What do you know about these women? Mary Frances Mays Ella Baker Daisy Bates Fannie Lou Hamer Dorothy Height Diane Nash
Not much I’m willing to bet! There is a good reason for that. Even though these women were very important to the inner workings of the Civil Rights Movement, they were not supposed to be out front. Although there was a “Tribute to Women” at the 1964 March to Washington, none of the women were given a chance to speak. None of them marched down Constitution Ave. to meet President John F. Kennedy.
Mary Frances Mays Hayneville, Alabama (34) When voting rights marchers descended on Lowndes County, Alabama, in 1965, despite the danger to her family, Mary Frances Mays fed them and let them camp out in her fields. Years later, the street she lives on was renamed "Freedom Road."
Ella The granddaughter of a slave who was beaten for refusing to marry a man her master chose for her, Ella Baker spent her life working behind the scenes to organize the Civil Rights Movement. If she could have changed anything about the movement, it might have been to persuade the men leading it that they, too, should do more work behind the scenes. Baker was a staunch believer in helping ordinary people to work together and lead themselves, and she objected to centralized authority. In her worldview, “strong people don’t need strong leaders.”
Daisy In 1957, she helped nine African American students to become the first to attend the all-white Central High School in Little Rock, who became known as the Little Rock Nine. The group first tried to go to the school on September 4. A group of angry whites jeered at them as they arrived. The governor, Orval Faubus, opposed school integration and sent members of the Arkansas National Guard to prevent the students from entering the school. Despite the enormous amount of animosity they faced from white residents of the city, the students were undeterred from their mission to attend the school. Bates’ home became the headquarters for the battle to integrate Central High School and she served as a personal advocate and supporter to the students.
Fannie In 1962, when Hamer was 44 years old, SNCC volunteers came to town and held a voter registration meeting. She was surprised to learn that African-Americans actually had a constitutional right to vote. When the SNCC members asked for volunteers to go to the courthouse to register to vote, Hamer was the first to raise her hand. This was a dangerous decision. She later reflected, "The only thing they could do to me was to kill me, and it seemed like they'd been trying to do that a little bit at a time ever since I could remember." When Hamer and others went to the courthouse, they were jailed and beaten by the police. Hamer's courageous act got her thrown off the plantation where she was a sharecropper. She also began to receive constant death threats and was even shot at. Still, Hamer would not be discouraged. She became a SNCC Field Secretary and traveled around the country speaking and registering people to vote.
Dorothy Originally trained as a social worker, Ms. Height was president of the National Council of Negro Women from 1957 to 1997, overseeing a range of programs on issues like voting rights, poverty and in later years AIDS. A longtime executive of the Y.W.C.A., she presided over the integration of its facilities nationwide in the 1940s.the Y.W.C.A. If Ms. Height was less well known than her contemporaries in either the civil rights or women’s movement, it was perhaps because she was doubly marginalized, pushed offstage by women’s groups because of her race and by black groups because of her sex. Throughout her career, she responded quietly but firmly, working with a characteristic mix of limitless energy and steely gentility to ally the two movements in the fight for social justice.
Diane By 1961, Diane Nash had emerged as one of the most respected student leaders of the sit-in movement in Nashville, TN. Raised in middle-class Catholic family in Chicago, Nash attended Howard University before transferring to Nashville's Fisk University in the fall of 1959. Shocked by the extent of segregation she encountered in Tennessee, she was a founding member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in April 1960. In February 1961 she served jail time in solidarity with the "Rock Hill Nine" — nine students imprisoned after a lunch counter sit-in. "It was clear to me that if we allowed the Freedom Ride to stop at that point, just after so much violence had been inflicted, the message would have been sent that all you have to do to stop a nonviolent campaign is inflict massive violence," says Nash in Freedom Riders.
Final Thoughts These women did not only fight against racism, they also had to fight for their rights as women. I wish I had known about them!