BWPC READINGS - ,JeCdlng Punk; 5"“ 14’ 'r than...

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Unformatted text preview: ,JeCdlng Punk; 5"“ 14’ 'r than " J“"""'... .u a... . t 1 N h“"rneasurer. for dealing wttlt Ills-.c‘h ‘ q no the books to protect slave SWCII'I'I-W. ‘ iii , POLITICAL-BEHAVIOR OF AMERICAN B‘LAQKWOMEN An Overview ‘ Janie! L. Preétage Leaving a legacy of feminine leadership in political and military affairs that encompassad such "grieats as Hatshepsut, Malteda. Cleopatra, and Ann Zingha (Rogers, 1972). Black women, alongswith their kin. arrived on the American shores to commence an experience of oppression which hasr‘in- eluded indentured servitude, chattel slavery. segregation, discrimination. and a variety of forms of differential treatment and status. Among the very first group of 20 Blacks to arrive at Jamestown. Virginia. in |6I9 were several women. The first detailed census in Virginia. conducted in I624— l625. indicated that in the state's total population of 1221 there Were 23 Blacks: ll males. ll) females. and two children. With a locus extending from arrival in the early seventeenth century to the contempome era. this chapter will attempt to provide an oVervicw of the political behavior of Black women in America. Essentially, live contentions serve as the basis for the discussion :These are: (1) Black women have been the victims of dual oppresaion in titc American political system—one type of oppression lashing from race and another issu- ing from sex. (2) in each historical epo'ch in the development of the American political system. Black women have been centrally involved in the major political struggles confronted by both Black people and women. ‘ (3)The political activity of Black women has varied in accordance with the" G ex" “L “a eluded abolitionist activity. politiclzation of normally nonpolitical positions. protest demonstrations, electoral participation, and of ticeholding. Any effort to understand the political behavior of Black women must talte cognizance of changing pattern: over time. {4) Black women have expanded their political involvement progressively, esca- lating at unprecedented levels since [965, especially in voting and officehold- . rs mg. ’ (5) Political advancements for Black women have paralleled more closely the of“ am '- . advancements of Elam-flan. they have the advancements of white women. ' Early Black residents in the colonies did not enter as chattel slaves, but as indentured servants, assigned basically the same status as white indentured servants and permitted to work ottt their-freedom. As a result, free Blacks were among the population of all of the colonies by the middle lows. Beginning around 1660. however. the colonial economic and political power structure abolished the practice of white and Black indentured servi- tude in favor of a system of perpetual slavery of Blacks. In a companion move, initiated by Virginia in 1662, all children were assigned “slave” or “free” status at birth, according to the status of the mother. Hence, children born as a result of interracial cohabitation between white men and Black slave women were assigned the slave status of the mother. in addition, subsequent legislation in Virginia created sharp legal differences in the status of white women and that of “free” Black women. Similar laws emerged throughout the colonies, and by the opening of the eighteenth century the new slave system was pervasive (Franklin, l9“). However, {tee Blacks, living lit the colonies, were not assigned slave status by these laws and the population of free Blacks continued to grow——as did the slave population. The record shows that for most of the seventeenth century, women were a small minority among the Black population. As acorrective measure for this imbalance, some colonies imported special shipments of women. Expan- sion of the Black population was more rapid in the latter part of the century; by 1800, it was estimated that there were about one-half million Black women in America. (Franklin, 1974: 56,67). The plight of the slave woman was especially trying. Slaves were, by definition, nonparticipating members of the body politic. Prime motivation for the slave system was economic gain. All policies and practices related to the slave system were assessed in terms of their contribution to increased productivit y and decreased costs. Overwork, forced sexual cohabitation for breeding purposes. physical beatings, and torture were not excluded as measures for dealing with male and female slaves. Those laws which were on the books to protect slaves went mostly uncnlorccd. Slave families experienced great difficulty in eflorts to retrieve stability. in the main, slave owners refused to recqgnizc the slave family as an institu- tion worthy of respect. Only among thoSe owners interested indmoral and religious development of their slaves” was there