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Invisible Activists

Women of the Louisiana NAACP and the Struggle for Civil Rights, 1915–1945

Lee Sartain

Publication Year: 2007

Behind the historical accounts of the great men of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People lies the almost forgotten story of the black women who not only participated in the organization but actually helped it thrive in the early twentieth-century South. In Invisible Activists, Lee Sartain examines attitudes toward gender, class, and citizenship of African American activists in Louisiana and women's roles in the campaign for civil rights in the state. In the end, he argues, it was women working behind the scenes in Louisiana's branches of the NAACP who were the most crucial factor in the organization's efficiency and survival. During the first half of the twentieth century—especially in the darkest days of the Great Depression, when membership waned and funds were scarce—a core group of women maintained Louisiana's NAACP. Fighting on the front line, Sartain explains, women acted as grassroots organizers, running public relations campaigns and membership drives, mobilizing youth groups, and promoting general community involvement. Using case studies of several prominent female NAACP members in Louisiana, Sartain demonstrates how women combined their fundraising skills with an extensive network of community and family ties to fund the NAACP and, increasingly, to undertake the day-to-day operations of the local organizations themselves. Still, these women also struggled against the double obstacles of racism and sexism that prevented them from attaining the highest positions within NAACP branch leadership. Sartain illustrates how the differences between the sexes were ultimately woven into the political battle for racial justice, where women were viewed as having inherent moral superiority and, hence, the potential to lift the black population as a whole. Sartain concludes that despite the societal traditions that kept women out of leadership positions, in the early stages of the civil rights movement, their skills and their contributions as community matriarchs provided the keys to the organization's progress. Highly original and essential to a comprehensive study of the NAACP, Invisible Activists gives voice to the many individual women who sustained the influential civil rights organization during a time of severe racial oppression in Louisiana. Without such dedication, Sartain asserts, the organization would have had no substantial presence in the state.

Published by: Louisiana State University Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii-x

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pp. 1-14

To research African American women’s roles in the civil rights struggle before 1945 is, in part, a deductive exercise. The few firsthand accounts of the time only hint at women’s roles. Such a case in point is Rev. John H. Scott’s Witness to the Truth: My Struggle for Human Rights in Louisiana, ...

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ONE: Weapons of the Utmost Value: NAACP Organizational History, 1909–1945

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pp. 15-38

Organized in 1909 the NAACP developed its organizational structures and campaigning techniques over time. The group’s specific issues and concerns directly affected these structures, but they also reflected the social background and personalities of its personnel. ...

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TWO: The Sympathy of Women: Black Women’s Involvement in Louisiana Civil Rights up to 1920

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pp. 39-56

Throughout the nineteenth century middle-class African American women and men were instrumental in organizing benevolent societies with the aim of providing welfare services and education to their members and families and, increasingly, to a wider social setting. ...

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THREE: Destined to Bring Splendid Results: NAACP Women’s Auxiliaries and Networks, 1921–1945

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pp. 57-81

The first full decade of the NAACP in Louisiana saw its organizational arrangements established along the lines of generally accepted gender practices. Black women worked for the NAACP as generators of ideas for fundraising and attracting other members to the organization and also acted as ...

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FOUR: God’s Valiant Minority: Teachers and Civil Rights

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pp. 82-98

Teachers were the most natural constituency of the NAACP. Educators had stable jobs, earned a reasonable wage, lived and worked at the center of civic life, and were seen as being central to the general advancement of the entire black community. In 1940 there were over 4,000 black teachers ...

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FIVE: Leaders Who Persevere: Elected Officials

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pp. 99-119

In the years up to 1945, women were elected to very few positions in Louisiana’s NAACP branches, certainly not proportional to their membership numbers, and none became presidents or treasurers. Women served mainly as vice-presidents, secretaries, and assistant-secretaries. ...

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SIX: We Are but Americans: Miss Georgia M. Johnson

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pp. 120-136

In stark contrast to Mrs. D. J. Dupuy of Baton Rouge, Miss Georgia M. Johnson of Alexandria, Louisiana, helps to portray the expected role of NAACP women not because of her conformity to social and gender expectations but by many of the organizational taboos she breached. ...

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pp. 137-144

Black women’s work in the NAACP was the foundation upon which the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s was built. Women activists drew together broad social and professional networks under the auspices of a committed integrationist and politically minded association. ...


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pp. 145-156


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pp. 157-188


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pp. 189-204


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pp. 205-212

E-ISBN-13: 9780807135761
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807132210

Page Count: 224
Publication Year: 2007