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145 Philadelphia Forging a National Model of Interracial Peace Work In August of 1929 Philadelphia black clubwoman Addie Dickerson attended the sixth WILPF International Congress in Prague. Dickerson joined the US WILPF delegation along with women from twenty-five other countries as they convened for seven days. The deliberation focused on how to make the Kellogg-Briand Pact for the Renunciation of War, which had been signed the previous year by fifteen countries with the Soviet Union and the United States the lead signatures, a viable tool for the enforcement of arms reduction, the end of war profiteering, and the promotion of alternative practices of peaceful arbitration. The cautious enthusiasm generated by the pact and the announcement that the League of Nations would convene its first World Disarmament Conference in Geneva in 1932 compelled peace activists to instigate a massive global petition campaign supporting universal disarmament. In less than three years, the international WILPF alone would gather and deliver six million signatures to Geneva representing the concerns of the world’s women. The enthusiasm and dedication to making disarmament possible generated in Prague prompted the development in Philadelphia of the US WILPF’s first interracial peace committee. Upon return from Prague, Dickerson joined with influential African American business and clubwoman Evelyn Reynolds in announcing a campaign to convince “1,000 Negro Women” in greater Philadelphia to join the WILPF and the global movement to end the militarization of the land and sea and air.1 For the next six years, Reynolds and Dickerson would lead, along with Mildred Scott Olmsted, a white WILPF member and executive secretary of the 146 | A Band of Noble Women Pennsylvania WILPF, a group of Philadelphia women in efforts to turn the world toward peace and racial harmony. The energy created by the Briand-Kellogg Pact provided an enormous spark that invigorated new waves of peace work around the globe, but this enthusiasm alone does not explain why some women turned to interracial organizing as a part of the disarmament project. A number of local and national conditions transformed disarmament fever into an interracial project in Philadelphia. One of those conditions was the increased participation of African American women in the Philadelphia WILPF. As middle-class black women deepened their commitment to a transnational agenda and searched for spheres of influence beyond the increasingly masculinized black political sphere, their work for peace gained extended purpose and brought Philadelphia women together across the color line. Though short-lived, their work together marked a significant moment in interwar-era women’s politics. In this period, women attempted to challenge racism in the nation and in their own relationships as an avowed part of their plan to secure the conditions necessary to achieve peace. There were many challenges women interested in working interracially faced. A central concern was how to build a foundation for racial unity. Women of the Philadelphia Interracial Extension Committee (IEC) used their shared desire for peace and the concepts of noble womanhood and goodwill as organizational building blocks. The concept of noble womanhood, though it served as a central axis upon which African American and white middle-class women in the WILPF negotiated the interstices of race, class, and gender, was not always sufficient in removing the barriers to black women’s full participation and leadership. Another challenge that surfaced concerned the interpretation of the purpose of the IEC. Was the committee charged primarily with increasing black interest in the peace movement and campaigns for disarmament? Or was the IEC developed to tackle race relations in the nation and in the WILPF? Although many—primarily black members of the IEC—believed the two concerns, securing the conditions for peace and securing an end to all forms of racism, were interrelated, this analysis was not an evident one for the majority of WILPF members. The most significant challenge was how to secure more support from white women within the WILPF for the Forging a National Model | 147 work of the IEC and for the full integration of black women’s leadership. As the political conditions in the nation and world for African Americans dimmed, intensified by the toll of the Great Depression, the failure of federal antilynching legislation, the advance of Jim Crow, and challenges to black sovereignty in Liberia and Haiti, many black women in the WILPF tired of the slow pace of change in the organization. By 1935, the WILPF experiment in interracialism looked to many black women too much like a buffer...


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