any real thrust toward stable latitin units. Even in these cases, slaves were encouraged to marry someone on their own plantations. In the master’s view, interplantalion unions tended to reduce the work efficiency of both parties. Black slave men preferred marriage with women from other plantations so that they would not have to witness the abuse of their wiyes. One fugitive slave wrote: “i did not want to marry a girl belonging to my own place because I knew I could not bear to see her “Located” (Blassingame, [972: 86). Childbearing and child rearing were tedious experiences for slave women. Among the more trying aspects were the conditions under which conception took place, little time off for delivery, and the absence of arty acknowledged role for the slave mother in bringing up her own children. In fact, children were frequently sold away from the mother. ’ In the face of these seemingly insurmountable odds. Black slave men and women struggled to create some semblance of stability in family life when ever and whenever possible. The establishment of community life among slaves, a condition n0w documented by various scholars, entailed the development of a leadership cadre. Women were a part of that cadre and some even become key persons in some of the larger comtnunitiesleranklin, I974: l55}. Midwives, for example. were especially significant contributors to community security and well-being. Frederick Douglass wrote of Black slave women: More than a million of women in the Southern states ol the Union are. by laws of the land. . . consigned to a life of revolting prostitution. . . by those laws. . . . ll a woman. in defense ol her own innocence. shall lift her hand againstthe brutal aggression she may be lawfully put to death. . . . By the laws of slave states . . . three million of the people of those States were utterly incapacitated to form marriage contracts . . . Slave breeding is relied ugutn by Virginia as one of her chief resources of wealth. . . . I leave ybu to picture to yourselves what must be the state of society where marriage is not allowed by the land and where the woman is reduced to a mere chattel. . . . You have already conceived a state of things equalling in horror and abominations, your worst conceptions of Sodom itself [quoted in Aplhciter, 1969: SB}. Political implications of the subordinate status of slave women for slave men has been the subject of commentary by a number of social science scholars. Rape of slave women, they assert, was a political act as well as an act of physical violence. Davis (197”), for example, contends that such rapes represented an indirect attack upon the slave community as a whole. for the resettlement of former slaves in northern and western states. “America owes my people some of the dividends. She can afford to pay and she must pay. I shall make them understand that there is a debt to the Negro people which they can never repay. At least then, they must make amends (Bennett, 1969: if”. Thousands of Black women left the Confederate states to serve as washwomen, cooks, nurses, and general laborers in the northern army. Another form of resistance by slaves was revolt, and women were cen- trally involved in some ofthe uprisings. Notable in the ranks of revolters was Nanny Presser, wife of Gabriel Presser, the man who led the unsuccessful uprising in Virginia in 1800. Many acts of violence were committed by slave wenien against their masters and mistresties—poisonings: hunting of houses and barns, beatings, and slayings. These Women, bcnton curtailing some of the inhumanity inflicted upon them, joined with Black men of similar per- suasion to move against the slave system in a nonpassive fashion. According to Franklin (1974), many Black women offered violent resistance to the sexual attacks upon them by white masters and overseers. Rather than endure slavery, Some slave mothers chose death for themselves and their offspring. Runaway slave records contain information on "Sarah," who was described as ‘ the biggest devil that ever lived, having poisoned a stud horse and set- a stable on fire. also burnt General R. Williams' stable and stockyard with seven horses and other property. . . . She was handcuffed and got away at Ruddles Mills on her way down the river. which was the fifth time she escaped when about to be sent out of the country llllassingame, I972: ll6]. One Virginia planter wrote “The Negro women are all harder to manage than the men" U972: l53). ‘ The slave and Civil War periods, then, were marked by Black female political activity which encompassed exertion of leadership within the slave community, agitation for abolition by both violent and nonviolent means, and service with military units in a variety ofroles. For most Black men and women, Reconstruction represented their initial- opportunity to legally and officially create a family, and away took full advantage