Sisters in Struggle
“No women were to be honored at the  march on Washington. Eventually the NAACP said they would include eight or ten women on stage, and asked me to be one of them. They were only going to give us one minute to talk. One of the women was Josephine Baker. Why would you have her come all the way from France, and have her speak for only one minute? [Because] the organizers didn’t really want women there.”
Conference keynote speaker Gloria Richardson, who led the Cambridge Movement and the Student Nonviolence Coordinating Committee in Cambridge, Md.
The participants in this year’s annual women’s history month conference—“Sisters in Struggle: Honoring the Women Veterans of the Civil Rights Movement”—remember and revere these women, even if history tends to forget them. “The Civil Rights movement is often perceived as masculine. We need to correct that,” said Tara James MA ’00, assistant director of the women’s history graduate program, which co-sponsored the March event.
Educators who led the panel “Teaching the Civil Rights Movement” asserted that the reason most people can’t name a female civil rights leader, other than Rosa Parks, is that they never learned there were any. But these teachers have strategies for incorporating women’s stories into the conventional, male-dominated history of the movement.
“Instead of just criticizing the way history omits women from the Civil Rights movement, I actively integrate women into my curriculum, and ask students to think about why they’re so often left out,” said Evelyn Simien, professor at the University of Connecticut.
Two elementary school teachers from Cape Cod, Maggie Nolan Donovan and Cheryl Sutter, advise educators teaching the Civil Rights era to choose stories of resistance rather than victimization, and emphasize that all young people can be involved in the ongoing fight against racism. Donovan and Sutter teach their students about Ruby Bridges, the first black student at her New Orleans elementary school; Daisy Bates, the NAACP officer who worked with the Little Rock Nine; and Sheyann Webb, an eight-year-old girl who marched with Martin Luther King.
“We make a conscious effort to incorporate the stories of women and girls,” said Donovan. “Twenty years from now, these kids won’t have to question why they never learned about the crucial roles women played in the struggle for freedom.”