Civil Rights Era
Page designed by Shayna Rutman
“I could not move, because history had me glued to the seat. . . It felt like Sojourner Truth’s hands were pushing me down on one shoulder and Harriet Tubman’s hands were pushing me down on another shoulder, and I could not move.”
In Montgomery, Alabama, Colvin was born on September 5, 1939. Colvin worked hard in school as a child growing up in one of Montgomery's poorest areas. Before Rosa Parks, Claudette Colvin was a civil rights fighter who refused to give up her bus seat to a white passenger. She was detained and named as one of four plaintiffs in the case Browder v. Gayle, which found Montgomery's segregated bus system illegal. Colvin went on to work as a nurse's assistant in New York City. She left the company in 2004.
On March 2, 1955, then 15 years old, she refused to give up her seat to a white woman in Montgomery, Alabama. Colvin was inspired by what she had learned about African American history and the United States Constitution in school. Claudette Colvin was arrested and accused of breaking segregation laws, disturbing the peace, and attacking a police officer following the event. Despite her plea of not guilty, she was found guilty. (On appeal, two of the charges were withdrawn.)
It paved the way for those who came next like Rosa Parks. She was also part of the Supreme Court Case Browder V Gayle. Colvin, together with Aurelia S. Browder, Susie McDonald, and Mary Louise Smith, was one of the four plaintiffs in the Browder v. Gayle lawsuit (Jeanatta Reese, who was initially named a plaintiff in the case, withdrew early on due to outside pressure). The judgment in the 1956 lawsuit, which had been filed on behalf of the aforementioned African American ladies by Fred Gray and Charles D. Langford determined that Montgomery's segregated bus system was illegal. This was significant because she was part of the case that outlawed racial segregation on buses.
She is significant because she was the first person to plead not guilty in response to a violation of the segregation law charge. Colvin recognized racism and the difference between her and her white counterparts at a very young age that is why she was able to be an activist at such a young age. We should bring light to people that contributed to the Civil rights movement. Yet were not recognized by the movement itself, because even though the movement did not want their light, these people did contribute to how the Civil rights movement is successful whether through legal actions or just their stand. Claudette Colvin is a way that women use more than just their voice to demonstrate how they want people to listen to the issues that are affecting them and other people. Her use of her actions is a great example of that.
The civil rights movement was very concerned with their public image; they did not want any negative light to be brought to them. They wanted to make sure that the person was close to perfect because without that they would look at the personal issues rather than the segregation issue that was going on. The main reason she was not picked, however, was that she was a teenager who became pregnant less than a year after the incident out of wedlock. In addition, her court case can not be challenged on a segregation law basis, which made it difficult for the movement to address the main issue that they were trying to get at.
Adler, Margot, and Phillip Hoose. “Before Rosa Parks, There Was Claudette Colvin.” NPR,
“Claudette Colvin.” Biography.com, A&E Networks Television, 26 Mar. 2021, https://www.biography.com/activist/claudette-colvin.
“Claudette Colvin: The Woman Who Refused to Give up Her Bus Seat – Nine Months before
Rosa Parks.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 25 Feb. 2021, https://www.theguardian.com/society/2021/feb/25/claudette-colvin-the-woman-who-refused-to-give-up-her-bus-seat-nine-months-before-rosa-parks.
Gayle v. Browder | Oyez. https://www.oyez.org/cases/1956/342?_escaped_fragment_=&_escaped_fragment_=.
“March 2, 1955: Claudette Colvin Refuses to Give up Her Bus Seat.” Zinn Education Project, 3 Mar. 2021, https://www.zinnedproject.org/news/tdih/claudette-colvin/.
Born on May 21, 1921, Yuri Kochiyama was a Japanese American political activist. Living and working in Harlem, NY provided the foundation for her interest in civil rights, and Kochiyama participated in multiple civil rights movements throughout her lifetime. Inspired by her experiences as an incarcerated in an American World War II internment camp, Kochiyama joined other activists in demanding reparations for the Japanese community and the campaign led to the Civil Liberties Act of 1988. Kochiyama’s friendship with Malcolm X, as well as her support of the Chinese communist revolutionary Mao Zedong, has made her a controversial figure to some. Regardless, her influence on civil rights history is undeniable and her involvement in politics is an inspiration for other Asian American women.
Oung, Katherine. “These Asian-American Women Should Be in Every History Book.” Teen Vogue, 1 May 2020, https://www.teenvogue.com/story/4-asian-american-women-who-changed-history.
