Freedom's Daughters: The Unsung Heroines of the Civil Rights Movement from 1830 to 1970

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Freedom's Daughters: The Unsung Heroines of the Civil Rights Movement from 1830 to 1970

Author: Lynne Olson
Publisher: Scribner
Copyright: 2002
Pages: 464
Cover Price: $ 19.00

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Although men like Martin Luther King Jr. and Stokely Carmichael grabbed the headlines, women provided not just the backbone but frequently the leadership of the civil rights movement, this punchy popular history reminds us. And not just during the 1950s and '60s: Ida Mae Wells spearheaded an international anti-lynching campaign in 1892, Mary White Ovington helped launch the NAACP in 1909, and Pauli Murray led the first sit-in in 1944. The civil rights and feminist movements have been intertwined since the 19th century, notes Lynne Olson, who doesn't flinch from describing the ways in which sex has been used as a weapon to define and divide black and white women.

Olson, coauthor of The Murrow Boys, again displays a marvelous knack for knitting sharp individual portraits into a cohesive group biography within a lively, accessible narrative. She makes it clear that women like Rosa Parks, Diane Nash, and Ida Mae Holland were not mere foot soldiers for male generals. Parks's record of civil rights work dated to the 1940s, long before she sparked the Montgomery bus boycott. The 22-year-old Nash revitalized the Freedom Rides after male colleagues nearly abandoned them in the wake of white violence. Holland transformed herself from an 18-year-old prostitute into a determined activist inspired by the older women she called "mamas" who could be seen on the front lines of every march, singing and testifying. Ella Baker, Jo Ann Robinson, Septima Clark, and Fannie Lou Hamer are among the other neglected figures who finally get their due in Olson's moving tribute. --Wendy Smith

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Background Information

The civil rights movement, which aimed to deliver the rights assured black Americans in the post-Civil-War amendments, reached its peak of activity in the 1960's. Lynching was the delivery of capital punishment by mob justice to people suspected but not convicted or perhaps even charged with crimes, primarily in the Deep South. Rosa Parks was a black woman who refused to give up her bus seat to a white man in 1955 and sparked the Montgomery bus boycott. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has been in the forefront of civil rights activity for a century.