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2017 Black Quilted Narratives (BQN) Summer Teachers’ Institute (LETTER)

March 25, 2017

Dear Colleagues:

We hope you are as excited as we are about the upcoming 2017 Black Quilted Narratives (BQN) Summer Teachers’ Institute. We are thrilled to announce that the Institute will be held in Baltimore City’s Reginald F. Lewis Museum for Maryland African American History & Culture from July 10-21, 2017. Download the Application Here!

Application D/L: June 19, 2017


About the Black Quilted Narratives Program

Created by NVLP, BQN is a curriculum support package for elementary, middle and high school teachers that uses videotaped oral history interviews with visionaries from the Civil Rights Movement to guide students in discussions about social injustice, racial healing, and political activism. During the Summer Teacher’s Institute, teachers will learn the tenets of Culturally Proficient Instruction (CPI), while exploring one of America’s greatest evolving stories ever told—the Civil Rights Movement. The goals of the institute are: To create a space for 5th-12th grade teachers to deeply engage with the NVLP interviews; to learn and integrate new scholarly perspectives on teaching and learning; to examine the effectiveness of using primary source video material in the classroom; and to learn best practices for becoming a culturally proficient teacher. The institute is the second phase of a multi-year innovative teacher- training program funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF).

About the BQN Institute

During the two-week Institute, teachers will have an opportunity to:

  1. Train as a culturally responsive teacher—which includes watching and discussing visionary webisodes; examining primary and secondary source material with historians; and, participating in daily small break-out pedagogical sessions with support provided by BQN Master Teachers;
  1. Participate in racial equity training—which includes reflection activities, working and planning in small groups, and working with a Racial Equity trainer; and,
  2. Develop materials to plan and present a Professional Development Workshop.

Topics covered during the institute include the history of the Civil Rights Movement; women of the Civil Rights Movement, Racial Healing and Social Justice, and, Culturally/Politically Responsive Pedagogy (with an overview, hands-on demonstration, and tips for implementing this into your classroom).

Teacher Benefits

Classroom Resources: lesson plans, a primary source package, and access to BQN webisodes.

Stipends: selected teachers will receive a taxable stipend of $1,200. Participants are required to attend all course meetings and engage fully in the work of the project. During the two-week institute, participants may not undertake teaching assignments or any other professional activities unrelated to their participation in the project. Teachers who complete the institute will receive their stipend.

Continuing Education Credit: Teachers who complete the program will receive a certificate of completion and have an opportunity to apply for continuing education credits, which they may present to their home school districts.

Our Team

Cheryl S. Clarke (Co-Project Director), a former foundation director and teacher, is the Chief Executive Officer for the National Visionary Leadership Project (NVLP) since 2008. She directed the Foundation Giving program, created the Diversity program, and worked in Human Resources at Freddie Mac for 25 years. Prior to joining Freddie Mac, Clarke taught special education for seven years in the D.C. Public School system working with emotionally and behaviorally challenged boys.

Karsonya (Kaye) Wise Whitehead, Ph.D., (Co-Project Director) is the Curriculum Lead and Associate Professor of Communication and African American Studies at Loyola University Maryland. Dr. Whitehead is an award-winning former middle school Social Studies teacher (2006-07 Maryland History Teacher of the Year), a curriculum writer, and a Master Teacher.

Lawrence Brown, Ph.D., (Historian), is assistant professor in the Morgan State School of Community Health and Policy. His scholarly work focuses on the intersection of masculinity, racism, and health, the impact of residential displacement and financial disinvestment on community health, and understanding ethics and economic development in the domain of global health.

Brittany Horne (Master Teacher) is an elementary school teacher at Roland Park Elementary Middle School who previously piloted the BQN Teacher Institute.

Tracy Kent-Gload (Master Teacher) is an elementary school teacher at Ridgeway Elementary School who previously piloted the BQN Teacher Institute.

Nadiera Young (Master Teacher) is a middle school Language Arts teacher at Roland Park Elementary Middle School who previously piloted the BQN Teacher Institute

The documents are also available for download at All applicants must complete the BQN application form and provide the information requested to be considered eligible. Please send application packages to the National Visionary Leadership Project (NVLP) via email at If you have any questions about the Institute or application process, please do not hesitate to contact the Curriculum Lead, Dr. Whitehead, at

We encourage you to apply for this innovative Summer Teachers’ Institute focusing on the Civil Rights Movement and the men and women whose leadership during this time forever changed our nation. As you share the stories of these civil rights leaders with your students, and they share their stories of lessons learned from the material, you will help your students see the world in brand new ways and, perhaps, see themselves as being part of the greater American story—the great American quilt.


Cheryl S. Clarke, Project Co-Director and CEO, National Visionary Leadership Project (NVLP)


Karsonya Wise Whitehead, Ph.D., Project Co-Director and Associate Professor of Communication and African American Studies, Loyola University Maryland


American women are on the forefront of a movement for change (Op-Ed)

March 10, 2017

Originally published in The Baltimore Sun March 9, 2017

There is a movement for change that is happening in this country, and women are at the forefront of it. It is an incredible time to be a woman and, by extension, to be a girl. It is also exhausting, and it is hard work. It is a time of high hopes and great expectations.

We are standing tall giving ourselves permission to jump at the sun and say out loud that we are brilliant, resilient and we are here, fully present and accountable to this moment in history. We are protesting, organizing and making our voices heard throughout this world. The last two social movements in this country were founded and organized by women: Black Lives Matter was founded by three black women, and both the 2017 Women’s March (the largest United States protest in history) and Wednesday’s “A Day Without a Woman” protest were organized by women. We are using our pens, our voices, our art and our wallets to confront and dismantle racism and sexism and poverty and despair and violence.

Though the momentum for change is new, the work we are doing is not. Women have been our own champions for decades, since before Abigail Adams, the wife and adviser to President John Adams, urged the Founding Fathers to remember the ladies (obviously they ignored her). Women’s history and women making history is American history and a vital part of the American story. The contributions and sacrifices of women are part of the mortar that holds and binds our nation together.

We are now in the midst of celebrating Women’s History Month, a time when we highlight and celebrate the contributions of all women to events in history and contemporary society. We remember the women who worked to end American slavery; who challenged William Blackstone’s 1765 document, “The Rights of Persons”; and who pressured Congress to pass and ratify the 19th Amendment finally granting women the right to vote in 1920. We remember the contributions of women who acted individually and collectively to advocate for equal pay, for equal say and for our safety. Women who showed us every day that we have to fight, sometimes in the face of anger and humiliation, to be heard. Women who remind us, as Angela Davis once said, that we have to act as if it were possible to radically transform the world.

The first Women’s History Week was celebrated in 1978 in Sonoma, Calif., and begin to spread across the country. Two years later, President Jimmy Carter issued a presidential proclamation declaring the week of March 8 as National Women’s History Week. The proclamation states in part that, “From the first settlers who came to our shores, from the first American Indian families who befriended them, men and women have worked together to build this nation. Too often the women were unsung and sometimes their contributions went unnoticed. But the achievements, leadership, courage, strength and love of the women who built America was as vital as that of the men whose names we know so well.” By 1987, Congress issued a resolution designating March as Women’s History Month. Today, it is celebrated all over the world and corresponds with International Women’s Day (March 8).

