By Dalila-Johari Paul
Thursday, January 12, 2012
Women were active in the human and civil rights movements of the 19th and 20th centuries but very few were given leadership credit. A traveling exhibit that arrives in New York in February is trying to shake that.
An almost unwritten rule of the civil rights movement was that the women would step back and let the men take the credit, said Evers-Williams.
"We were always the base for the success that the movement had and it's important to leave a fine record for young women of how we worked through problems," she said.
One of these young women is Walidah Imarisha, 32, on the editorial collective of Left Turn Magazine and a member of Decolonize PDX, a radical organizing collective of people of color.
Imarisha echoes the need for younger generations to connect with their predecessors.
"Having the guidance, insight and experiences of elders--many of whom are currently incarcerated, in exile, murdered or dealing with the emotional, psychological and physical repercussions of rebellion--would be a valuable asset to younger organizers," Imarisha said. She added it could help younger activists avoid pitfalls.
Imarisha, who also works for Western States Center, a social-advocacy group based in Portland, Ore., also regards this as a good time for her brand of political work.
"The Occupy movement is not the end-all, be-all of radicalism. In fact, it is just part of a current global rebellion, as we see from the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, that in many ways have come to define this current moment of resistance--images of Tahrir Square inspiring a generation," Imarisha said.
Dani McClain is a 33-year-old journalist and campaign organizer for the 800,000-member political and media advocacy group ColorofChange.org, which tackles race-baiting and political injustice via online campaigns.
McClain thinks it's a shame that an exhibit such as this is s2till necessary in 2012.
"When are we going to reach a time where in an exhibition, women's names are right alongside the men who have been consistently labeled our leaders?" McClain asked. "Our names get lost when we take a purely selfless approach to the work toward justice. Our efforts get credited to others. We may be happy in the moment to be in the background, but our stories get lost."
Evers-Williams is only too familiar with what McClain is talking about. Even in the NAACP she said women had difficulty being seen as true leaders.
"I was told that I could not serve in that position because, after all, I was only the widow of Medgar Evers," she said, referring to the chair post that she held for three years. "And that was an insult . . . I replied, 'You don't know me; if you read my resume you would not say that.' I was told that hell would freeze over before I was chairman of the board."
Evers-Williams said a true portrait of women's place in civil rights helps everyone.
"We have power that we aren't even aware of. And the more we know about people or women who gave so much, it enlightens us all," she said.
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Dalila-Johari Paul is a journalist and producer based in New Jersey. She has worked as an editor and writer for the Star-Ledger, the Hartford Courant and Newsday.
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