Ryerson, Jade. “Yuri Kochiyama.” National Parks Service, Cultural Resource Office of Interpretation and Education, https://www.nps.gov/people/yuri-kochiyama.htm.
Brown Beret Chicana Movement ( El Movimeninto )
Hilda Reyes was a 16 year old soladera in the Chicano movement of the 1970s. Historically, soldaderas cleaned, cooked, carried equipment and set up campsites for the male soldiers in the Mexican-American war which then translated to El Movimiento in the 1970s. Soladeras were unrecognized as major contributors to the war effort on the Mexican front, therefore women in the Chicano movement sought to revitalize and reinvent the meaningful and historical image of the soladera. Women in the Chicano Movement faced a lot of challenges due to the machismo and strong masculine pride that Chicano men exuded. Therefore activists like Hilda Reyes sought to create something new. Las Adelitas de Aztlán ( an all-female civil rights organization that was created by Hilda and Gloria Arellanes in 1970’s California) was founded by activists and Chicana brown berets, Gloria Arellanes, Gracie, and Hilda Reyes, all teenagers ranging from 16-18. Hilda Reyes and activists sought to reimagine one of the main images of the soladera is Adelita, named after a ballad that was popular at the time, La Adelita, by Antonio Gil del Rio Armenta. Las Adelitas de Aztlan pays homage to the adelitas and the lost city of Aztlan said to be the homeland of the Aztecs to invoke a nationalistic pride. Las Adelitas de Aztlan was the first Chicana organization to spread out from the Chicano Movement. It was a place for Chicanas issues to be at the forefront, which has impacted the place of Chicana issues today. Las Adelitas advocated for reproductive rights such as birth control, abortions, and sex education. They also prioritized childcare as one of the main issues. They advocated for educational opportunities for Chicana women as well as welfare support and sought to end employment discrimination.
“How Female Brown Berets Created Their Own Chicana Movement.” Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Times, 23 Aug. 2020,
Cmsc, and CMSCCalifornia-Mexico Studies Center. “The Chicana Revolt: Las Adelitas De Aztlán.” The California-Mexico Studies Center, Inc., 23 Aug. 2020,
“Las Adelitas De Aztlan Flyer.” 1970/2020: Chicano Moratorium 50th Anniversary Project, https://chicanomoratorium.omeka.net/exhibits/show/the-cry-for-equality/item/111.
Born on November 11, 1914, in Huttig, Arkansas, Daisy Bates' childhood was tragic. Her mother was sexually assaulted and murdered by three white men, and her father left her. As a result, she was raised in foster homes and moved from household to household. As a teenager, Bates met Lucious Christopher Bates, an insurance agent, and an experienced journalist. She married Bates in the early 1940s, and the couple settled in Little Rock, Arkansas, and started a newspaper company. Her newspaper was entitled the Arkansas Weekly and was one of the only African American newspapers solely devoted to writing about the civil rights movement. The newspaper was circulated state-wide, and Bates worked as an editor and regularly contributed to articles. Her childhood experiences drove her to fight for the rights of African Americans across the country and end the senseless killing of men and women just for their color.
Beyond working on her and her husband's newspapers, she worked with numerous local civil rights organizations. In 1952, she served as the President of the NAACP's Arkansas chapter. During her time as President, Bates played an essential role in fighting against segregation. When the United States Supreme Court declared school segregation unconstitutional under the Brown V. Board of Education, many black students found it a struggle to enroll in predominantly white schools. During this time, Bates found it her duty to document this battle in the civil rights movement in their newspaper. In 1957 her journey led her to help nine African American students become the first to attend the all-white Central High School in Little Rock, famously known as the Little Rock Nine. Her home became the headquarters for the battle to integrate the Central High School, and she served as a personal advocate and supporter for the nine students. Bates and her home served as a haven during the school desegregation movement, and often Bates offered support for students as they faced intimidation from the surrounding community. On September 25, 1957, United States soldiers provided security for the Little Rock Nine as they left Bates' home for their first day of school. Throughout her time working towards helping end segregation, Bates received many threats, especially from the Ku Klux Klan. Unfortunately, the newspaper she and her husband worked on was closed in 1959 because of low advertising revenue. Once the newspaper was no longer in production, Bates moved to Washington DC to work for the Democratic National Committee and an antipoverty project for Lyndon B. Johnson Administration. Once her time ended in the Johnson administration, Bates returned to Little Rock, Arkansas, in the mid-1960s and spent much of her time on community programs. After her husband died, she began her newspaper company from 1984 to 1988, until she "retired."
