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In an in-depth community study of women in the civil rights movement, Christina Greene examines how several generations of black and white women, low-income as well as more affluent, shaped the struggle for black freedom in Durham, North Carolina. In the city long known as "the capital of the black middle class," Greene finds that, in fact, low-income African American women were the sustaining force for change. Greene demonstrates that women activists frequently were more organized, more militant, and more numerous than their male counterparts.
They brought new approaches and strategies to protest, leadership, and racial politics. To continue Baker's imagery, this book shows us what went into that tilling process, as well as its import and its counterforces.
Readers conversant with other southern communities will recognize much that is familiar in women's activist approaches, both in single-sex and in "mixed" organizations. While Greene does not really attempt them, generalizable observations from this local study may also extend beyond the South and beyond the United States to comparable liberation struggles in nations such as South Africa, for example. What Greene also makes clear is that much more analysis is needed to understand women's contributions to social movements than simply to "add women and stir.
In the latter case, Greene finds that women—as the primary consumers for their families—were much more likely to engage in and sustain economic boycotts than were their male counterparts, a finding consistent with earlier scholarship on the Montgomery bus boycott. Greene's decision to examine more than one generation of movement activists produces both strengths and weaknesses.
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Her first two chapters augment and heavily reference a growing body of scholarship on how Cold War anticommunism blunted an upsurge of post-World War II southern civil rights activism by marginalizing many of its leaders as "red" and by casting wider aspersions on dissent itself as disloyal. This is fascinating work, but we get only the broadest contours of the story because Greene's cast and time frames are moving on too swiftly for much detail.
We meet, for example, the feisty and creative Arline Young, a determined local leader who invigorated NAACP youth activism and organized tobacco workers regionally.
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In what is likely both a problem of sources and a sobering commentary on the disabling power of the domestic Cold War, Young's story ends prematurely and somewhat anticlimactically in the book's second chapter. After her blacklisting, the only conclusion drawn about this vibrant character is that Young "disappeared from the historical record" p. The book's mid-section focuses on the mass civil movement years, in particular on one of the author's most compelling points.
Greene demonstrates here that, as the s unfolded, it was largely black women's concerns that shifted the civil rights agenda toward neighborhood organizing, economic development, and antipoverty campaigns. The final three of seven chapters cover the late sixties and seventies, an era about which historical work is only just now beginning to flower. Would you also like to submit a review for this item?
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Our Separate Ways: Women and the Black Freedom Movement in Durham, North ...
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