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Suffrage Movement to Civil Rights Movement

Claudette Colvin

"It's my constitutional right to sit here as much as that lady. I paid my fare, it's my constitutional right."

 

Nine months prior to Rosa Parks’ monumental stand against bus segregation, Claudette Colvin refused to give up her bus seat to a white passenger in Montgomery, Alabama on March 2, 1955. The fifteen-year-old girl was arrested and charged with disturbing the peace, breaking the segregation ordinance, and assaulting a police officer. While the Women’s Political Council did not choose her to be the catalyst for the Montgomery bus boycott, Colvin’s arrest triggered other bus boycotts.

Soon after Rosa Parks’ protest in December 1955, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) filed a lawsuit on behalf of Colvin and four other women who had been involved in earlier acts of civil disobedience on the Montgomery buses. In 1956, Colvin became one of four plaintiffs in the Browder v. Gayle court case. She testified both during the District Court and Supreme Court hearings. On December 20, 1956, the Supreme Court ruled that Montgomery’s segregated bus system was unconstitutional.  

 

Amelia Boynton

“A voteless people is a hopeless people.” --campaign motto while running for Congress 

 

Amelia Boynton’s life exemplified a commitment to grassroots outreach, education, and activism.

 

She was born in 1911 in Savannah, Georgia and from an early age accompanied her mother on buggy rides to promote women’s suffrage in rural African American communities.

 

At the age of 14, she enrolled in Georgia State Industrial College for Colored Youth and then transferred to Tuskegee Institute where she earned a degree in home economics. Later, she worked for the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Alabama, and was a voting rights activist

 

In the 1960s, Boynton registered as a candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives and received 10% of the vote. She also invited Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Council to organize from her home in Selma and was one of the organizers of the 1965 Selma to Montgomery marches. These marches were organized to demonstrate African American citizens’ constitutional right to vote, and to protest segregationist oppression.

 

While crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge on “Bloody Sunday,” Boynton was in the forefront of the march and was beaten unconscious by the police when she refused to retreat. Many demonstrators were also beaten and tear-gassed during the demonstration. A newspaper photo of Boynton lying bloody and beaten drew national attention to the cause. This event prompted President Johnson to sign the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

 

Delores Huerta

At the age of 25, Dolores Huerta left her job as a school teacher to serve as a leader of the Stockton Community Service Organization. This is where she met Cesar Chavez and found her calling as a community organizer for farm workers.

 

In 1966, they founded the United Farm Workers of America. She demonstrated her lobbying and negotiation talents with successful grassroots campaigning. She helped secure Aid For Dependent Families and disability insurance for farm workers, as well as the enactment of the Agricultural Labor Relations Act of 1975. In addition, while breaking down one barrier, she had a tremendous impact on women everywhere and began to challenge gender discrimination within the farm workers’ movement. Huerta also advocated for non-violence protesting, which was not only a philosophy but an approach to provide safety for all.

 

One of her greatest victories was the first National Boycott of California Table Grapes. She was dismayed by the housing and field conditions, including the lower pay wages that labor workers faced. Outraged by the racial and economic injustices she saw in California’s agricultural Central Valley, she organized the grape boycott. Huerta negotiated with grape growers but faced sexism. However, in 1970, the grape industry signed a historic agreement that increased wages and improved working conditions for farm workers.

 

Arizona had passed a law that would imprison anyone for six months if they said “boycott” or “strike.” At this time, Dolores was in Arizona organizing people in the community to support her work and to fight against this Arizona law. While speaking to a group of professionals, she delivered the Sí se puede message every night during the meetings, which then eventually became the slogan of the Arizona campaign and the immigrant rights movement.

 

Jeanette Rankin Brigade,  January 15, 1968

Jeannette Pickering Rankin was an American women’s rights activist, and, upon her election into the House of Representatives in 1916, became the first woman to hold federal office in the United States. To this day, she remains the only woman elected to Congress from the state of Montana. A progressive Republican, she was one of the founding members of the Committee on Woman Suffrage. Her split Congressional terms, in 1916 and again in 1940, coincided with the entrance of the U. S. military into each World War. A lifelong pacifist, she was one of 50 House members who opposed the 1917 declaration of war against Germany, and the only member of Congress to vote against joining the war on Japan after the 1941 bombing of Pearl Harbor. “As a woman I can’t go to war, and I refuse to send anyone else,” she said. She suffered immediate backlash and ridicule for her anti-war stance, and did not seek reelection in 1942.

 

In the 1960s, Rankin was inspiration for a new generation of anti-war activists, and she mobilized once again in protest of the Vietnam War. In January 1968, a coalition of women’s groups, calling themselves the Jeannette Rankin Brigade, organized an anti-war march on Washington D.C. Rankin led five thousand participants, the largest march by women since the Women’s Suffrage Parade of 1913, to the steps of the Capitol Building. There, they presented a peace petition to House Speaker John McCormack. Simultaneously, a second group of women’s liberation activists staged a “Burial of True Womanhood” at Arlington National Cemetery, protesting the powerlessness many women felt as wives and mothers during the time of war in the United States.

 

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