Bates was and is remembered for her career in social activism. During her time working to end segregation, Bates received several awards, including an honorary degree from the University of Arkansas. However, she is best remembered as a guiding force behind one of the biggest battles for school integration in the nation’s history and documenting the harsh realities of the segregation movement when other newspapers refused or failed to report the fight. Her writing abilities and powerful voice helped integrate students into the schools the country sees today.
Norwood, A. (2017). Daisy Bates. National Women's History Museum. Retrieved November 29, 2021, from https://www.womenshistory.org/education-resources/biographies/daisy-bates.
A&E Networks Television. (2021, October 26). Daisy Bates. Biography.com. Retrieved November 29, 2021, from https://www.biography.com/activist/daisy-bates.
Gwendolyn Zoharah Simmons
Gwendolyn Zoharah Simmons was born in Memphis, Tennessee in 1944. Growing up hearing the narratives of her great-grandmother, who was enslaved, she was acutely aware of the legacy of slavery from an early age. Raised primarily by her grandmother, Simmons went on to become the first person in her family to attend college.
A civil rights activist from the start, Simmons’ time at Spelman College in Georgia set her on a path to fight for justice and equity for Black Americans. She did this in spite of her family’s wishes that she not get involved in civil protests for fear that she would lose her scholarship at Spelman. But, in 1962, during her first year at the college, she began protesting against various policies and statements from Spelman’s administration regarding Black students. Accompanied by her peers, Simmons would also participate in protests and sit-ins at local restaurants, which eventually led to the removal of her academic scholarship with the college. However, shortly after, she took her activism outside of Spelman’s grounds when she began volunteering with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) headquarters - ultimately becoming Spelman’s representative to SNCC. One of her most notable contributions to the organization was the curriculum she developed for the Mississippi Freedom Project in 1964.
The Mississippi Freedom Project was a volunteer campaign to register Black voters in Mississippi. It was through this project that Simmon’s unwavering passion for change shined through. Among her other work, she organized nearly 23 volunteers who built schools and a library, as well as conducted a literacy program and voter registration project. However, her experience was far from easy. The bulk of the Freedom Project work was located in Laurel, Mississippi - a city known for its heavy Ku Klux Klan presence and violence. In an oral history interview with the Library of Congress in 2011, Simmons recounted often living in fear from the police and even being arrested, beaten and tortured after a march in the city. She also remembered the time that the Freedom House was firebombed by a group of white men. Persisting nonetheless, she ultimately became one of only seven female Freedom Summer project directors and endured both racism and sexism from her predominantly white, male volunteers.
In 1965, a year after her time in Laurel, Simmons moved back to Georgia and joined SNCC’s Atlanta Project, one of the earliest movements of Black Power in the United States. There, she helped draft the project’s “controversial” position paper on Black Power that highlighted the frustrations that many Black members of SNCC felt towards their white counterparts in the organization.
In total, Simmons spent seven years working full-time on voter registration and desegregation activities in Mississippi, Georgia, and Alabama. Although she never ended up finishing her degree from Spellman, she received her B.A. at Antioch University and eventually, her M.A and Ph.D. in Religion from Temple University.
Activism Appreciated Today:
In addition to her legacy with the Freedom Summer Project, Simmons was very vocal about the lack of leadership opportunities for Black women in SNCC - especially when it was unpopular or controversial. She went on to work for the National Council of Negro Women and kept up the fight for civil rights in the decades that followed. Tangentially, she joined the Nation of Islam (NOI) in 1967 and has since fought against the gender hierarchy within the religion. Today, she is a professor of Religious Studies at the University of Florida.
Her work and voice, although not often studied, were crucial during the height of the civil rights movement and have left a lasting legacy to this day. Specifically, the intersecting discrimination of sexism and racism that she endured is representative of the barriers that Black women still face today. Her bravery in pushing back against not only the institutional discrimination she faced within Spelman and SNCC but also in choosing to disobey her family’s wishes is an apt example of women using their voices to fight for change, no matter how difficult.
Oral History Interview:
Gwen Robinson (Zoharah Simmons). SNCC Digital Gateway. (2018, May 17). Retrieved December 3, 2021, from https://snccdigital.org/people/gwen-zoharah-simmons-robinson/.
Gwendolyn Zoharah Simmons. Veterans of Hope. (n.d.). Retrieved December 3, 2021, from https://www.veteransofhope.org/veterans/gwendolyn-zoharah-simmons/.
Gwendolyn Zoharah Simmons. NCOE. (n.d.). Retrieved December 3, 2021, from https://nationalcouncilofelders.org/team/gwendolyn-zoharah-simmons/.
