Rights era engaged with the dangerous areas of the rural south. It was through Baker’s mentorship that SNCC grew into a powerful non-violent organization in the 1960s. Baker’s participation didn’t stop in 1960, as she later joined the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party and Fannie Lou Hamer.[17] While Baker’s life seems to be one of unstoppable activism, she did meet resistance from men within the Movement. Baker is not the only woman whose early achievements have been pushed out of the spotlight. Historians of the Civil Rights movement know about Ella Baker, but the majority of Americans in the United States are not acquainted with her name. There are other matriarchs of the Civil Rights movement that history seems to have passed over.

[1] “Ella Baker and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee” NC Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. https://www.ncdcr.gov/blog/2014/12/13/ella-baker-and-the-student-nonviolent-coordinating-committee.

[2] Joanne Grant, Ella Baker: Freedom Bound. (New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1998), 30, 32.

[3] Grant, Ella Baker, 37.

[4] Grant, Ella Baker, 37.

[5] Grant, Ella Baker, 43.

[6] Lynne Olson, Freedom’s Daughters: The Unsung Heroines of the Civil Rights Movement from 1830-1970. (New York: Scribner, 2001) 133.

[7] Grant, Ella Baker, 65.

[8] Grant, Ella Baker, 73.

[9] Grant, Ella Baker, 73-74.

[10] Grant, Ella Baker, 100.

[11] Grant, Ella Baker, 101.

[12] Grant, Ella Baker, 103. Miller, Steffen, Schäfer-Wünsche, The Civil Rights Movement Revisited, 93. John Britton. Interview with Ella Baker. Washington D.C., June 1968 (Moorland-Springarn Research Center (MSRC) of Howard University, Washington D.C.). “History.” Southern Christian Leadership Conference. 2014. Accessed May 2, 2018. http://nationalsclc.org/about-us/history/. The SCLC website has little mention of Ella Baker’s role within the organization and credits the majority of the successes to men’s activism. This contributes to the erasure of black women’s role in the Civil Rights Movement.

[13] Miller, Steffen, Schäfer-Wünsche, The Civil Rights Movement Revisited, 93-94.

[14] Miller, Steffen, Schäfer-Wünsche, The Civil Rights Movement Revisited, 96-97. Britton, Interview with Ella Baker, Washington D.C., 1968.

[15] Miller, Steffen, Schäfer-Wünsche, The Civil Rights Movement Revisited, 98.

[16] Miller, Steffen, Schäfer-Wünsche, The Civil Rights Movement Revisited, 97.

[17] Miller, Steffen, Schäfer-Wünsche, The Civil Rights Movement Revisited, 97-98. See also, Letter to the Democratic National Convention from Ella Baker, July 20, 1964, crmvet.org. Accessed, May 2nd, 2018.  See also, “MFDP–General papers, 1963-1965, part 1”. Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party records, 1962-1971; Historical Society Library Microforms Room, Micro 788,Reel 1, Segment 2, Part 1; WIHV3937S-A, Located in Madison, Wisconsin. . Last year, Time published an article on Ella Baker’s life of activism and her importance to the Civil Rights Movement. In the article it mentioned not only her desire to remain out of the spotlight, but also the patriarchal hierarchy of the SCLC and the NAACP that she and other women battled against. Julie Scelfo. “On MLK Day, Honor the Mother of the Civil Rights Movement, Too” Time January 16, 2017.

Movie Mythos: The Death of Stalin

by Madeleine Stout (@CelloWolfe)

(Poster from Armando Iannucci’s The Death of Stalin; all other pictures are screenshots taken by the author)

            Hollywood has a history of taking important historical events and crafting emotional, action packed, and thought provoking films. A few examples are seen in The King’s Speech (2010), Argo (2012), Selma (2014), and the recently premiered Black Klansman (2018) and Green Book (2018). While historical dramas do a good job making audiences think about history, they are not usually accurate. Hollywood does occasionally stray from producing serious movies, i.e. historical dramas, in order to release brightly lit stories that throw historical accuracy of a time period to the wind. Movies such as Pocahontas (1995), Marie Antoinette (2006), and The Greatest Showman (2017) serve as fun, colorful movies, but lack historical substance. One of the tasks of being a historian is seeing a historically based movie in theaters, because who doesn’t love films, but ignoring historical inaccuracies in shows so as not to come off as a “snob” or ruin the movie for other people. Somewhere between historical drama and biopic sits 2017’s The Death of Stalin.