At the same time, there is still so much work to be done. Even though women are 51 percent of the population and currently make up 57 percent of the students in colleges or universities, we are still fighting for basic rights:

• Women are paid only 80 cents for every dollar paid to men for full-time year round work, and for women of color, the wage gap is even larger;

• Only 20 percent of Congress, 27 percent of U.S. college presidents, and 33 percent of U.S. state and federal judges are female;

• And each year, more than 300,000 women are raped, 2 million are battered, and more than 1,000 women are killed by their husbands or boyfriends.

This must change, and this is how we do it: We recognize that men still run the world and work to change and confront that truth; we focus on closing the gender gap and breaking all glass ceilings; and we raise our daughters and our sons as feminists, help them to find their voices, and send them forward to change the world.

Karsonya Wise Whitehead (; Twitter: @kayewhitehead) is an associate professor of communication and African and African American studies at Loyola University Maryland and the creator of #ADayWithoutAWoman K16 Syllabus. A version of this editorial was aired as a public commentary on WYPR 88.1, Baltimore’s NPR station.

Women’s Empowerment (Learning How to Lift as We Climb)

March 8, 2017

Nichole Aguirre and Nekia Becerra

(edited by Alicia L. Moore, Ph.D)

Objective: In recognition of International Women’s Day, students will understand the contributions and impact that women make to and on our society.[1]

Grade Levels

  • Pre-K – 2nd Grade
  • 3rd Grade – 5th Grade

Essential Questions

  • Why do women matter?
  • Why do women’s rights matter?
  • What will you do to change your community?


  1. Empowerment: to permit; enable
  2. Women’s rights: economic, legal, and social rights equal to those accorded to men, claimed by and for women
  3. Resilience: the capacity to withstand and recover quickly from difficulty, sickness, and/or other difficulties
  4. Equality: the condition, fact, or quality of being equal
  5. Discrimination: unjust or unfair treatment of people based upon their differences or distinguishing characteristics (e.g., race, age, ethnicity, appearance, gender, disability, etc.).
  6. Protest: an objection, disagreement or complaint
  7. Shero: A female hero; A woman who support girls, women and causes that benefit all people (Adapted from

The vocabulary words were defined in children’s terms using the Kids Wordsmyth website.

Lesson Plan (Grades PK-2nd)


  • Talking piece (A small stuffed animal appropriate for PK – 2nd)
  • Book or Video: Not All Princesses Dress in Pink, Jane Yolen and Heidi E. Y. Stemple
    Youtube URL
  • Frida by Jonah Winter
  • A square sheet of cardstock for each student
  • Markers or crayons
  • Yarn or string

Lesson Plan

  1. Gather students in a circle and explain circle expectations (tell them that eyes are watching, ears are listening, bodies are calm, and voices are quiet):
    1. Explain to them that when they have their “Talking Piece” (stuffed animal) in their hand, they can speak. If they do not have it in their hand, then they are listening.
    2. Practice speaking and passing the “Talking Piece” around the circle.
  2. Lecture Blast: Tell them that in our country, women have not always had the same rights, the choice to do whatever they like, as men in our country have had. At one point, women had to fight for the same rights. They organized and protested. (Protests are a way to show you disagree with something and/or the way that someone or some people are being treated.) Women did not like that they were not able to do the same thing that men/boys were allowed to do, simply because they are females.
  3. Have them turn to the student sitting next to them and discuss: How does it make you feel when you hear that women and girls weren’t allowed to do the same things as men or boys, simply because they are girls? Have a few students share out their response(s).
  4. Student Work: either read Jane Yolen and Heidi Stemple’s Not All Princesses Dress In Pink to them or watch the story here. (If this book does not work for your students, substitute another empowering book for young girls.)
  5. Class Discussion:
    1. What did you learn from this story?
    2. What do you remember the most about the story?
    3. What was your favorite part of the story? Why?
    4. Would you like if someone made you wear a color you didn’t like? Would you like it if you could not play on the playground because you are in elementary school?
    5. How does it make you feel when someone makes you do something you don’t like or when they take away your right to choose?
  6. Explain the importance of (1) fighting for what is right (tell them that sometimes, in order for changes to happen, you have to protest) and (2) working together as one to help make change happen.


  1. Give each child a square sheet of paper and tell them draw or write about how they will change the world based on any injustice that they choose. If need be, take some time to make sure that they understand what an injustice is and how they can be changed. (Depending upon your classroom, remind them that boys and girls are equal and can do whatever they want to do.)
  2. Closure: Allow students to share what they will do or how they will help.
  3. Tie each square together in the corners to create a unity quilt and display it in a place where others outside your classroom can see how your students will change the world.

Extension Activity

  1. Silhouette Wall: Have students stand in front of the projector and trace their side profile on black paper. For younger students, teachers should trace their profiles. Cut out the profiles and glue it onto a white poster board.
    1. Have each student write a statement about how they will contribute to our society in a powerful and meaningful way.
    2. Hang the silhouettes and the statements in the hallway outside of the classroom.
    3. Invite parents to see how the class is working together to make positive changes in the communities, and ultimately, our society.

Lesson Plan (Grades 3rd-5th)

Things To Do Before The Lesson

  1. Move the chairs in your classroom into a circle to level the power dynamics, create an inclusive environment, and symbolize a safe place for the community of learners.
  2. Reflect on the women in your life (sheroes) who made an impact. (As the teacher, prepare to share in the instance that the group discussion needs an example or structure.)
  3. Have Always: #LikeAGirl – Unstoppable


  • Computer w/ Projector
  • Pencils
  • Sticky Notes
  • Chart Paper – Optional for sorting Sticky Notes
  • White Board
  • Dry Erase Markers
  • Construction Paper
  • Card Stock
  • iPads (Optional)
  • Scissors
  • Pencil
  • Sticky Notes
  • Crayons
  • Markers

Lesson Plan

  1. Establish Norms (You may use your classroom rules/expectations in place of this.)
    1. The students should develop a list of norms to follow during the circle.
    2. Students should develop and agree upon group norms.
    3. Remind students of the norms throughout the circle discussion.
  2. Pose this question to the group: How do women contribute to our society?
    1. Allow students time to think of ways that women contribute to society.
    2. Have the students record each response on a sticky note.
    3. Students should post their notes on the board.
    4. When all of the students have finished, have them work together to sort the sticky notes into themes.
    5. Discuss vocabulary words during this debrief time: Empowerment, Women’s rights, Resilience, Equality, Discrimination, Protest, Shero
  3. Debrief Sticky Note Activity: Discuss the common themes and probe further.
    1. Which contributions appeared the most and why?
    2. What would things be like if women didn’t make these contributions?
    3. Did anyone write about the contributions of women in their personal life (people they know personally)?
    4. How would your life be different without the women who have contributed/impacted your life?
  4. Show Always: #LikeAGirl – Unstoppable
    1. Have a broad and open discussion about the video.
  5. A Call to Action: Have the girls think of ways they can contribute to our society. Frame it so that they think of things that would require them to participate in designing/creating. Ask the boys to be supportive and contribute to this discussion in impactful ways.
    1. The students can think about how they can change their communities for the better.
    2. The boys can learn about being allies (supporter; united for a common cause).
  6. Assessment: Students can do any of the following to demonstrate their learning:
    1. Write a poem.
    2. Write a blog post.
    3. Write a letter to share what they plan to do.
    4. Record a voice memo.
    5. Create a short video using iMovie on an iPad.