Ella Jo Baker was born on December 13, 1903, in Norfolk, Virginia. Baker was raised in North Carolina and developed a sense of social justice early in her life because her grandmother would share her stories and experiences about being enslaved. Baker studied at Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina. As a student, she challenged school policies that she thought were unfair. After graduating in 1927 as class valedictorian, she moved to New York City and began joining social activist organizations. In 1930, she joined the Young Negroes Cooperative League, whose purpose was to develop black economic power through collective planning. She also involved herself with several women’s organizations.
Baker began her involvement with the NAACP in 1940. She worked as a field secretary and then served as director of branches from 1943 until 1946.
Inspired by the historic bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955, Baker co-founded the organization to raise money to fight against Jim Crow Laws in the deep South. In 1957, Baker moved to Atlanta to help organize Martin Luther King’s new organization, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). She also ran a voter registration campaign called the Crusade for Citizenship. Baker participated in numerous student protests like sit-ins and meetings. Baker also organized and managed meetings and events for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Baker was also an advocate for voting rights, she believed that voting was one of the keys to freedom.
Baker helped local leaders carefully craft and implement targeted campaigns against lynching, for job training, and for black teachers to get equal pay. She also was adept at recognizing talent and helped coax capable rank and file members into taking leadership roles. Baker, and many of her contemporaries, believed that voting was one key to freedom. Today, that is still the case: if we do not exercise our collective voice, we are unable to influence the policies and laws that impact our lives. To be counted, we must be heard.
Artwork in the Mid 1900s
Aruna Seenauth (artwork page design)
Research for 1960's artwork by Tiffany Sharpy
“Between Friends” by Faith Ringgold (1963)
As part of her series, American People, Faith Ringgold created this piece of artwork that shows a Black woman and a white woman facing each other. This piece was created and displayed during the 1960s when the Civil Rights and Feminist movement were in full motion. In the 1963 piece Between Friends, Ringgold illustrates how, “Although the women may seem close, there is distance and unease in their meeting, showing Ringgold’s belief that while the two women could talk, they were divided by a racial barrier, keeping them from closer friendship.” This piece and the rest of this artwork series by Ringgold explore her interpretation of overt and hidden hostilities” in a decade that was marked by feelings of segregation, barriers, and division.
“The Only Blonde in the World Pauline” by Pauline Boty (1963)
In this piece from 1963, Pauline Boty sets herself aspart from other artists of the time and depicts arguably one of the most famous women in history, Marilyn Monroe, in a unique fashion with a different message than anything seen before. Since much of the response of Marilyn’s famous status was dominated by men, Boty stands out in releasing this artwork piece as it intersects with her personal stance on how “gender and sexuality” for women should be portrayed. She was the only woman at the time to assert her creative work in relation to Ms. Monroe which presented her with a new narrative, maybe even one that is arguably being returned to Marilyn and in her favor.
“Cargo Cult” by Martha Rosler (c. 1967-1972)
As part of her series, Body Beautiful, or Beauty Knows No Pain, Rousler shows through this artwork her perspective on how “we live our lives or how we allow the United States government to speak for us.” This piece “Cargo Cult” specifically reflects Rousler’s stance on feminism.
"Cleaning the Drapes" by Martha Rosler (1967-72)
This image is also part of Rosler series, House Beautiful: Bringing the War Home which brings awareness to the brutality and violence witnessed during the Vietnam War. This artwork piece was displayed as a form of protest against the United States involvement in the war. By crafting the piece to include both “images of war and domesticity so that their subjects appear to share the same space, Rosler alludes to the phrase “living room war,” coined to characterize the Vietnam War, the first major military conflict to be extensively televised.” This piece is considered a unique and creative approach to participate in anti-war demonstrations.
“Makeup/Hands Up” by Martha Rosler (c. 1967-72)
This piece is from Rosler's artwork series entitled House Beautiful: Bringing the War Home which was an artistic approach to protesting against the Vietnam War during the 1960s. This image showcases a combination of an image from the war as the eye of a woman in a home magazine and is considered a “agitprop” piece of artwork.
“Jump Rope” by Idelle Weber (1967–68)
Much of Ms. Weber's work “expanded the notion of what ‘Pop’ could be” and the piece “Jump Rope” from the late 1960s took form in a sculpture. The creative process for this piece of artwork involved Ms. Weber “arranging her office dramas in small, clear acrylic cubes and constructing three-dimensional silhouettes in Plexiglas and plastic.” Her artwork is considered a hallmark of the 1960s Pop art movement, and was showcased in Pop art surveys around the United States.