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1 Introduction Race and the Politics of Peace and Freedom On August, 29, 1914, more than fifteen hundred white women marched in solemn silence through New York City protesting the war that had just begun in Europe. Although women had participated in antiwar and peace crusades before, most notably the abolition movement and protest of the Spanish-American War, the demonstration that took place in immediate response to what would become the Great War marked a new development . Initiated and led by white women who were active in the woman’s rights and suffrage campaigns of the past decades, the march marked the emergence of what would become a vibrant, multifaceted, and international women’s peace movement. Parade organizers and participants represented socialist feminists, labor union activists, descendents of the abolition movement, and initiators of the social settlement movement. Coalesced, women intended to keep the United States out of the war and to foster international conditions that would end the war swiftly. Irritated by the sexism of male-dominated peace associations, emboldened by the state-to-state successes of the suffrage fight, and well equipped by recent years of social reform work, the women marching through the streets of New York City brought a new feminist outlook to issues of war and peace and a determination that women’s voices be heard in the fight for peace and freedom. Believing that war was the negation of progress and civilization , they took to the streets, to the halls of Congress, and to women around the world in hopes of fostering a new approach to conflict.1 Three summers after the women’s peace march, another dramatic, silent march in New York City marked a turning point in African American 2 | A Band of Noble Women resistance. On July 28, 1917, nearly ten thousand African Americans— women in white outfits, men in black suits—walked in procession down Fifth Avenue to protest the upsurge of racist violence in the United States. In particular, they decried the racist assault on black citizens of East St. Louis, which had started weeks earlier on July 2. Whites angry at the employment of black workers at a local factory had rampaged through the city. At the end of the days of white violence, close to forty African Americans and eight whites were dead and more than six thousand people , mostly African American, were left homeless. The East St. Louis riots along with an upsurge of lynchings in Tennessee and Texas were on the minds of African Americans as they marched in New York City. Many marchers responded to the racist violence by questioning the nation’s claim that in the turmoil of World War I, the United States could offer the world the best model of harmony and progress. Carrying banners that asked “Mr. President, Why Not Make America Safe for Democracy?” the marchers sought to expose the hypocrisy of the nation. The protest signaled growing black frustration with the racial politics of the war. This disillusionment would soon transform into what would be known as the New Negro political consciousness. The New Negro embraced a more international political philosophy and was a more aggressive critic of the failure of American democracy to treat black citizens equally. Although in the 1914 and 1917 marches white and African American women took to the streets of New York City separately, their participation in these public events represented a shared belief in the political and discursive power of “noble womanhood.” Through their silent stoicism, African American and white women looked to capture the heart and will of the nation. These activists believed that women’s wisdom, morality, and concern for the common good needed to prevail if there was any hope of directing the nation and the world away from the path of warmongering and racism. Both marches raised questions about the character of the United States and challenged the proposition that war was the way to achieve democracy in the world or bring an end to racial hatred. By the winter of 1919, the Great War had come to an end and the details of the peace were being negotiated by the victors who convened at the Paris Peace Conference. In response, African Americans and white Introduction | 3 American and European women organized two parallel international gatherings in order to analyze the peace proceedings. The Pan-African Congress convened in Paris in February and the International Congress of Women took place three months later in Zurich. Initiated by...


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