Civil Rights: Getting Their Voices Heard

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Ella Baker

Ella Baker, ca. 1945

"Not a one of them
supported me"
- Septima Poinsette Clark

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Although women's membership was accepted in civil rights organizations, it was difficult for many women to get their voices heard or their ideas implemented by the men in power. Male leaders, according to trailblazers like Septima Poinsette Clark, were not inclined to place women on meeting agendas or support the ideas they presented through their male counterparts. According to Clark, in the executive meetings women "never were able to put ourselves on the agenda to speak to the group."

"I was drafted"
- Ella Baker

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Ella Baker, acting executive director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) for two terms, also felt marginalized in her activism. Baker, who was a founding member of the SCLC and the founder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), a movement for young African-Americans seeking to directly contribute to the civil rights effort through engaged activism and nonviolent resistance, says she was "drafted" by the SCLC to attend to organizational matters in the organization. In her interview, she says, "... certainly by no stretch of the imagination can it be considered a conscious effort on the part of the officialdom of SCLC to provide input from a female, as such. If anything, it would be to the contrary."

"I've never had one
weight laid on me"
- Modjeska Simkins

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Some women in the Civil Rights Movement felt that African-American women had unique positions of power in the South. According to activist Modjeska Simkins, some whites had a certain amount of respect for the black servants who brought them up and taught them manners and good graces. As Simkins says in her interview, this allowed African-American women like Rosa Parks to take part in civil disobedience without the same threats of jail or death as men.