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54 Erika L. Gordon 54 At its core this study is about the linkages between African American women, the political community work they perform in gender-specific organizations , and the development of a distinctive race- and gender-informed style of politics produced from these locations. It seeks to examine the significance of race, gender, and socioeconomic context in shaping African American women’s organizational politics in the post–Civil Rights era. Many critics and scholars of African American politics have observed that the post–Civil Rights era has been characterized by a lack of popularly recognized African American leadership and clearly defined and communicated objectives for group economic, political, and social demands. This chapter seeks to broaden this debate by focusing on the organizational activity of African American women. In particular, this study seeks to draw some distinctions and parallels between middle-class Black women’s involvement in organizational politics at a community level contemporarily and historically. A new body of scholarship on African American leadership, particularly as it relates to the development and sustenance of the Civil Rights Movement, points to the critical role that women played as organizational leaders, albeit ones that were not acknowledged for a variety of reasons.1 This chapter draws on the conclusions provided from this scholarship and applies them to discussion of the so-called lack of African American leadership in the post–Civil Rights era by considering the ramifications of race, gender, and socioeconomic contexts on the processes of acknowledging and defining leadership practices within organizations. Like Four Erika L. Gordon A Layin’ On of Hands Black Women’s Community Work A Layin’ On of Hands 55 their sisters during the movement, the role these women, who are the subject of this study, play within their communities typically go unnoticed. The main research question this study addresses is the role of African American middle-class women’s community work in the production or maintenance of contemporary organizations involved in articulating and defining public policy agendas, defining community-building practices, and engaging in the “micromobilization” of African American communities. I argue that Black women’s community work in the post–Civil Rights era plays an important and often neglected role in developing a wide range of important political resources, including: (1) local African American female support for a social policy agenda; (2) an organizational basis for African American political demands; and (3) responses , both at the mass and individual levels, to social policies that affect the African American community. In the post–Civil Rights era these organizations have become even more critical to the development of a political practice that gives African American women a leading role in responding to the specific gendered ways that racial discrimination, economic marginalization, and leadership are experienced. Black women’s community work should be viewed as an important and distinctive way for Black women to claim full citizenship rights. It not only serves as a way of analyzing how Black women have taken on the mantle of public leadership but also reflects on the activities and psychological characteristics that may differentiate Black women’s leadership styles. Perhaps most important , an examination of community work as performed by Black women identifies the successes and failures involved in creating local institutions and political behaviors that contribute to community building through micromobilization .2 Micromobilization, as this chapter defines it, refers to the process of building institutions, and relationships and identifying political goals. It is a process of preparing the community for political activity by synthesizing political goals, strategies, and identities. A closer examination of Black women’s community organizations highlights the challenges faced in creating a Black women’s politics that is simultaneously derived from and representative of a distinct geographic and ideological setting. This chapter will present a theoretical framework for examining African American women’s community work, political identity, and leadership; provide detailed insights into the strategies and political culture of African American women’s community organizations; and suggest a relationship between African American women’s self-perceptions as political actors, their organizational efforts, and the policy areas that their activities target. 56 Erika L. Gordon One of the most widely used paradigms for understanding the organizational political motivations of Black women has been a perspective that tends to view race and gender as additive. The additive approach assumes that the underlying factors influencing the political and economic motivations of Black women can be understood by using methods that do not contextualize the potential effects of power systems...


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