Extension Activities:

  1. Allow students to complete an independent study on women who fight or fought for equality. Make sure to provide an expanded list of diverse women (in terms of race, ability, ethnicity, careers, talents, etc.).
    1. For example: Malala Yousafazi, Hillary Clinton, Michelle Obama, Maya Angelou, Angela Davis, Eleanor Roosevelt, or Juliette Hampton Morgan, to name just a few
    2. Students can share their learning via a Gallery Walk with the campus and community members.
  2. Form a book study group and read Kate Schatz and Miriam Klein Stahl’s Rad American Women A-Z: Rebels, Trailblazers, and Visionaries who Shaped Our History . . . and Our Future!
  3. Silhouette Wall: Have students stand in front of the projector and trace their side profile on black paper. Cut out the profile and glue it onto a white poster board.
    1. Have each student write a statement about how they will contribute to our society in a meaningful way.
    2. Hang the silhouettes and statements on a wall outside of the classroom and have a mini-museum day.

Culminating Activity for All Grade Levels:

  1. Summarize ways in which girls and women have been discriminated against.
  2. Margaret Mead once said, “It is said that a small group of thoughtful, concerned citizens cannot change the world; indeed it is the only thing that ever has.” What does that mean and how can we use it in our classroom to change our school? The community? The world? Who should fight for/support women and girls in our society? (Answer: Everyone.) Discuss/Review men and boys and their roles as allies for women’s rights.

[1] For more information, see International Women’s Day

A Day Without A Woman K16 Syllabus & Resources

March 8, 2017

created & compiled by Karsonya Wise Whitehead, Ph.D.

with Alicia Moore, Ph.D.

The world goes dark without the voices and experiences, contributions and sacrifices, laughter and love of womyn.  –Karsonya Wise Whitehead, 2017

As we celebrate International Women’s Day and we stand in solidarity with the “A Day Without a Woman” protest, we remember the countless teachers and mothers, educators and caregivers, day workers and hourly wage earners, who are unable to take a day off of work…as there are some jobs (like motherhood) that have no start and end time to its workday. We stand with you and challenge you to take these collective spaces and turn them into spaces of equality and justice, of liberation and freedom, or conversation and activism. We have compiled a list of resources (pulled from the #TrumpSyllabusK12 and #ClintonSyllabus; and submitted by teachers across the country) that focus on and highlight the contributions, lives, and experiences of women and people of color. We encourage you to go forward and teach with love and joy and in a spirit of resistance! We also ask you to forward us your “A Day Without A Woman” lesson plans or activities to add to our list. Let’s see revolution as a thunderstorm and join hands, run out into the room, and get free together.

*We will continue to add resources, so please send your lesson plans and activities to!

–In solidarity and sistahood! Amandla (Umfazi)! (power to the woman)

Lesson Plans & Resources

  1. Nevertheless They Persisted: Black Women & The Fire Within Them (MS/HS)

    -Karsonya Wise Whitehead, Ph.D.

  2. Women’s Empowerment (Learning How to Lift as We Climb) (PK-2nd, 3rd-5th)

    -Nichole Aguirre and Nekia Becerra (edited by Alicia L. Moore, Ph.D)

  3. Writing White Privilege, Race, and Citizenship: Reading Angela Davis, Toni Morrison, Claudia Rankine, and Walt Whitman (HS)

    -Ileana Jiménez

  4. Giving Voice & Making Space: Dismantling the Education Industrial Complex in an Effort to Free Our Black Girls (MS/HS)

    -Aja Reynolds & Stephanie Hicks

Opinion Editorials & Poetry

  1. Making Our Voices Heard (OpEd)

    -Karsonya Wise Whitehead, Ph.D.

  2. Nevertheless They Persisted: Black Women & The Fire Within Them (Essay)

    -Karsonya Wise Whitehead, Ph.D.

  3. America is a Divided Nation: Singing the Post-Trump Blues (OpEd)

    -Karsonya Wise Whitehead, Ph.D.

  4. Oya for President (to be read OutLoud) (Poem)

    -Alexis Pauline Gumbs

  5. Mourning in America: A Black Woman’s Blues Song (Poem)

    -Karsonya Wise Whitehead, Ph.D.


I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change.
I am changing the things I cannot accept.
~ Angela Davis

I am not the candidate of black America, although I am black and proud. I am not the candidate of the women’s movement, although I am a woman and I am equally proud of that. I am the candidate of the people of America. ~ Shirley Chisholm


Liz Adetiba, July 1, 2016. Hillary Clinton’s Complex Embodiment of Shirley Chisholm’s Legacy, Inc.

Rebecca Bohanan, July 25, 2016. 12 Women Ran for President Before Hillary, Huffington Post.

Ta-Nehisi Coates, June, 2014.  The Case for Reparations, The Atlantic. 

Michele Gorman, August 5, 2016. Female U.S Presidential Contenders Before Hillary Clinton 2016, Newsweek.

Steven Hill, March 7, 2014. Why Does the US Still Have So Few Women in Power?, The Nation.

Ejaz Khan. Ten Most Famous Women Political Leaders, Wonderlist.

Jill Lepore, June 27, 2016. The Woman Card: How feminism and antifeminism created Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, The New Yorker.

Garance Franke-Ruta, April 8, 2013. How the ‘System of Beauty’ Hurts Female Politicians, The Atlantic.

Julia Manchester, June 10, 2016. Hillary Clinton’s female forerunners, CNN Politics.

Lois Romano, July 24, 2016. Before Clinton, these women blazed the long, frustrating trail, The Washington Post.

Lily Rothman, April 27, 2016. How A Major US Party First Nominated a Woman for Vice President, Time.

Rebecca Traister, February 22, 2016. The Single American Woman, New York Magazine.

Bernard Weinraub, July 12, 2984. Geraldine Ferraro is Chosen by Mondale as Running Mate, First Women on Major Ticket, The New York Times.


Shirley Chisholm, Unbought and Unbossed (Houghton Mifflin, 1970).

Ellen Fitzpatrick, The Highest Glass Ceiling: Women’s Quest for Presidency (Harvard University Press, 2016).

Lori D. Ginzberg, Women and the Work of Benevolence: Morality, Politics, and Class in the Nineteenth-century United States (Yale University Press, 1990).

Torben Iversen and Frances Rosenbluth, Women, Work, and Politics: The Political Economy of Gender Inequality (Yale University Press, 2011).

Women, Culture and Society: A Reader, edited by Michelle Rosaldo and Louise Lamphere (Stanford University Press, 1974).


MAKERS: Women in Politics, Directed by Grace Lee, (Verizon, 2015)


Global Fund for Women: Champions for Equality. Women’s Human Rights.

MSNBC, June 6, 2016. Before Hillary: Female Political Trailblazers.

