Monday, February 15, 2016


The Impact of Black Women on Race and Sex in America

by Paula Giddings

The book "Sword Among Lions," Paula J Giddings biography on Ida B Well made me curious about the Black Women's Club Movement which began to develop a couple of decades after slavery among middle-class, black women.

These clubs were focused on uplifting the race and also focused on getting black women the right to vote. (Black men had gotten the right to vote in 1870.  Black women would eventually get the right to vote, nationwide, in 1920)

As I read the book, it became clearer and clearer to me that black women and black men of that time (late 1800s to 1920s) might have been much closer to having equality between the genders than white were people were THEN and also also closer to it than black people are NOW. 

Maybe slavery, and the poverty immediately following slavery, forced black men and black women to work as a team toward advancement without hard divisions in gender roles.

There was gender bias in the black community, don't get me wrong.

However, black women of the time had fresh memory of slavery in their own heads from experience or from the oral history of their mothers to keep them from accepting or expecting their men to treat them like second class citizens - unlike white women.  Black women had to work to support the family just like the black men did.

Maybe black men had a fresher memory of domination as well for a while, too fresh to reproduce it in the direction of black women---for a time.

Black women of the late 1800s and 1920s were a members of white run women's groups but they also created their own clubs and political organizations.  Northern white women's groups would not fully commit to things like anti-lynching when they were doing things like attempting to court white women, among other things. And many white women simply didn't see black women as equals.  So for the black women's clubs getting anti-lynching legislation in place and getting black women the vote were two of their main functions. Some of these women, like Ida B Wells, were practiced at doing political battle prior to starting the battle for black women's suffrage. Ida B Wells was one the Black Americans to effectively lead a national anti-lynching battle.

Background: In the late 1800s, the south was still trying to rebuild itself from the devastation of the civil war. And they were trying to make the south work without the free labor provided by slaves. And the white south was selling cotton to get the money they needed to rebuild. The other thing the white south was trying to do was push black people back into a social position that was as much like "slave" as possible. One of the primary methods white racists used on blacks to get this done was lynching.
Ida B, through the newspaper she owned and wrote for, produced some of the first sociological studies in this country on lynching. And to stop lynching, she traveled all over the country and even outside the country so as to have an effect on southern white income.

She traveled to where some of the primary cotton buyers were, England, and got anti-lynching resolutions passed there. As a result of her speeches people in England made commitments to not do business with white savages that were killing black people for sport.  As a result,  whites in Memphis --a location that was a primary cotton producer of the world-- were shamed into stopping lynching cold. There was no lynching at all for 20 years straight in Memphis after a string Ida B Wells trips.

In fact, through the actions of black women's clubs, lynching was reduced across the country from all time highs.

The NAACP ( Ida B Wells one of the founders) copied her methods and used the anti-lynching issue to establish itself.

This book gave me so much more of an overview of black history from a black female perspective that was nothing short of amazing to read. It covers the period from slavery through The Civil Rights movement.