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With growing attacks on the character of African-American women and the spread of disfranchisement, lynching, and the Jim Crow system in the South, a club movement emerged among black women that led to the formation of the National Association of Colored Women (NACW) in Washington, D.C. in 1896. Black women maintained two interrelated goals during the formative years of the NACW. They sought, on the one hand, to show by the force of their example how far African Americans had come in the three decades since the end slavery. Equally important, they wanted to ameliorate the conditions of millions of impoverished African Americans and help the masses of their race develop the strength of character and family life that would contribute more generally to racial uplift. "Lifting As We Climb" became the Association's motto, and it well represented the interconnection between individual mobility and group achievement that leaders sought.
To understand the gender perspective of NACW activists; to examine attitudes toward race within the NACW.
Begin by reading The Constitution of NACW. What were the aims of the organization? Why was the NACW exclusively a women's organization? Have students explore this question further by reading "Need of Co-operation of Men and Women in Correctional Work," by Fannie Barrier Williams. Why did Williams criticize institutions run by men? What special qualities would women bring to institutions? Why did Williams see the problem of the "incorrigible child" as particularly suited to women?
Begin exploring black club women's attitudes toward race by asking students to read the excerpt from Lemon Swamp and Other Places. How did the author present Mary Church Terrell's vision of black womanhood? Next read Margaret Murray Washington, "The Negro Home." What was Washington's view of white people? Of black people? How might Washington's comments have been influenced by the nature of the audience she was addressing?
Continue to explore the club's relationship with white women by reading "Why the National Association of Colored Women Should Become Part of the National Council of Women of the United States," by Adella Hunt Logan. Why did Logan argue in favor of the NACW's admission to the National Council of Women? Next read Mary Church Terrell's "Greetings From the National Association of Colored Women to The National Council of Women." How did Terrell attempt to build a sense of common identity between the primarily white women of the National Council of Women and the members of the NACW?
Break students into small groups. Ask them to imagine that they are Mary Church Terrell, writing a letter to NACW members announcing the organization's admission to the National Council of Women. In their letter, ask them to explain to members why this admission was so important, what was to be gained from the association, and to counter some imagined arguments against the move. When they are finished, have them read "A Personal Letter From Our President." Ask them to discuss again, based on their reading of the three documents, why Logan and Terrell found it so necessary to belong to the National Council of Women. Give students an opportunity to revise their letter after this discussion if they choose.
For Further Exploration:
To explore further differing attitudes among African Americans toward race and racial equality, see an editorial project on this website: "How Did the Views of Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Du Bois toward Woman Suffrage Change between 1900 and 1915?"
To further explore relationship among black and white women, particularly after the passage of the nineteenth amendment, see another editorial project on this website: "How Did the National Woman's Party Address the Issue of the Enfranchisement of Black Women, 1919-1924?"