of it. Particularly notewOrthy is the large mother of lllacks who utilized newspaper announcements and ltandbills in the intense struggle to locate relatives separated by sale during slavery. Women as Well as men seemed acutely aware ofthe political significance of close-knit family struc- tures and the bonds of kinship in the face ofa hostile majority community as they attempted to move from slavery into freedom. Politically. Reconstruction was a period of widespread voting and of f ice- holding'by Black men. The women, because of state laws barring their 2 exorcise of the suffrage, were excluded from engaging in these activities. Howeve r, it is reported that they found ways and means of bringing pressure of a political nature upon their fathers, husbands, brothers, sons, and other male relatives and acquaintances. John ll. Burch, speaking in the late nine— teenth century, alleged that Black women exerted unwarranted influence upon their male (voting) relatives in wirisiana. llurch had served in the Louisiana State House and Senate and was connected with two newspapers in the early l8't'Os. Among the political activities he attributed to Black women were following their men from morning to night around the parishes (counties) demanding that they vote Republican, forming a large segment of those present at polilical assemblages, evidencing a deep interest in all that pertained to politics, advocating that voting Republican was the only means by which they could secure homes-and education for their children, and finally pushing Republicanism so hard that they swept the Republican gov- ernment away from the state. They then turned their attention to an cmigra~ lion drive or exodus designed to geLBlacks out of the state. Similar exodus experiences occurred in other states'as well, and Black women Were given credit for "masterminding" (or- mistressminding) them. In New Orleans, a committee of 500 Black women organized with Mary 1. Garrett as president. The committee, in 1878, published" a document demanding that Black women be accorded every right and privilege guaranteed to their race by the Constitution, and declaring that they would useevery power in their hands to get these rights and privileges. (Aptheker, I969: 72l-—722). Thus, Recon- struction Black women, still deprived of the right to vote and hold political office, resorted to alternative strategies of influencing public policy during the first period in which Black men were legally involved on a large scale in the decision-makin g process in America. Termination of Reconstruction and restoration of white control in the South brought an end to Black political involvement. Through devices such as other purges, grandfather clauses. poll taxes. literacy tests, and general humiliation of Blacks. southern whites destroyed the Black voter bases in the various states. in addition, maltreatment of Black women as a means of demoralizing the Black community was a general practice. When all else failed to bring about the desired results, whites used violence and murder to accomplish the suppression of Black aspirations. Lynchings numbered over 2500 between I884 and I900. Another l000 occurred between I90” and the beginning of World War 1. (Franklin. I974: 323). While most lynching victims were Black males, some white males and Black women were also hanged. in one instance, a pregnant Black woman was lynched, her sttunach slit, and the unborn child stomped to deatll by the mob alter it fell from the _ mother's abdomen onto the ground. Efforts to combat this form of murder were organized across the United States and in other countries. “"9: :L...‘*"‘_.__4L____ L ....,.a_—_'r——-A -‘-« I“? A“ _ a; h "n.— 240 THE BLACK WOMAN One Black woman prominent in the antilynch movement was lda Wells Barnett. frequently cited as its initiator. She began lter career as a Jim Crow- fighting editor of the Memphis Free Press. but was forcibly ousted from that city iti l892. After joining the Chicago Conservator. she lectured on lyn: citing throughout tlte northern half of the United States and in Europe. She pioneered in the exposure oftlte falsity of rape charges as an explanation for lynching. In [893 she carried the light to the White House where she met with President William McKinley. As a result of her tours, the British founded the British Anti-Lynch Society. While on one such tour, she con— fronted Frances Willard, national president of the Women‘s Christian Tern— perance Union. also on tour front the United States, for the latter’s “apolo- gist” attitude and comments regarding lynching and maltreatment of Blacks in the South. Possibly as a resolt of that encounter, Ms. Willard became a subscriber to the British Anti~Lynching Society. Ms. Barnett married in the midst of her career as a journalist and political activist, gave birth to four children, and continued her work in both