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193 4 Cleveland, Washington, DC, and Baltimore Extending the Network of Interracial Peace Work Bring nearer the social justice in America, so important to world peace. —Bertha McNeill Women in Cleveland, Washington, DC, and Baltimore criticized interwar America and argued that there was a link between state-sanctioned racism in the United States and the nation’s support of militarization abroad. Although the exact design of each branch’s efforts to speak out against racism, promote disarmament, and denounce the follies of global politics differed, their work involved the WILPF in what historian Jacquelyn Dowd Hall has identified as the long civil rights movement.1 Local interracial extension committees prepared WILPF members to help shape and join the antidiscrimination battles of the 1940s and the civil rights movement that firmly took hold of the nation in the 1950s. The interracial committees in Cleveland, Washington, DC, and Baltimore contended with many of the same questions faced by WILPF women in Philadelphia. They struggled to determine the exact purpose of interracial committees and the exact relationship between the work for social justice and the work for peace. They labored under trying conditions: the unevenness of national WILPF leadership, the persistence of local racism , the economic impact of the Great Depression, and the instability of world politics. Even when they shared similar struggles, they designed distinct approaches to the interracial peace project. In this way these three branches illuminate the fluidity of formats adopted by interracial 194 | A Band of Noble Women committees and the importance of local context to the shape of each. Baltimore and Washington, DC, shared a strong reliance on the leadership offered by women involved in institutions of higher education. Cleveland and Washington, DC, worked hard to provide programs that addressed both the international issues facing the world and local and national racial justice concerns. Baltimore stood alone in its decision to work primarily to tackle racism in public institutions. All three branches accepted the challenge to put into practice the WILPF’s stated commitment to the twin issues of peace and freedom. Cleveland Addie Hunton bestowed enormous praise on the work accomplished by the women and men of the Cleveland WILPF. For Hunton, Cleveland represented a branch graced with strong African American and white participation and leadership. In the details of its program, Hunton found a commitment to uniting the range of issues facing the world and the citizens of Cleveland. Their programs stretched from global disarmament and corporate intrusion in Liberia to segregated housing and poverty in Cleveland. The committee’s work also extended from the informal and social to the more pragmatic. In Hunton’s estimation, the efforts of Cleveland and like-minded committees represented a “fuller understanding of the program of the League.”2 With these remarks, Hunton returned to her underlying concern that in order for the WILPF to be an effective organization and for the interracial committees to serve competently they needed to consistently knit together the work for peace and freedom. The mistreatment of black citizens and the amassing of military arms, for instance, needed to be understood as linked injustices. Through endeavoring together in “understanding and harmony,” Hunton believed that Cleveland WILPF members sought to not only disarm the weapons of war, but also to disarm the weapons of Jim Crow racism.3 How to end racism and segregation and establish racial harmony was a debated topic in progressive political circles in the 1930s. In the fashion of the Philadelphia committee, Cleveland offered a liberal approach that showcased the values and accomplishments of its middle-class members. Extending the Network of Peace Work | 195 They promoted the art of the Harlem Renaissance, encouraged members to break racial barriers through their personal associations, and contested the city’s practice of segregation in housing. Spirited exchange over the issue of segregated institutions occurred throughout Cleveland’s African American communities. With economic tensions high in the 1930s and public institutions segregated in the city “by custom not law,” African Americans adopted numerous strategies to secure access to education, housing, and medical care and to contest racial discrimination.4 Cleveland’s racial landscape had changed dramatically from 1870 through the 1930s as the city experienced an overall population expansion. European immigration extended Cleveland’s population from 92,000 to more than 550,000 in the years between 1870 and 1910.5 In the 1920s and 1930s more than twenty-five million African Americans left the South and migrated north to cities like Cleveland, Detroit, Pittsburgh...


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