            No, this isn’t going to be a nit picking review of a movie to demonstrate its historical inaccuracy. There will be some mention of what The Death of Stalin gets right, but more importantly what this movie says of the time period in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republic between Stalin’s death and Nikita Khrushchev’s rise to power in the USSR. Directed by Armando Iannucci, The Death of Stalin promoted an image of Stalin, the Politburo, and the USSR in a way that resulted in the film being banned in Russia. Anthony Lane of The New Yorker described the movie as a film “where every gag is girded with fear. The humor is so black that it might have been pumped out of the ground.”[1] Lane even dismisses any attempt to claim the movie as historically accurate because the full horrors of Stalin’s reign are difficult to depict in numbers. In response to the claim of historical inaccuracy, Iannucci states “It is a fiction, but it’s a fiction inspired by the truth of what it must have felt like at the time.”[2] The difference between historical drama, or fiction, and a biopic lies in tone, subject, and accuracy. Biopics, short for biographical movie, usually focuses on explaining an individual’s life or a specific period of their life. Historical dramas are about time periods, and created for film or television and tend to be fictitious to a degree. The Death of Stalin is not quite a biopic, despite focusing on a specific event in a person’s life, albeit their death, but also not quite a historical drama as it merely touches on the time period of 1950s USSR.

            The film begins the night Stalin had a cerebral hemorrhage, and ends with the ousting of Lavrentiy Beria. The timeline of the movie is misconstrued as it depicts Beria’s removal from the Politburo taking place recently after Stalin’s funeral. In reality the two events took place nine months apart.[3] But this isn’t about nitpicking the historical inaccuracies, like the storyline involving the pianist which took place in 1946, and not 1953. The movie seamlessly maneuvers the timeline inaccuracies with nonstop transitions from scene to scene supported by comedic lines and crude language. The movie took liberties with language, as few documentation survives of what was said during Stalin’s movie nights with the Politburo, or secret conversations between Khrushchev and other members of the Party. It is highly unlikely that Georgy Malenkov, deputy to Stalin, ever yelled at Stalin’s funeral “kiss my Russian ass.”[4]

censored kiss my ass

(Highly amusing, also highly unlikely.[5])

            Due to the cut and dry language, the use of non-Russian accents, and the messy timeline, viewers may not believe the writers and director conducted historical research. Despite the historical inaccuracies, the main goal of the film according to Iannucci is to make the audience feel what it was like to live during the time period. They held interviews with people who survived the USSR in the 1950s, they even consulted Soviet joke books about Beria and Stalin. The scenes in the movie that are the most accurate are those where the main players, Malenkov, Khrushchev, Molotov, and Beria are not present. The scenes of people being kidnapped in the middle of the night, the shooting yards in the gulag, and the interrogation scenes.[6]  There are memoirs from individuals who survived Stalin’s rule of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics from 1922-1953. Eugenia Ginzburg survived interrogation, prison, and work in labor camps during the 1930s and later published her memoirs of the experience. Alexander Solzhenitsyn published the Gulag Archipelago consisting reports, diaries, legal documents, and Solzhenitsyn’s first-hand account of life in the Gulag during Stalin’s reign of terror. While the movie does not focus on the Gulag, it is briefly present in the form of an outdoor, frozen, firing squad interrupted after Stalin’s death.

            The best part of the movie is how it encapsulates the sporadic life of Moscow’s public; the living style of the politburo, yes they lived in apartments, the midnight abductions of people, and the devotion of the Soviet people at Stalin’s death. Evgenii Evtushenko’s poem Stalin’s Heirs encapsulates the horrors of Stalin’s reign almost ten years after his death. Evtushenko describes Stalin’s time in power as

“The ignoring of the people’s welfare,

The calumnies,

The arrests of the innocents”[7]

Evtushenko’s poetry highlights the numerous arrests of mostly innocent people which took place during Stalin’s purges. Evtushenko also serves as an eye witness on the death of Stalin and the procession of Soviet citizens to see the ruler’s body on display. Evtushenko writes “the crowd turned into a monstrous whirlpool” and “I saw a young girl was being pushed against the post…I did not hear but felt with my body the cracking of her brittle bones as they were broken by the traffic light.”[8] Evtushenko did not only write of the state of Russia under Stalin and the thick mobs of people traveling to see his casket. He wrote of the aftermath left behind by Stalin’s shadow. He recalled the release of prisoners from concentration camps, his words not mine, and the freeing of imprisoned doctors. With the release of political prisoners came the stories of horrors unleashed in camps. Evtushenko states “the news stunned the general public who, by and large, had believed in their guilt. The trusting Russian people were beginning to understand that it could be dangerous to trust too much.”[9]

 

your face

(Accurate representation of your face while watching this movie.[10])

            Evtushenko’s writings are reflected and portrayed in The Death of Stalin, when Molotov’s wife is returned to him (she was arrested for treason in 1949) he doubts it at first and continues to talk ill of her when around other members of the Politburo. The movie portrays common people being reunited with loved ones who were arrested and unable to believe it either. Evtushenko also expresses a dislike for Lavrentiy Beria. The movie alludes to Beria raping young women who had been arrested. Evtushenko’s writing confirms this behavior “I saw the vulture face of Beria, half hidden by a muffler, glued to the window of his limousine as he drove slowly by the curb, hunting down a woman for the night.”[11] Evtushenko continues “the bullet lodged in Beria’s head was an act of justice” which suggests the public knew of his grisly ending.

