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Trends ln Feminism and Historiography Invisible Revolutionaries: White Women in Civil Rights Historiography Joan C. Browning This article questions whether historians have written accurately about white women in the Civil Rights Movement. Men have written Movement history mostly about men, and women in this analysis, especiaUy white women, have become invisible revolutionaries. The earliest CivU Rights histories used the most accessible evidence, which concentrated on events covered by the national media and on leaders.1 Those national media writers were men, and they identified leaders who were men. The metaphors were those of athletic contests or wars. This is history as keeping score between winners and losers. The feminine roles of buüding consensus, sustaining community, and nurturing "freedom" for individuals , organizations, and the nation cannot be described in win/ loss records or accounts of conflicts. Women social change activists are generally invisible in early histories. Writing the people who made the Civil Rights Movement back into the story means writing about women of color and white women. This history will be incomplete until women activists and their individual and collective gender-specific contributions are included. As a participant /researcher, I always look first for my name in a book's index. When it is not there, I next read the section on the Albany, Georgia demonstrations of 1961 and 1962.1 test the writer's treatment of Albany against my memory, which is enhanced by a smaU collection of materials I have saved from Albany in December 1961 and various times in 1962, supplemented by a recent field trip to South Georgia, Albany, and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change Archives in Atlanta. The historical event in the Civil Rights Movement which permits me to use my experience and primary documents to check for accuracy in historical writing is the Albany, Georgia Freedom Ride. As one of nine Freedom Riders on the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee's (SNCC) December 10, 1961, test ride from Atlanta to Albany, I have particular knowledge about that vignette as weU as an interest in how historians have treated it. Its conflict, sports/war mentalité aUows it a place in Civil Rights Movement history as written so far. I was invited to join that ride on the basis of skin color, to raciaUy integrate the train and train station. If my Civil Rights Movement partici- © 1996 Journal of Women's History, Vol. 8 No. 3 (Fall) 1996 Trends in Feminism: Joan C. Browning 187 pation merits historical attention, I would choose that it be because of the content of my character and not because of the color of my skin. When I tell my civU rights story, the highUghts wiU not be times of direct conflict, although I was there, nor of danger, although it was a reality. My story, from my perspective, is that of nurturing freedom through a fervent beUef in nonviolence and integration. My letters from the Albany and Dougherty County jaUs speak compassionately of the Albany police. "Those cops can't take that much more. They're aU working overtime and are all tired. I feel sorry for them. I wish that I could talk with each of them and try to open their eyes to the bare fact of the power of love" (Tuesday, December 12,1961). On Wednesday, December 13,1961,1 wrote that "one of my purposes in becoming actively involved in this is to determine for once and all time whether the faith of the apostoUc church is relevant to our age." These are not the sentiments and motivations easily captured by battle or sports metaphors. A literature review of one simple event in which I was a participant is discouraging in its diversity of error. The ways even careful and sympathetic writers can distort the historical record are shown below. What actually happened? The "Fact Sheet on Freedom Ride to Albany, Georgia" issued by The Albany Movement on Monday, December 11,1961, in its entirety, reads: Immediate News Release The Albany Movement 402 1 /2 South Jackson Albany, Georgia FACT SHEET ON FREEDOM RIDE TO ALBANY, GEORGIA On Sunday, December 10, at 10:00 A.M. eight (8) people boarded the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-2036
Print ISSN
1042-7961
Pages
pp. 186-204
Launched on MUSE
2010-03-25
Open Access
No
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