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You Must Be from the North

Southern White Women in the Memphis Civil Rights Movement

Kimberly K. Little

Publication Year: 2009

"You must be from the North," was a common, derogatory reaction to the activities of white women throughout the South, well-meaning wives and mothers who joined together to improve schools or local sanitation but found their efforts decried as more troublesome civil rights agitation. You Must Be from the North: Southern White Women in the Memphis Civil Rights Movement focuses on a generation of white women in Memphis, Tennessee, born between the two World Wars and typically omitted from the history of the civil rights movement. The women for the most part did not jeopardize their lives by participating alongside black activists in sit-ins and freedom rides. Instead, they began their journey into civil rights activism as a result of their commitment to traditional female roles through such organizations as the Junior League. What originated as a way to do charitable work, however, evolved into more substantive political action.While involvement with groups devoted to feeding schoolchildren and expanding Bible study sessions seemed benign, these white women's growing awareness of racial disparities in Memphis and elsewhere caused them to question the South's hierarchies in ways many of their peers did not. Ultimately, they found themselves challenging segregation more directly, found themselves ostracized as a result, and discovered they were often distrusted by a justifiably suspicious black community. Their newly discovered commitment to civil rights contributed to the success of the city's sanitation workers' strike of 1968. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s death during the strike resonated so deeply that for many of these women it became a defining moment. In the long term, these women proved to be a persistent and progressive influence upon the attitudes of the white population of Memphis, and particularly on the city's elite.

Published by: University Press of Mississippi

Contents

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pp. v-vi

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Acknowledgments

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pp. vii-ix

I am grateful to a number of institutions and individuals who helped me through this long and difficult process. The staff and personnel of several archival collections deserve my thanks for assisting me in this project. Jim Cole and Ed Frank at the Mississippi Valley Collection of the University of Memphis McWherter Library, Wayne Dowdy in the History ...

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Introduction: TRASHING JIM CROW: The Sanitation Workers’ Strike, 1968

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pp. 3-10

Echol Cole and Robert Walker died in a freak accident on 30 January 1968 while working for the City of Memphis Sanitation Department. Trapped inside one of the city’s numerous archaic and dilapidated garbage packers, these men died a grisly death from injuries sustained while operating the machinery. Their fellow workers staged a walkout ...

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Chapter 1 “YOU MUST BE FROM THE NORTH.” “YES, NORTH MISSISSIPPI”: Women and Direct Action Protests, 1955–1964

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pp. 11-28

Often labeled the “most northern city in Mississippi,” Memphis has historically attempted to distinguish itself from the rest of the Deep South. Pointing to its position as a business center, a city with a large black middle class, and a culturally thriving metropolis, Memphis prided itself on its progressivism throughout the racial struggles of the twentieth century. The...

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Chapter 2 “ALL ARE WORTHY”: “Woman’s Work” as a Catalyst for Civil Rights Reform

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pp. 29-49

Married middle- and upper-class white women of the postwar period filled the role of volunteer worker regularly. American society praised housewives and mothers who transplanted their nurturing, maternal abilities from the home and hearth into the public sphere. For some women, this volunteer work took the form ...

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Chapter 3 “THE MESSAGE CAME ON A BEAM OF LIGHT”: Women in Religious Groups

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pp. 50-63

A strong belief in God proved to be yet another motivating factor in drawing female reformers into civil rights activism. Women coming from both Jewish and Christian backgrounds echoed the claim that since all human beings belonged to a universal brotherhood, the unjust treatment of one of God’s children constituted a sin against God. Memphis’s...

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Chapter 4 RAISING A GENERATION THAT DOES NOT HATE: The 1968 Sanitation Strike and the Radicalizing of Memphis Activists

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pp. 64-86

An investigation into the participation of white women in the 1968 sanitation strike uncovers involvement at random intervals. Activities ranged from women orchestrating individual acts of support—such as sending letters to the mayor urging him to end the strike in the name of racial harmony or giving the family of a striking sanitation worker a charitable donation of food, clothing, or money...

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Chapter 5 “LITTLE OLD LADIES WITH TENNIS SHOES”: The Relationship Between White Women and Racial Reform in a Post-King Memphis

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pp. 87-109

The Memphis chapter of the Panel of American Women (Panel), Concerned Women of Memphis (CWM), New Attitude-Memphis Encounter (NAME), and the Fund for Needy Schoolchildren (Fund) were the central organizations of Memphis’s white female activist community in the aftermath of King’s assassination and the resolution of the 1968 sanitation...

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Chapter 6 “BE THANKFUL IT WAS ONLY SAND”: Community Reaction to White Women in a Movement for Black Civil Rights

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pp. 110-127

Histories of the civil rights movement highlight the contributions of white northern women, yet few detail the experiences of white southern women, who, in many instances, faced an enormous amount of resistance from their friends and family members, as well as other activists in the struggle for racial justice. While the backlash experienced by white southern women paled in comparison to that faced by black southern ...

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Chapter 7 “I AM NOT YOUR SOCIAL CONSCIENCE”: Busing in the Memphis City Schools

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pp. 128-144

The year 1971 marked a turning point for Memphis and its activist community. The economic inequality exposed by the strike at St. Joseph’s Hospital proved to be only the beginning of a new series of racially divisive events that mobilized Memphis’s activist community and continued to drive a wedge between black and white Memphians. The death of a...

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Epilogue

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pp. 145-153

An awareness of the interconnectedness of race, class, and gender motivated Memphis’s female reformers into their work with civil rights organizations, and those connections evolved into work with groups dedicated to other reform efforts. All of the women in this study initially avoided characterizing their work as political activism, preferring instead...

Appendix

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pp. 155-

Notes

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pp. 157-188

Bibliography

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pp. 189-213

Index

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pp. 215-219


E-ISBN-13: 9781604733518
E-ISBN-10: 1604733519
Print-ISBN-13: 9781604732283
Print-ISBN-10: 1604732288

Page Count: 208
Publication Year: 2009