African American Women's Politics, Organizing, and Activism in 1920s-Washington, D.C.
Murphy, Mary-Elizabeth Bradley
Barkley Brown, Elsa
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This dissertation offers a social history of African American women's political activism and organizing in 1920s-Washington, D.C. Specifically, I examine the ways that black women worked to reform the school system, protested segregation in the offices of the federal government and neighborhoods, fought for the passage of an anti-lynching law, formed Republican organizations, upheld African American citizenship through commemoration, and recruited more than one thousand women and men to join a labor union, the National Association of Wage Earners. I argue that black women in 1920s-Washington, D.C., reached into the knowledge and skills they derived from black institutional culture, from their location in the city, from their work experiences, friendships, and family life to organize their campaigns and participate in politics. Black institutional culture formed a bridge to women's formal political activism. As churchgoers, dues-paying members of fraternal orders, fundraisers for the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA), or participants in social clubs, African American women developed important skills, including fundraising, publicity, and public speaking, which they applied to their more overtly political campaigns. Locating the origins of African American women's political campaigns and organizations within black institutions helps to explain how black women were sometimes able to mobilize hundreds of foot soldiers in a short period of time. Personal experiences also mattered tremendously in women's political activism. Stories and memories passed along from family and friends inspired African American women to wage their wide-ranging campaigns for justice. During the 1920s, black women in ways both large and small, individual and collective--from walking through the streets to recruit members to a labor organization to raising money for a YWCA organizing drive, from marching through the streets in support of anti-lynching bill, to staging protests in front of the Board of Education building--organized to sustain their communities, reform their city, and enact democracy in Washington and throughout the nation. This dissertation relies on a range of sources, including organizational records, personal papers, black and white newspapers, social scientific studies, government documents, court cases, oral histories, Sanborn maps, city directories, and the manuscript census.