PeaceCorps. Global Issues: Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment.

The Hillary Clinton Campaign. Women’s Rights and Opportunity.

The National Democratic Institute. Gender, Women, and Democracy.

The White House: Office of Press Secretary. Fact Sheet: Promoting Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment.

UN Women. Facts and Figures: Leadership and Political Participation.



 When they go low, we go high. ~ Michelle Obama


Amy Chozick and Ashley Parker, April 28, 2016. Donald Trump’s Gender-Based Attacks on Hillary Clinton have Calculated Risk, The New York Times.

Kelly Wilz, February 4, 2016. A Feminist’s Guide to Critiquing Hillary Clinton, Academe Blog.

Michelle Cottle, August 17, 2016. The Era of ‘The Bitch’ Is Coming, The Atlantic.

Rebekah Tromble and Dirk Hovy, February 24, 2016. These 6 Charts Show How Much Sexism Hillary Clinton Faces On Twitter, The Washington Post.


Carl Berstein, A Woman in Charge (Knopf Borzoi Books, 2007).

Deborah Ohrn, Herstory: Women Who Changed the World (Viking Juvenile, 1995).

Gloria Steinem, Moving Beyond Words: Age, Rage, Sex, Power, Money, Muscles: Breaking the Boundaries of Gender (Open Road Media, 1995).


Miss Representation. Directed by Jennifer Siebel Newsom, (Girls’ Club Entertainment, 2011).


Amanda Marcotte, October 20, 2016. Hillary Clinton is an actual Feminist: She Met Trump’s Misogyny Head On, Without Apology, Salon.

Andrew O’Hehir, February 13, 2016. Hillary, Bernie, Women and Men: Hey, Guys – Gender Politics Are Central to This Race, Not a Footnote, Salon.

Charlotte Alter, June 6, 2016. Sexist Hillary Clinton Attacks Are Best Sellers, Time.


As a society, our decision to heap shame and contempt upon those who struggle and fail in a system designed to keep them locked up and locked out say far more about ourselves than it does about them. ~ Michelle Alexander


Rachel Herzing. What is the Prison Industrial Complex?, Political Research Associates, n.d.

Angela Davis. Masked Racism: Reflections on the Prison Industrial Complex, History is a Weapon, n.d.

Vicky Pelaez, August 28, 2016. The Prison Industry in the United States: Big Business or a New Form of Slavery, Global Research.

Aviva Shen, March 6, 2016. Hillary Clinton Says She Agrees Her Role in Mass Incarceration was a Mistake, ThinkProgress.

Eric Schlosser, December, 1998. The Prison-Industrial Complex, The Atlantic.


Cracking The Codes: The System of Racial Inequity, Directed by Shakti Butler, (World Trust, 2013).

Opinion Editorial

BBC News, July 16, 2015. Bill Clinton Regrets ‘Three Strikes’ Bill.


Will Cabaniss, August 25, 2015. Black Lives Matter Activist Says ‘the Clintons’ Passed Policy That Led to Mass Incarceration, Politifact.

Meghan Keneally, April 11, 2016. What’s Inside the Controversial 1994 Crime Bill That’s Plaguing Hillary Clinton on the Campaign Trail, ABC News Network.


One ever feels his twoness – an American a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two reconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder. ~ W. E. B. Du Bois


Yamiche Alcindor, August 1, 2016. Black Lives Matter Coalition Makes Demand as Campaign Heats Up, The New York Times.

Michael Eric Dyson, November 29, 2015. A Skeptic’s Journey: Why Hillary Clinton will do more for black people than Obama, The New Republic .

JD Heyes, September 9, 2016. Total Stupidity: Black Lives Matter Clams that Climate Change is Racist, Newstarget.

S.A. Miller, September 27, 2016. Black Lives Matter Agrees with Clinton’s ‘implicit Racism’ Message but Doesn’t Trust Her, The Washington Times.

Bre Payton, August 4, 2016. Black Lives Matter Founder: ‘Clintons Use Black People For Votes, The Federalist.

Alex Pfeiffer, October 15, 2016. Leaked Transcript Shows Hillary And Black Lives Matter Activists Clashed In Private Meeting, The Daily Caller.


Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation (Haymarket, 2016).

Opinion Editorials

Glenn Beck, September 7, 2016. Empathy for Black Lives Matter,” The New York Times.

Erin Aubry Kaplan, August 7, 2016, In the Black Lives Matter Era, We Need Justice Well Beyond the Legal Sense, Los Angeles Times.

Karsonya Wise Whitehead, February 22, 2013. Can #BlackLivesMatter last?, The Baltimore Sun.


Free Angela and All Political Prisoners, Directed by Shola Lynch, (Lionsgate, 2012).

Video Clips

Journeyman Pictures, April 12, 2016. #BlackLivesMatter – A New Generation of Civil Rights Activists is Emerging From the Violence of the USA.

RBC Network, July 26, 2016. Mothers of the Movement – Black Lives Matter Speech at the Democratic National Convention. 


Reuters Adam Bettcher, August 1, 2016. Black Lives Matter Group Releases Agenda Ahead of Presidential Election, CBS News.

Yamich Alcindor, August 1, 2016. Black Lives Matter Coalition Makes Demands as Campaign Heats Up, The New York Times.

Nia-Malika Henderson, August 19, 2015. How Black Lives Matter Activists are Influencing 2016 Race, CNN Politics.

40 Acres, A Mule, & $50 Dollars: Making the Case for Reparations (a Baltimore Sun OpEd)

February 17, 2017

Karsonya Wise Whitehead, Conra Gist*

Conversations about reparations are not about money but about people and about the way that people are seen and valued in our society. These are difficult conversations, and we have found that what is most challenging about the idea of reparations today is the notion that America still owes a debt to black people.

We have spent the past couple of years wrestling with the question about whether reparations—as Ta-Nehisi Coates so eloquently argued in his article, The Case for Reparations—could ameliorate inequality for black people in America. We believe that the answer to this question is connected to how well one can understand the structures, practices and norms that created the intentional and unintentional persistent pattern of inequality.

Because racism was institutionalized in the fabric of American society, it must be fought on multiple fronts—education, housing, employment, health, the criminal system and the criminalization of the black male body—and at various levels through community organizing, legislation, political representation, resource allocation and judicial advocacy. Reparations granted at the individual level would have little to no impact on the removal of institutional and structural barriers to make our society more just and free for black people. Reparations also cannot mandate changes in the norms of society that privilege certain groups in professional and recreational communities, or enforce a change in the biases and prejudicial views of others. They also cannot erase the double consciousness many black people juggle in a society that has yet to realize the provision of equal access to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” for all.

At the same time, we argue that the conversation about reparations—no matter how emotional or difficult or pointless it may seem—must begin with an understanding of what happened in a private meeting on Jan. 12, 1865 in Savannah, Ga. On that day, General William Tecumseh Sherman and Edwin Stanton, the Secretary of War, met with 20 black ministers and asked them a rather interesting question: When the war ended, what did they think that black people wanted?