areas, frequently bringing her baby along. She was active in the founding of the lda B. Wells Woman‘s Club, the National Association of Colored Women, the Negro Fellowship League, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and the Al- pha Suffrage Club of Chicago (Lerner, I917: 196—205). Another Black woman active iii the antilynch struggle and other moves by Blacks to counteract the hostile laws and practices of the post— Reconstruction era was Mary Church Terrell. Raised in Tennessee and educated at Oberlin College, she taught at Wilberforce University and at the lliglt School for Colored Youth in Washington, DC She was an active woman suffragist, first president of the National Asrrociation of Colored Women, personal friend of and collaborator with Susan B. Anthony and Jane Addams, and a charter member of the National Association for the Advartcerneut of Colored People. Over most of the 9i years of her life, she spoke out vigorously against lynching and discrimination, even contesting the racial restrictive policies of the American Association of University Women when she was 83 years old. In the sante year, she led a catnpaign to end discrimination in Washington, D. C., restaurants. She died in 1954 (Lerner, I917: 205—2l I). Many Black women Were members and suppdrtcrs of the antilynch ac- tivities and other efforts Spear-headed by Barnett. Terrell, and other Black leaders at the national, state, and local levels. The organization of the NAACP in [909 was a major turning point in the Black struggle for equalin as major emphasis shifted largely to tire courts and litigation. Black women were involved in the establishment of the organization and in its work. b\ In the period between the 19203 and the mid, [9505, when litigation and 1'.— _.___ ._ __.._. _ Jewel L. Prestage 24! lobbying were prime strategies for achievement of equality for Blacks, Black women were found in principal roles in almost all dimensions of the struggle . ,7 During the latter half of the 19505 and extending through the 19605, Blacks launched an outside‘of-thc-courtroorn dimension to their stmggle for equality—the civil rights movement. Research on the movement reveals, almost without exception, a critical role played by Black females. Chafe, in Women rmrlEqimlt'ry (1977), writes that Black women have played a pivotal. initiating role in defining the issues of Sex and race liberation for white women. Quoting a young white woman, Chafe states that young black women “shattered cultural images of appropriate female behavior." Of older Black women, an SNCC leader reports that “Mammas” in southern towns provided the organizational base for action against the white power struc- ture,'coordinating food, shelter, tranSportation, jail visits. and other life- supporl activities. All of this prompted one southern white-woman to ob}; - . serve. “for the first time I had role models I could reSpect" ( I‘JTJ: l08— I It) '- Grass roots organizers like Fannie Lou Hamer in Mississippi and Victoria Dee Lee in South Carolina, along with Rosa Parks, who served as the catalyst for the Montgomery bus boycott, are among the outstanding Black women political activists to emerge from the era when political participation for Blacks was mainly "protest" participation. Studies of civil rights demonstrations by Black college students reveal broad participation by females. Matthews and Protltro state that 48 percent of the students who personally took part in the sit-ins and freedom rides were female. A study oftraditional and protest political participation by Black men and women in New Orleans (Pierce, [9731 442—430) revealed the following: (l)only minimal overall differences in the amount of protest and traditional participation by Black men and women; (2) a higher association between the two forms of participation among the women; (3) in both types of political behavior, lower-class women participate more than lower-class men when income is the gauge of class, but when education and occupation are controlled for status. findings are mixed; ‘ (4) black women have less positive feelings about the political system than Black men: and (5) beliefs about the political system are more important predictors of levels of participation for the women than for the men. Overall, the New Orleans study runs counter to basic canons of political behavior as based on research utilizing non-Black populations. In the era of protest, Black women students and adults had unexpected Jr; - “.1 .m fict‘m‘ wam‘. levels of active involvenrerrt, levels which are at odds with rcportings on non-Black women‘s involvement in eillter protest or traditional politics. Lansing (I973) has studied the voting pattern of American Black women utilizing cornparalive sex and race data for the I956, I964, I968, and [972 presidential elections. Some striking results have been reported. Among the youngest cohorts (18—24 