How Did the March on Washington Movement's Critique of American Democracy in the 1940s Awaken African American Women to the Problem of Jane Crow?

Abstract

      This document project demonstrates the critical role women played in the 1940s March on Washington Movement (MOWM) during its formative period. African American women activists of the 1940s enthusiastically joined the MOWM because it promoted broad race-based employment goals. Although women found a welcoming place within the MOWM to fight Jim Crow, there was little room at this time for women to articulate their concerns about Jane Crow within the movement or society at large. Various factors kept female march activists from more fully developing an articulate feminist ideology in the 1940s: the effective and charismatic leadership of A. Philip Randolph, the powerful economic message of the Brotherhood that required the united support of the whole African American community, the patriotic wartime environment, and the undiminished power of a Jim Crow system in American society. Although the MOWM relied on women activists, it never developed a place for women's activism. The documents in this project provide evidence for this thesis by centering on the MOWM's Chicago Division, which attracted a significant number of independent-minded African American women at the height of the movement's popularity in 1942 and 1943.

      Twenty years later, as the African American community embraced another march on Washington for economic and civil rights, former MOWM women activists such as Anna Arnold Hedgeman and Pauli Murray, recognizing the tremendous contribution women activists had made in the past, understood the 1963 march as the continuation of their efforts that had begun in the 1940s. In this new wave of civil rights activism, it was former MOWM women activists who made sure that this time Jane Crow concerns would not take a back seat to efforts to dismantle Jim Crow. The experience and knowledge they had gained over twenty years of civil rights activism prepared African American women, especially Pauli Murray, to play a prominent role in guaranteeing that women's rights would be included in the civil rights agenda of the mid-1960s, most notably in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the federal bureaucracy that was built to accommodate the new legislation.

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