These ministers (half of which had been born free) were considered to be the leaders of the black community. Their spokesman was Garrison Frazier who argued that black people needed land and they needed to live separate from whites, who were prejudiced against black people. The vote was almost unanimous, with only one nay from a man named James Lynch, who had been born free in Baltimore. Four days after this meeting, Sherman issued his Special Field Order No. 15, which called for the redistribution of approximately 400,000 acres of land to newly freed black families in 40-acre lots (hence the later phrase, 40 acres and a mule). Although the order was later overturned by President Andrew Johnson, the act itself represented a significant moment because the American government made a promise of restitution to black people—a promise that has not yet been realized.

Since then, this pattern of exclusion and inequality has persisted through 90 years of Jim Crow and 60 years of the separate but equal period that involved the intentional and strategic exclusion of blacks from federal housing programs, public institutions and opportunities for professional advancement. And while the progress of black people today in comparison with 1865 is undeniable, it is also equally irrefutable that inequitable quality of life indicators for blacks disproportionately persist in 2015.

It is only by facing the historical legacy of unmerited and unchecked power, privilege and opportunity granted to some groups and systematically denied to many others that we can begin to understand why inequality still persists. At the same time, we recognize that a resolute focus on reparations has the potential to mask the complex manifestations of inequality, and silence other strategies and approaches for ensuring that black people can—without inequitable restriction—actualize their dreams with basic human dignity. This is the potential danger of reparations. The sense that once the merited payment is made, discussion of racial inequality in America can effectively end.

By facing these uncomfortable and horrendous historical realities, it challenges us as citizens to not dismiss the presence of inequality in society, or simply dismiss persistent inequality as a result of the behaviors of a group of people. Rather, as is the case in the recent #BlackLivesMatter contingency, public consciousness raising around reparations has the potential to cultivate civic engagement, discussion and action at many levels and fronts of American life. The reparations discourse is demonstrative of the reality that as citizens we must continue to take up the unfinished work of justice and not be complicit or comfortable with a society that has yet to realize access to equal quality of life for all.


Op-Ed originally published under the title: “The U.S. has yet to make good on its promise of reparations to black Americans” in The Baltimore Sun on February 27, 2015.

Nevertheless They Persisted: Black Women & The Fire Within Them (Lesson Plan)

February 9, 2017

Karsonya Wise Whitehead

Fannie Lou Hamer (photo credit:

Examining the Legacies of Ella Jo Baker, Septima Poinsette ClarkFannie Lou Hamer, Dorothy Irene Height, & Coretta Scott King

Grade: Middle/High School

Overview: Upon completion of this lesson, students will be able to: 1) Analyze the contributions and struggles of Black women leaders of the Civil Rights Movement, including Ella Baker, Septima Clark, Fannie Lou Hamer, Dorothy I. Height, and Coretta Scott King, by reading and discussing their experiences; 2) Explain the influences of motives, beliefs, and actions of different individuals and groups on the outcome of historical events; 3) Analyze multiple perspectives; 4) Differentiate between historical facts and historical interpretations; and 5) Interpret primary source documents to determine their validity.

McRel Standards

Era 10 – Contemporary United States (1968 to the present)

Understands developments in foreign policy and domestic politics between the Nixon and Clinton presidencies
Understands economic, social, and cultural developments in the contemporary United States

Language Arts: Reading

Uses the general skills and strategies of the reading process

Uses skills and strategies to read a variety of literary texts

Uses skills and strategies to read a variety of informational texts

Essential Questions 

  1. What was the role of women during the Civil Rights Movement?
  2. How did they define their role(s) and participation in the Civil Rights Movement?
  3. Who were some of the female leaders of the Civil Rights Movement?
  4. What were their contributions and struggles during the Civil Rights Movement?



1) Begin by instructing students that you are going to give them three minutes to write down three things that they about Rosa Parks (the only limitation is that they cannot list the most well known fact about her) and the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

2) After the instructed time has elapsed, tell the students to pair up and share what they wrote and then discuss the following questions:

  • Do they have any matching information?
  • And how difficult was it to list three things?

(Note: Often, students have learned information about certain historical events and they do not know that these “facts” are actually false. This activity will allow the students to discover, through their own exploration, how easy it is for history to be misrepresented, depending upon who is telling the story.)

3) Have them share out their stories and then take time to clear up any misconceptions that students may have about Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott. See the Montgomery Bus Boycott for more information.

Guided Practice

4) Inform the students that they will be examining the contributions of five women in the Civil Rights Movement to investigate whether or not these women have been largely overshadowed by male leaders in the Movement. They will also examine the possible implications this presents to the historiography (the writing of history based on scholarly disciplines such as the analysis and evaluation of source materials) of the Civil Rights Movement.

5) Distribute the Women of the Civil Rights Movement Worksheet to the students. This resource sheet presents photographs of Ella Jo Baker (Image #1), Septima Clark (Image #2), Fannie Lou Hamer (Image #3), Dorothy I. Height (Image #4), and Coretta Scott King (Item #5).

6) On the chalkboard or on chart paper, write the numbers that correspond to the photographs of the women and ask students to name the women.

7) After the students have answered or attempted to answer, reveal the names of these women and talk about their contributions to the Civil Rights Movement. (See the Nevertheless They Persisted essay for detailed biographies and background information.)

8) After you have given the background of these women and their contributions, ask them to add any information that they know about these women to add to the list.

9) Tell students that they are going to listen to (or read) two interviews from the National Visionary Leadership Project: Dorothy Height (Clip 2-1, 2-3) and Coretta Scott King (Clip 2-2). Dr. Height talks about her experiences helping to organize the March on Washington and Mrs. King talks about Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Print out copies of the transcript(s) so students can read them silently along with you. Tell them to take notes about anything that is said that peaks their interest.

10) Once the clips have ended, guide the students in a discussion with the following questions:

  • Why do you think it was so difficult to convince the organizers to have a woman to speak at the March?
  • Do you think it was important to have a woman included in the list of speakers? Why or why not?
  • If the Civil Rights March on Washington was held this year, who do you think should be invited to speak and why?
  • What do you think Coretta Scott King meant when she said that, “you have an inner peace and a satisfaction if you feel that you are doing the right thing and doing what God intends for you to do”?
  • How difficult would it be for you to commit to doing something that may cause you to lose your life? Can you think of a reason or cause for which you would be willing to die?
  • What is Dr. King’s legacy? What is Mrs. King’s legacy?
  • What do you want your legacy to be and what will you do to make it happen?

Independent Practice

11) Separate students into groups of four and then give them the Women and Community Leadership by Ella Baker Worksheet.

12) Inform students that they will have twenty minutes to read the passage. After students have completed the passage, hand out the How to Interpret a Document Worksheet.

13) Students should select a recorder to record the group findings on chart paper (everyone else should record their notes in their notebooks); a reporter to present the group findings to the class; a task manager to manage their group’s progress and a time-keeper.

14) Once group assignments have been made, inform students that they will have 10-15 minutes to complete the Worksheet.

15) Once the time has elapsed, group leaders should then share out their group’s findings. Whole group discussion should follow:

  • Explain why Ella Baker once said, “There was no place for me to come into a leadership role.”
  • Do you feel that the other women we have discussed felt the same way? Why or why not?
  • Baker states that she made a “conscious decision on the basis of larger goals” to accept the positions given to her. Do you agree or disagree with this decision? Why or why not?
  • Do you feel that women today face some of the same challenges when it comes to occupying leadership positions? Give some examples.
  • Does the church, in terms of political activism, still control the Black community? Explain your answer.


