The Erasure of Black Women in the Civil Rights Movement

Malcolm X once said, “The most disrespected person in American is the Black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the Black woman. The most neglected person in America is the Black woman.” Our exhibition highlights the experiences of Black women throughout the civil rights movement. Oftentimes, when people learn about this movement, they learn about Black male figures. Black women are left in the shadows without proper representation. However, the progress that this movement brought about would not have been possible without Black women. 

Black women are independent. Many of the photos in the exhibition capture Black women alone. Historically, Black women have been excluded from civil rights organizations and activities by both Black men and white women. Oftentimes, Black women were the only activists who dared to push for social reform regarding multiple issues. Not only did they fight for Black rights, but they also addressed poverty and feminism. Thus, traditionally, Black women supported ideals that aligned with womanism instead of feminism. Womanism is a more inclusive type of feminism that acknowledges that not all women face the same struggle because of factors such as race, class, and sexuality. 

Black women are resistant. Even when their voices have been shunned, they have continued to champion their beliefs. After the National American Woman Suffrage Association prohibited Black women from attending conventions, Black women continued to work with them. Black women do not let challenges halt them in their pursuit of freedom. Their passion is genuine and it fuels their activism. Black women care about the future and work to improve not only their own conditions. When they fight, it means war because family is their reason to fight.

Black women are mothers. They give life and protect it. They are scrutinized for their parenting in a world that does not value their child’s life. Black mothers are forced into vulnerable positions. They are expected to save Black childhood and encourage creativity while also preparing their kids for harsh realities. People blame them for their children’s actions and do not give credit when it is due. Children are supposed to provide mothers with joy, but as you will see from the exhibition for Black mothers, this is not the reality. Until Black lives matter to everyone, Black mothers will continue to experience pain, trauma, loss, and despair. 

Black women are responsible for all Black accomplishments. Countless Black women have significantly contributed to the civil rights movement, it’s time they gained some recognition.


Curated by Sanaa Pate, Sheyla Street, and Renee Williams