Women in the Civil Rights Movement

Subject: History
Pages: 3
Words: 762
Reading time:
3 min
Study level: College

Viewpoint: Women actively participated in the civil rights movement. This participation also shaped the role of future generations of women later on, in America and other parts of the World.


  • Women sacrificed their lives and fought determinedly, asking for a social revolution. Unfortunately their efforts have been overlooked. Apart from Rosa Parks, very few women civil rights activists remain unknown or unrecognized by society.
  • Women participation in the Civil rights movement was silent and this was largely attributed to choice, whereby they wanted to remain in the background, or due to the sexism that was prevalent at the time.
  • Visible women activist also comprised of the wives of prominent male civil rights leaders. They included Coretta Scott King, the widow of Martin Luther King, Jr. Betty Shabazz (Widow of Malcom X) and Myrlie Evers-Williams (Widow of Medgar Evers)1
  • Women advocacy was ongoing even before the Rosa Parks incident. Through the Women Political Council, women were encouraged to boycott the bus public transport due to inherent segregation.
  • Distinguishing the role of women in the Civil rights movement does not in any reduce the significance of male civil rights activists.
  • Women participation should be intertwined within the history of Civil rights as it led to the participation of women in Daily lives and broke the gender barrier that had shrouded them for so long2.


By tradition, social movement theory is employed to social movements without examinations into the manner gender has an effect into the development of movements. The circumstances that precipitate personal movement participation are subject to ones positions within the social order. A good illustration of this can be seen through the civil rights movement where for black Americans, inequality acted as a source of encouragement for their participation in the movement. Besides race inequalities, life as a woman in a white and male society controlled society provided enough impetus for participation in the civil rights movement.

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Due to the sixties gender customs during the active times, charismatic advocate leaders comprised largely of black men. At the time, the black community especially those from the South were not ready for women activism3. It was a farfetched idea for anyone to think that women would emerge as leaders within the movement. Men had better opportunities to be charismatic activists as their manhood accorded the societal power.

This attracted them more attention. Even though both men and women could enjoy amazing personalities assumed to be crucial for captivating the masses, women were unable to lead or demand commitment because their positions would not be recognized. At the time, it was hard for them to attain formal leadership. Nonetheless, they were given unofficial leadership positions e.g. event organizers Due to their social skills, women were viewed as better at networking and this culminated in becoming active rights advocates in their own right. This gained them the trust and admiration of the community in which they served. We cannot discount the efforts and contribution of women in the Civil rights movement based only on the charismatic movement theory.

The participation by both men and women within the Movement diverged from and strengthened the gender standards of the sixties U.S. civilization. Most Civil Rights bodies were led by men. Nevertheless, some involved and supported the active participation of women and encouraged them to take up leadership roles4. Some women matched the custom norms by carrying out domestic chores. This included clerical duties. Most ladies within the movement played a voluntary role. i.e there were some who prepared meals and washed up venues after organized events were over. Most of them were genuinely concerned with making a difference.

They were not after any publicity. As others challenged such duties by risking their safety by organizing activities in unsafe racist neighborhoods. While at the same time, some male advocates were not open to considerable contribution of women in the struggle. Others encouraged women to remain active5.

Though it’s accurate to say that the most prominent individual linked to the Montgomery boycott was a lady, Rosa Parks is frequently portrayed as an exhausted seamstress who refused to relinquish her bus seat. She was actually a dedicated long serving activist for racial justice. She was very active as her involvement from assisting the Scottsboro Boys to assisting in her home branch of the (NACP) National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. She also attended the Highlander Folk School where she was educated on labor rights and racial equality6.

The recognition of the role played by women does not in any way reduce the importance of their male counterparts.

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Osborne Linda. Women of the civil rights movement. Georgia: Pomegranate, 2006. Web.

Crawford, Vicki. Women in the Civil Rights movement: trailblazers and torchbearers, 1941-1965. Newark:Greenwood,2009. Web.


1 Linda, Osborne. Women of the civil rights movement. (Georgia: Pomegranate, 2006). pp. 45. Web.

2 Vicki, Crawford. Women in the Civil Rights movement: trailblazers and torchbearers, 1941-1965. (Newark:Greenwood,2009).pp 67. Web.

3 Linda, Osborne. Women of the civil rights movement. (Georgia: Pomegranate, 2006). pp. 34. Web.

4 Linda, Osborne. Women of the civil rights movement. (Georgia: Pomegranate, 2006). pp. 39. Web.

5 Vicki, Crawford. Women in the Civil Rights movement: trailblazers and torchbearers, 1941-1965. (Newark:Greenwood,2009).pp 68. Web.

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6 Linda, Osborne. Women of the civil rights movement. (Georgia: Pomegranate, 2006). pp. 54. Web.