            The movie was, unsurprisingly, banned in the Russian Federation. Why the movie was banned is complicated. One reason the movie was banned was due to the negative portrayal and criticism of Stalin’s policies and reign. Unlike in the West, Stalin is seen in a positive light by the Russian government with his portraits still hung in hotels and other public institutions.[12] Nikolai Starikov, a writer of Russian history as well as a pro-Stalin politician (nothing sketchy there), claims the movie is an “unfriendly act by the British intellectual class” and “anti-Russian war information.”[13] The legal team in Russia working for the Russian Culture Ministry determined the film should not be screened in Russia because the movie was aiming at inciting hatred through its extremist depiction of Soviet people and life during Stalin’s time in office.[14] Russia’s Culture Ministry took the banning seriously by suing a theater for screening the film five times in January 2018.[15]

            Whether you are for or against Stalin’s time as the dictator leader of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the Death of Stalin is a fictional depiction of real events. The crass language, comedic writing, and fantastic cast meld together to portray the uncertainty in the years following Stalin’s death in a way that mimics the experiences of common people from 1932-1953. The work has been well received in the United States and Britain, not to mention my roommate – who definitely does not like Russia much – gave it a positive review. Even the biggest critics of Russia, not to mention historians, will find the movie crude, but charming.

[1] Anthony Lane. “The Death of Stalin” Dares to Make Evil Funny” The New Yorker. https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/03/19/the-death-of-stalin-dares-to-make-evil-funny.

[2] Scott Tobias. “Armando Iannucci on ‘Death of Stalin,’ Political Satire and Trump’s Funeral” The RollingStone. https://www.rollingstone.com/movies/movie-features/armando-iannucci-on-death-of-stalin-political-satire-and-trumps-funeral-127384/

[3] Vladislav M. Zubok. A Failed Empire: The Soviet Union in the Cold War From Stalin to Gorbachev. (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2007) 88-89.

[4] The Death of Stalin. Film (DVD). Directed by Armando Iannucci. Los Angeles: Entertainment One Films, 2017.

[5] The Death of Stalin. Film (DVD). Directed by Armando Iannucci. Los Angeles: Entertainment One Films, 2017.

[6] Ginzburg, Eugenia. Journey into the Whirlwind. (San Diego: Harcourt, 1967). Solzhenit︠s︡yn, Aleksandr Isaevich. The Gulag Archipelago, 1918-1956: An Experiment in Literary Investigation. (New York: Harper & Row, 1974).

[7] “Evtushenko on Stalin’s Heirs” Soviet Moments in History: an online archive of primary sources. http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1961-2/thaw-poets/thaw-poets-texts/evtushenko-on-stalins-heirs/.

[8] Evgenii Evtushenko, Precocious Autobiography (New York: Dutton, 1963), pp. 88-102.

[9] Evgenii Evtushenko, Precocious Autobiography (New York: Dutton, 1963), pp. 88-102.

[10] The Death of Stalin. Film (DVD). Directed by Armando Iannucci. Los Angeles: Entertainment One Films, 2017.

[11] Evgenii Evtushenko, Precocious Autobiography (New York: Dutton, 1963), pp. 88-102.

[12] While the film was banned in Russia, Iannucci doesn’t appear too phased or upset by it.

Shaun Walker. “In Russia, nobody’s laughing at Iannucci’s The Death of Stalin.” The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/oct/14/in-russia-nobodys-laughing-at-armando-iannucci-death-of-stalin. Scott Tobias. “Armando Iannucci on ‘Death of Stalin,’ Political Satire and Trump’s Funeral” The RollingStone. https://www.rollingstone.com/movies/movie-features/armando-iannucci-on-death-of-stalin-political-satire-and-trumps-funeral-127384/.

[13] Shaun Walker. “In Russia, nobody’s laughing at Iannucci’s The Death of Stalin.” The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/oct/14/in-russia-nobodys-laughing-at-armando-iannucci-death-of-stalin.

[14]Russian Culture Ministry yanks distribution certificate for The Death of Stalin”. TASS. 23 January 2018. Retrieved 23 January 2018.

[15] Kozlov, Vladimir (23 February 2018). “Russia’s Culture Ministry Sues Movie Theater for Screening Armando Iannucci’s ‘The Death of Stalin'”. The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 1 June 2018.