When the class discussion has come to an end, display the photograph of the “Big Six.” Inform the students that the photo is of the “Big Six” Civil Rights leaders with President John F. Kennedy after the March on Washington in 1963. Remind them that Dorothy I. Height was at the meeting but was not allowed to be in the photograph. Have students reflect on a) What or who is missing in the photo? b) What representation or misrepresentation of the movement does this picture convey? c) Do you agree or disagree with the message being portrayed in this photo? d) What effect did the passage by Ella Baker have on their perception?


Students should create a “Civil Rights Movement Newspaper” in which they write and edit articles that reflect the contributions of women in the Movement. Tell students to log onto the National Visionary Leadership Project’s Student Site and review the Civil Rights Movement Timeline as well as additional resources in More Stuff.

Extension Activities

  • Have students go online and conduct research on some other women in the Civil Rights Movement. (See From Brown (v Board) to Black (Power): Examining the Roots of the Civil Rights Movement Essay for other women involved in the Civil Rights Movement.)
  • Have students create skits that represent the contributions of women in the Civil Rights Movement.
  • Have students create posters that reflect the women in the Civil Rights Movement.
  • Have students re-create the famous “Big Six” picture of President Kennedy and the male Civil Rights Leaders placing women leaders in the picture.

For further information, see: Martin Luther King, Jr. And the Global Freedom Struggle or Rosa Parks, “‘Tired of Giving In: The Launching of the Montgomery Bus Boycott,” in Collier-Thomas, Bettye and V.P. Franklin, eds. Sisters in the Struggle: African American Women in the Civil Rights-Black Power Movement. New York: New York University Press, 2001.

Nevertheless They Persisted: Black Women & The Fire Within Them (Essay)

February 8, 2017

Karsonya Wise Whitehead

Image by © Benjamin E. “Gene” Forte/CNP/Corbis

Examining the Legacies of Ella Jo Baker, Septima Poinsette ClarkFannie Lou Hamer, Dorothy Irene Height, & Coretta Scott King

“Too long have we been silent under unjust and unholy charges; we cannot expect to have them removed until we disprove them through ourselves.” –Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin

Black women have historically been actively involved in political and social action. During the early days of the Women’s Movement, even though their participation was not always included in the history books, they were at the meeting tables helping to organize, fundraise and demonstrate for change.[1] Maria Stewart, Sojourner Truth, Mary Church Terrell, and Frances Ellen Watkins Harper are just a few of the 19th Century Black women who raised their voices and their pens against racial and gender inequality.[2] They are the forerunners for the 20th Century Black women who continued to work to eradicate and document these inequalities. In 1896, the National League of Colored Women and the National Federation of Colored Women joined forces, forming the National Association of Colored Women. This organization was the foundation upon which the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW), founded in 1935, and the four Black sororities, founded between the years of 1908 and 1922, were built.[3] The women in these organizations played a major role in the struggle for civil rights.

The years 1954-1972, more commonly know as the modern Civil Rights Movement, were a time when Black people increased their effort and pressure to force the government to end segregation, both in theory and in practice.[4] Similar to their work during the antislavery movement of the 19th Century, Black women were instrumental in the success of the Civil Rights Movement. Although their contributions and struggles may not be a part of the greater discussions, they must be noted and recognized in order to gain a true understanding of the role women played to advance the cause of civil rights.[5] Though there are a number of Black women from the Civil Rights Movement who could (and should) be profiled—Ada Sipuel, Diane Nash, and Gloria Richardson immediately come to mind—this document will specifically narrow the scope to look at those women whose contributions were so extensive that any civil rights conversation that does not include them is not accurate, complete, or exact.[6] These women, in a sense, are the lenses through which one can see how the Civil Rights Movement was shaped and nurtured by the commitment and contributions of Black women, as a whole. Two of the women, Dorothy I. Height and Coretta Scott King are familiar names, but their contributions to the Civil Rights Movement may not be as well-known as they should be.[7] The other three, Ella Jo Baker, Septima Poinsette Clark, and Fannie Lou Hamer are names that may not be as familiar, but their contributions must be included (evaluated and critiqued) in the greater discussion about the Civil Rights Movement.[8]

Ella Jo Baker

Ella Josephine Baker, (December 13, 1903 – December 13, 1986), worked as a field secretary for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), acting executive director for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and as a mentor for the students who founded the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Born in Norfolk, Virginia in 1903, Baker was the granddaughter of slaves, and the daughter of a waiter and a teacher. In 1927, after challenging school policies and procedures, she graduated at the top of her class from Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina and moved to New York City. She quickly became involved in the struggle for Black political and economic equality and later joined the Young Negroes Cooperative League (YNCL). One year later, she was elected as the league’s first national director. In 1941, Baker began working as the assistant field secretary for the NAACP. Two years later she was promoted (without her knowledge) to the position of the director of Branches. While there, she primarily worked on trying to shift the NAACP’s focus away from legal intervention to community-based activism. Additionally, as the first woman to head the NAACP’s New York branch, Baker led the fight to desegregate New York’s public schools. In 1953, Baker resigned from the NAACP to run for the New York City Council on the Liberal Party ticket. After losing the election, she chose to return to the NAACP as the chair of a special committee,  later working with Bayard Rustin to establish the “In Freedom” organization, which was committed to raising monies for civil rights activities in the South.[9] In 1958, Baker relocated to Atlanta to work as the executive secretary for the SCLC and the Crusade for Citizenship voter registration campaign.[10] Although Baker spent two years with the SCLC, she never completely accepted their goal of working to establish a strong leadership base rather than building a grassroots network.[11] Like many Black women in the Movement during this time, Baker recognized that “from the beginning that as a woman… in a group of ministers who [were] accustomed to having women largely as supporters, there was no place for [her] to have come into a leadership role.”[12] Rather than defining herself in terms of her gender, Baker wrote, “I don’t think I have thought of myself largely as a woman. I [have] thought of myself as an individual with a certain amount of sense of the need to participate in the movement.”[13] In 1960, after the first sit-in in Greensboro, North Carolina, Baker invited the student leaders to an organizing meeting at Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina. Out of this meeting, SNCC, which later became the grassroots arm of the Civil Rights Movement, was founded. James Foreman, former executive director of SNCC, stated, “there would be no story of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee” without the work of Baker.[14] In addition to serving as SNCC’s unofficial political adviser, role model, fund-raiser, and mentor, Baker also worked with the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party’s (MFDP) campaign to replace the all-white delegation from Mississippi at the 1964 Democratic convention in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Although she has been called an “unsung hero for the Civil Rights Movement” and her name is slowly being added back into the annals of Black women’s history, Ella Jo Baker’s name and contributions are not routinely taught or included in discussions about Black history.[15]