years of age), Black women voted at rates higher than Black area, while among the middle age groups (25—54 years), the two sexes voted at about equal levels. For those 55 and older, Black men out- voted Black women. Further, in the 19605, Black women increased their rate of voting at higher rates than Black men, and more than either white sex—for wlrorrr turnout declined after 1960. Lansing also found that Black women in white-collar and manual occupations voted at somewhat higher levels than Black males in these occupations, while this was reversed for service and farm workers. Black men in professions and technical fields trailed Black women in those fields in voting. However. no differences were found between women heads of households and wives of heads of house- holds. White men and white women of elementary education were further apart in their voter participation than were Black men and women of similar educational attainment. Overall, it would seem reasonable to generalize that once legal and cultural barriers to Black voting were removed, Black women registered and began to vote in a rather energetic manner, with Black women trailing Black me“ to a lesser degree than is the case for white women. fficelrolding in political parties and government for Black women fol- ‘ wed increased registration and voting by Blacks, mainly in the South and mainly in the aftermath ofthe Voting Rights Act of [965. Clayton, in 1964, observed that the majority ofBlack political workers were women. They outnumbered men in performing grass roots tasks. Ilowever, rewards to Black women were not commensurate with their contributions to party work, as only “a score or so" had achieved success in politics. Less than a dozen Black women across the nation had gained elective office at that time. Those women who had gained political office had done so within the context of the political parties. An examination of the careers of a diverse sample of these women failed to yield any single pattern for success (Clayton, 1964: l22—l48). The first Black woman to be elected to a seat in a state legislature was Crystal Bird Fauset, who took a position in the Pennsylvania lower house in I938. It was not until I952 that a Black woman became a state senator, Cora Brown of Michigan. In I973, there were 337 Black women holding elective office, among a total of approximately 520,000 officeholders in the United States. This figure represented an increase of [60 percent over the I3] Black wonren holding office in I969. In I969, Black women were l0 percent of the total number of Black of ficelrolders, while they accounted for 12 percent in 1973. Regionally, 39 percent of the women officials were from the South in I969 and 34 percent were Southerners in 1973 (Bryce and Warrick. I973). New York led the nation with 37, followed by Michigan with 30 and Mississippi with 22. TheSe states with the largest number of Black women officeholders were also the ones with the largest number of Black males in Office and those which ranked high among the top ten in percentage of Blacks of voting age (Prestage, I977). By 1977 the Joint Center for Political Studies reported that the number of Black women holding political office increased to 782, or roughly l8 per- cent ofall Blacks in elective office: 431 I . Again, the major portion of these, 5l.5 percent, were in the South. The state of Michigan led the nation with 65; Illinois and New York followed with 55 and 49, respectively. Education— relatcd offices continued to dominate. as 263 offices fell into that category. Municipal governing bodies accounted for l97 and other municipal posi- tions accounted for I83. There were 39 state representatives and so ven state senators along with four members of Congress. ' Most reCent figures are those released by the Joint Center for Political Studies in October I978. Ofa total of 4504 Blacks in elective office, 843—— or about 12 percent—were women. The proportion of Black women in the southern region was 53 percent. Thus, while the South continues to lead, the West continues to produce the smallest percentage, 7 percent. The state of Michigan leads in women officials with 70. trailed by California with 53, Illinois with Si , New York with 50, and Mississippi with 46. Like lllack officials generally, the women were clustered in municipal and educatiom related positions: 47 percent and 34 percent, respectively. There were also eight state senators and 38 state representatives. Studies of Black women of ficeholders have been rather limited given the recency of their entry into the political arena and the small percentage of officeholders which they comprise (less than I percent of all officeholders in the United States). Women generally hold between 5 and 7 percent of the nation's elective offices, and Black women hold l2 percent of the offices held by Blacks. Obviously. Black women have been more successful within their racial Subgroup than have white women in their subgroup. However, among all adult women in the United States, Blacks make up about ll percent; and among women office-holders, Black women constitute from less than I percent to about 6 percent of the offices as reported by the Center for the American Woman and Politics in I976. Most prominent among Black elected officials are the four women who have served in the United States House of Representatives. Shirley Chisholm was the pioneer, elected to office in I963, and still continues that e Him-u 2‘: .u .. 