Allies for Freedom: Non-Black Women in the Movement. (Book Reviews).
Debra L. Schultz, GOING SOUTH: JEWISH WOMEN IN THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT. New York: New York University Press, 2001. 229p. bibl. index. $26.95, ISBN 0-8147-977-4.
James F. Findlay, Jr., has duly (though briefly) noted that sexist constraints still weighed on women in the civil rights movement of the late 1950s and 1960s. (1) The women featured in Going South: Jewish Women in the Civil Rights Movement and in Deep in Our Hearts: Nine White Women in the Freedom Movement tell more comprehensive stories that brilliantly illustrate the successful struggles of many inspired and well-meaning women in the movement.
These were struggles of conscience. Each woman featured in these two books shed the more traditional and acceptable roles of gender, culture, religion, and class to be an activist and seek justice for her sisters and brothers in a bitterly divided South. Each reflected her "fifties sensibilities" in following her convictions.
While there are similarities between these two books--for example, a celebration of Ella Baker's legacies that transcended racial, ethnic, and gender lines--the stories are presented in different ways. Each text offers valid and important contributions for filling the void of women's voices during this critical part of modern United States history. No longer will women be kept in the shadows as readers learn of the many women's passion for and commitment to a more perfect Union.
Debra Schultz in Going South weaves interesting and relevant ties among modern versions of the biblical Miriam, whose own role in the traditional five books of Moses needed centuries to be uncovered and taken seriously. (2) We learn quickly about how many women who were going South had to struggle with their traditional upbringing as the "nice Jewish daughter," sometimes rebelling but often finding solace and a basis for social activism and justice in their Jewish roots.
Schultz blends her series of oral histories with a grounding in feminist methodology and history. She succeeds in carefully considering the words of each woman and attending to the larger picture of the struggles within the struggle for civil rights for Black women and men in the South. Heterosexism, anti-Semitism, and classism are acknowledged, explored, and discussed. The reader is invited to interact with the women portrayed throughout the book.
Deep in Our Hearts is a reader. Nine women relate their experiences, feelings, thoughts, and retrospectives as committed civil rights activists in the 1960s. A brief foreword by Barbara Ransby sets the stage for these accounts of individual struggles of conscience. A preface invites the reader to learn "our stories of the costly times we wouldn't have missed for the world" (p. xiii). As each woman, representing herself as a unique contributor to the cause, writes, the reader is taken on a wonderful adventure. It is a serious journey, frightening at times, and the women write with courage and candor. Theresa del Pozzo, who proudly acknowledges her mother's inspiration for her own life decisions, including her involvement with the movement, tells us:
Because of white racism, African Americans had taken a defensive strategy in relation to white America. They interacted in a careful and guarded manner with whites, allowing them to know very little of the black community and especially its feelings toward whites.... It was a real eye-opener for me when the racial balance was turned around and, as a white, I became part of a small minority. (p. 191)
It is that "small minority" to which the women in both books belonged. Strangers to their families, friends, and others, the women going South geographically and deep into their hearts emotionally faced loneliness, rejection, and misperceptions. Reading one account without the other--studying the words and images in Deep in Our Hearts without those in Going South--cheats the participants. Each story is telling.
There is context. Debra Schultz addresses assimilation, for example, helping us understand and appreciate the struggles within the struggle. Consider:
A number of chroniclers of Jewish life in this period note the coexistence of increasing secularization and the growth of Jewish religious and social institutions.... The conflicting messages that many of the women received reflect a Jewish response to the mid-century mainstream American assault on cultural pluralism and difference. Given the era's climate of conformity, fear and repression, it was not wise to be too different in the 1950s. (p. 164)
Yet Vivian Leburg Rothstein, Trudy Weissman Orris, and Faith Holsart, among a surprisingly critical mass, chose to work as secular Jews in a Black Christian movement working in the anti-Semitic and virulently racist South. And Penny Patch (one of the contributors to Deep in Our Hearts) vividly recalls that when "in the course of our work we moved out from the relative safety of the black community into the areas controlled by white people, the white southerners we encountered did not forget" that "I was white and other people were black" (p. 143). These women were risking their lives.
Thinking differently, acting differently, and being different are the themes recounted within these two books. They are a living tribute to a woman's choice to follow her conscience and seek justice. It is time to add these voices to a more valid and reliable accounting of the events that helped shape the struggles and the movement for civil rights in the 1960s. Several dozens of women's accounts are offered and documented in Deep in Our Hearts and Going South. We are more fortunate and richer because of them.
Certainly, these two volumes should be seriously considered for inclusion in readings for students enrolled in twentieth-century history courses, and I highly recommend them for courses in policy as well as contemporary religious studies. They have a special place in the ever-expanding learning opportunities in Women s Studies. I state this because we need to learn as much as we can about extraordinary women--such as those represented in these two texts.
(1.) James F. Findlay, Jr., Church People in the Struggle (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), p.129.
(2.) Cf. Ellen Frankel, The Five Books of Miriam: A Woman's Commentary on the Torah (San Francisco: Harper, 1998).
[Stephen D. Grubman-Black is Professor of Women's Studies and of Communication Studies, and Acting Director of the Women's Studies Program, at the University of Rhode Island.)
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|Title Annotation:||2 books on civil rights|
|Author:||Grubman-Black, Stephen D.|
|Publication:||Feminist Collections: A Quarterly of Women's Studies Resources|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2002|
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