Septima Poinsette Clark

Septima Poinsette Clark, (May 3, 1898–December 15, 1987), a close friend of Baker, is another noteworthy activist whose contributions are not known and discussed. Born in 1898, Clark was the second of eight children born to Peter Poinsette, a former slave from a low-country plantation, and Victoria Warren Anderson, a freeborn Black woman who had grown up in Haiti. Clark grew up in Charleston, South Carolina and attended the Avery Normal Institute (graduating in 1916), which had been established by missionaries with the goal of educating Black children. In 1918, she joined the NAACP, worked as their field secretary and sought to educate adults on citizenship and literacy, so that they could then register to vote. After graduating from Benedict College in 1942, Clark went on to earn a Masters degree from the  Hampton Institute (now Hampton University) in 1946. She routinely held literacy classes for adults working with  numerous organizations including  the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA), the Federation of Women’s Clubs, the Council of Negro Women, and, the NAACP. In 1956, after South Carolina banned membership in the NAACP, Clark lost her teaching job and pension when she refused to comply.  Soon after, she was hired as the director of Workshops at the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee, a biracial training center for community activists. Clark, along with her cousin Bernice Robinson, developed citizenship schools, which taught adult literacy, basic life skills and encouraged and assisted with voter registration. In 1961, the program was transferred to the SCLC and, by 1970, the project had established over 800 schools and had over 100,000 graduates, many of whom became involved in the grassroots efforts of the Civil Rights Movement. One of her most well known students at Highlander was Rosa Parks, who attended a desegregation workshop in 1955, months before she refused to give up her seat on the bus.  Even with all of her work and accomplishments, Clark felt that women, as a whole, were not taken seriously in the struggle to advance civil rights. She stated that, “those men didn’t have any faith in women, none whatsoever.   I was just a figurehead… whenever I had anything to say I would put up my hand and say it. But I did know that they weren’t paying attention.”[16] Carter wrote and published two autobiographies  Echo in My Soul (1962) and Ready from Within (1986). In 1979, Septima Poinsette Clark, who was once called the ‘‘Mother of the Civil Rights Movement’’ by Martin Luther King, Jr., was awarded the Living Legacy Award and though her name is not well-known, it should be, along with information about her dedication to raising Black adult literacy rates, increasing the number of southern Black voters, and working in the Civil Rights Movement.

Fannie Lou Hamer

Fannie Lou Townsend (Hamer), (October 10, 1917-March 14, 1977), a sharecropper from Mississippi, a field secretary for SNCC and a  member of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP), was born in 1917 in Montgomery County, Mississippi. The youngest of nineteen siblings, she spent most of her life working alongside them in the cotton fields. During that time, she attended school for only six years and lived in a home where there was no heating or plumbing system and no adequate nutrition. She also suffered from an accident, which went untreated, and left her with a life-long limp.  In 1962, when SNCC began their voter registration drive in her area, Hamer joined them and later, along with seventeen other volunteers, tried to register to vote at the county seat. Even though they failed the registration test, Hamer was determined to be actively involved in the Civil Rights Movement. This simple but complicated act of trying to register (and therefore actively challenge the racist political system), led to her losing her home and her job as a record keeper at a local plantation, being shot at by night riders, and suffering constant harassment by local authorities. One year later, Hamer was unfairly arrested and severely beaten after attending citizenship classes in Winona, Mississippi. In 1963, the MFDP was founded and helped to register 60,000 black voters across the state. One year later, Hamer led the delegation to the Democratic National Convention, where they challenged the legitimacy of the all-white Mississippi delegation. They also demanded that the MFDP delegates be seated and recognized as official delegates. At the same time, she launched her campaign to be elected to Congress as the MFDP candidate. Although she did not win, her campaign did bring national attention to her and to the MFDP. Hamer was the only woman to speak at the convention on behalf of the MFDP and many called her presentation “spellbinding,” as she described  how she was beaten and tortured for three days under the orders of a Mississippi State Highway Patrol. She declared to the world that as a black woman she was “sick and tired of being sick and tired.”[17] While Hamer’s contributions may not be as well known, her work at the Atlantic City convention did lead the integration of the Mississippi delegation and the 1968 election of Robert Clark to the state legislature. From 1968-1971, Hamer served as a Democratic National Committee Representative, later running (unsuccessfully) for the Mississippi State Senate in 1971 and serving as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1972. Peter Levy in his book, The Civil Rights Movement, writes that Hamer and Baker both challenged the notions of domesticity by involving themselves actively in the struggle. He goes on to say that they were “strong women who defied the notion that assertive women were not real women”[18] Like Ella Jo Baker and Septima Poinsette Clark, Fannie Lou Hamer’s contributions to the struggle for civil rights should be noted and routinely discussed.

*Watch Fannie Lou Hamer’s MFDP Testimony

Dorothy I. Height

Dorothy Irene Height, (March 24, 1912–April 20, 2010), a noted civil rights activist, served as the president of the  National Council of Negro Woman (NCNW), one of the country’s largest and most influential Black women’s groups of the twentieth century, from 1957 to 1997.[19] Born in 1912 in Richmond, Virginia, Height grew up in Rankin, Pennsylvania, and graduated from New York University with both a Bachelor and a Masters degree in educational psychology. She also studied at the New York School of Social Work before becoming a social worker in Harlem, and a member of the United Christian Youth Movement (UCYM). Height’s work with the UCYM provided her with an opportunity to work and travel with Eleanor Roosevelt. At the age of 25, she began working with Mary McLeod Bethune at the NCNW, where she continued to serve, even while working for other organizations. Over the years, Height held significant leadership positions with the National Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA), as their Associate Director for Leadership Training Services; with Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., as their President; and with the National Council of Women of the United States, as their vice-president. In 1956, after she had worked on the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services, Height was appointed to the Social Welfare Board of New York.[20] One year later, Height became the president of NCNW where she traveled the world working to secure equal rights and justice for women and people of color. Her special focus was on elevating the economic and educational status of African American women and strengthening the black family. In 1960, the Committee on Correspondence sent Height to five African countries to research and write a study on their women’s organizations.

During the Civil Rights Movement, Height was one of the major strategists. In 1964, she organized “Wednesdays in Mississippi,” a historic forum for a series of open dialogues about race between Black and white women from the North and South. She marched with Dr. King, met with SNCC organizers, and worked with Rosa Parks. She was also the only woman who worked directly with the Civil Rights Big Six and was there when President John F. Kennedy met with the members to organize the historic Civil Rights March on Washington.[21] Despite her position as the leader of a major organization, Height found that she could not convince her male colleagues to include a woman on the roster of speakers for the march. Height described some of the difficulties in getting women’s contributions recognized, “It was hard sometimes for them to realize, as in the March on Washington, the importance of women’s rights. I think that we were so absorbed in the racial situation and racism, and if you remember at the March on Washington, despite all of our efforts, and many women joined me, we were not able to get a woman to speak for any length of time. The only female voice heard was a singer, Mahalia Jackson.”[22] Even though she received dozens of honorary degrees and countless awards, including both the 1994 Presidential Medal of Freedom and the 2004 Congressional Gold Medal for her civil rights activism; and she created a nationwide annual celebration, “The Black Family Reunion,” with gatherings across the country, Dorothy I. Height is still considered by many to be an unsung heroine of the Civil Rights Movement.