45L. 244 THE BLACK WOMAN service through reelections in I970, 1972. [974, I976. and I978. Barbara Jordan, Yvonne Braithwaite Burke. and Cardiss Collins were elected iit perceptions, ambitions, and smnlar aspects of their experiences. he I974 study of Black women state legislators (Prestage, I977). an effort was made to develop a profile of one group of these women office~ multiplicity of occupations, presently or once ntarried. from families in which no member had held elective office, and without significant prior political experience in the traditional sense. Despite limited or no prior experience, the Black woman legislator is confident itt her ability to bring to legislative bodies special expertise and experiences that will be significant itt her work there. Generally, the legislators were optimistic about the future of botlt Blacks and women in the political arena. They were supportive of women's liberation but at a very low-priority level. In the tnain, these are women who regard supportive attitudes of husbands and cltildrett as neces- sary to their political involvement. Over the past decade, all women have increased their interest in and bidding for elective office. Black wottten have been no different. If the and to come front a more diversified geographic base. It is hoped that an expanded parttcipation pattern will lead to expanded study and research, espcctally research with a comparative orientation along race and sex lines. Jewel L. Presta ge w 245 SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS The politicai experiences of Black women in America have been reflec— tive. of their status of dttal oppression. Responses of Black women to this double burden have varied between violence and nonviolcttce. traditional and nontraditional political activity. apathy and activism. While hotlt racism and sexism Itave conditioned Black women's political experiences. racism scents to have been the prime determiner of their political status in the American system. Essentially, on the basis of available data, the five major contentions on which this study was based would seem to be confirmed. Studies focusing on the political behavior of the Iilack woman have been very limited. Especially lamentable is the absence of works authored by Black women who have been active in the political arena at the elite level. Special attention to efforts to increase this body of literature might be an appropriate challenge to these women and to social science scholars gener- ally. REFERENCES Apthelter, ll. Jed.) (I969) A Documentary History of the Negro People in the United States. New York: Citadel Press. Bennett. L.. Jr. (I960) Pioneers in Protest. New York: Penguin. BIassingante, J. (191‘2) The Slaveifomrnunity: Plantation Life in the Antebellum South. New York: Oxford University Presigl I ‘ Bryce, H. and A. Warrick t I973) 'tck women in electoral polities.“ Focus I. Cltafe, W. (19??) Women and Equ‘. . New York: Oxford University Press. Clayton, ET. (I964) The Negro Politician: His Success and Failure. Chicago: Johnson. Davis. A. (I9TI) “Reflections on the Black woman‘s role in the comtnunity of slaves.” The Black Scholar (December). — Franklin, J. H. (I914) Front Slavery to Freedom. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. Ladncr. J. “972) Tomorrow's Tomorrow: The Black Woman. New York: Doubleday. Lansing, M. (I973) “The voting patterns of Anterieap Black women.” Presented at the I973 meeting oftlte American Political Science Association. New Orleans. Lerner. G. led.| (I977) The Female Experience: An American Doeuntentary. Indianapolis: Boobs-Merrill. Matthews. D. A. and J. W. Prothro (I966) Negroes and the New Southern Politics. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. Pierce, J. et at. (I973) "Sex differences in Black political beliefs and behaviors.“ American Journal of Political Science IT: 422—430. Prestage. J.L. “977) “Black women state legislators: a profile," in M. Githens and J. L. Prestagc. A Portrait of Margittalily: The Political Behavior oftlte American Woman. New York: David McKay. Rogers. J. A. (I972) World's Great Men of Color. Vol. I. New York: Macmillan. ...
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BWPC READINGS - ,JeCdlng Punk; 5"“ 14’ 'r than...

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