*Post-note: the U.S. Postal Service recently announced that Dorothy I. Height was selected to be featured on the 2017 40th stamp in the Black Heritage series.

Coretta Scott King

Unlike Ella Jo Baker, Fannie Lou Hamer, or Septima Clark, Coretta Scott King’s(April 27, 1927–January 30, 2006), name is as well-known as her husband’s, Martin Luther King, Jr. Working alongside him, she organized, supported and participated in the Civil Rights Movement. Although her husband wanted her to stay at home and focus on raising their children, King often marched beside him and even read his speeches when he was unable to attend a civil rights rally. While he was actively working to challenge legalized segregation, Coretta Scott King was in many ways solely responsible for meeting the demands and needs of their children. Often seen as simply the wife of a great man (which was not a small accomplishment) her personal accomplishments and contributions often go overlooked. Born in 1927, in rural Alabama, Coretta Scott King was the second of three children of Obadiah and Bernice Scott. Growing up, she attended a one-room elementary school and was later bused to Lincoln Normal School (her mother was the bus driver). While there she played trumpet and piano, sang in the chorus, and participated in school musicals, graduating as valedictorian in 1945. She went on to attend  Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio (having enrolled there during her senior year at Lincoln ) where she joined the Antioch chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the college’s Race Relations and Civil Liberties Committees.  In 1948, she debuted as a vocalist at Second Baptist Church and later performed with Paul Robeson.[23] Three years later, she won a scholarship and transferred to the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. It was there that she met and married her husband and after graduating from the Conservatory, she moved with him to Montgomery, Alabama. At that time, Rev. King was not a well-known figure; his national and international achievements came later when he was fully immersed in the struggle for civil rights. The fact that Coretta kept the home and protected the children accorded him a certain amount of freedom to focus his attention on the struggle.[24] According to Representative John Lewis (D-GA), “She was the glue that held the movement together.”[25] In 1966, after helping to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964, King criticized the sexism of the Civil Rights Movement in New Lady magazine. She felt that, “Not enough attention has been focused on the roles played by women in the struggle. By and large, men have formed the leadership in the civil rights struggle but…women have been the backbone of the whole civil rights movement.” Two years later, she joined 5,000 women at the capitol of Washington, DC at the S Women Strike for Peace protest.

After her husband was assassinated in 1968, King became even more actively involved in the Civil Rights Movement. Two days after his death, she spoke at Ebenezer Baptist Church. Soon after that, she took his place at a peace rally in New York City. Although she used the notes he had written before his death, she wrote her own speech and really begin to secure her place as the leader of the Civil Rights Movement. She originally approached singer and entertainer Josephine Baker about taking the helm but when Baker declined, King stepped up and took it herself. She eventually expanded her work beyond civil rights to focus on women’s rights, LGBT rights, economic issues, apartheid, and world peace, to name just a few. By 1969, she had founded the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change in Atlanta, Georgia.[26] In addition, she continued to organize and lead major demonstrations for the rights of the poor; she organized the 20th Anniversary March on Washington; and, she traveled across the world protesting and speaking out against injustice. In 1986, after her tireless campaign, her husband’s birthday was finally celebrated as a federal holiday.[27] She has received numerous awards, tributes, and honors for her work as a civil rights leader but in many respects, she is still talked about as if she was just the wife of Martin Luther King, Jr. Her contributions and accomplishments as a civil rights leader, in her own right, have earned her the right, along with Dr. Height and others, to be an integral part of the greater discussions about the Civil Rights Movement.

*Watch Coretta Scott King’s NVLP interview

Recording Herstory

It is important to know and understand the accomplishments of Black male leaders during the Civil Rights Movement, and it is equally important to recognize and highlight the achievements of the women who, while they were not always recognized as leaders, stepped forward to organize and direct when there was work to be done. They blazed trails, they pushed forward, they spoke when others wanted them to remain silent: they persisted and they should not be forgotten. As the civil rights history continues to be written, debated and discussed, the conversation must be broadened to finally and completely include the successes (and failures) of everyone, male and female, who was involved and who committed their lives to working for justice.


[*] On February 7, 2017, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell tried to silence Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) on the Senate floor in the debate over the nomination of Jeff Sessions to be attorney general. Senator Warren was reading a portion of Coretta Scott King’s 1986 letter about Sessions to the Judiciary Committee from 1986. King argued that Sessions, due to his racist behavior, should not be rewarded with a federal courtship. McConnell evoked (a rarely used) Senate Rule 19 and later stated “She [Warren] was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.” The next day, I asked my students to tell me about the life of Coretta Scott King and all they knew was that she was the widow of Dr. King, this led to the creation of the #CorettaTeachIn and #MoreThanJustHISWife.

[1] In 1883, of the eighteen women who signed the constitution of the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society, seven of them were Black and at the 1837 Convention of American Women, one out of every ten women was Black. At the latter convention, Grace Douglass, great granddaughter of Paul Robeson, was elected as the Vice-President. We Are Your Sisters: Black Women in the Nineteenth Century. Sterling, Dorothy, ed. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, (1984), 114

[2] Maria Stewart was the first Black woman and the first American woman to give a public lecture and to speak to a mixed audience (men and women). Ibid, 154; Isabella Baumfree was a former slave who became a preacher and a Women’s Rights activist who traveled and spoke across New England and the Midwest. In 1851, she supposedly asked the question “Ain’t I a Woman?,” as she bared her breasts to a group of proslavery auditors who openly questioned her gender. (Note: the accuracy of the event, as retold by white reformer Frances Dana Gage, twelve years after it happened, has recently been questioned by historians.) Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience. Appiah, Kwame Anthony and Gates, Henry Louis, Jr., eds. New York: Perseus Books Group, (1999), 1889; Mary Church Terrell was a civil rights leader and women’s rights activist who was the first Black woman to serve on the Washington, DC school board and was primarily responsible for helping to found the National Association of Colored Women. She remained active up until her death in 1954.; Born free in Baltimore, MD in 1825, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper was an antislavery and women’s rights activist, lecturer and author.

[3] Founded on the campus of Howard University, Alpha Kappa Alpha was established in 1908; Delta Sigma Theta in 1911 and Zeta Phi Beta in 1920. Sigma Gamma Rho was established in 1922 at Butler University in Indianapolis, Indiana.

[4] See Integrating With All Deliberate Speed lesson plan for a greater discussion of the history of the Civil Rights Movement.

[5] This is important to note because current national Social Studies curricula do not have a separate unit on Black women, nor do they extend the required conversation beyond the work of Rosa Parks and Harriet (although this has been changing with teachers adding information about Oprah, Serena Williams, Michelle Obama, and Beyoncé, to name just a few). The conversations tend to include information about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Council (SCLC); Stokely Carmichael and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC); the work of the Council for Racial Equality (CORE), particularly the Freedom Rides and the Sit-In Movement. See either the National Council for Social Studies’ Content Standards or the Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning (McRel) History Standards (accessed July 23, 2006) for further information.

[6] Ada Sipuel was the first black woman to integrate the University of Oklahoma’s Law School. The United States Supreme Court decided her case, Sipuel v. University of Oklahoma, in 1948 (though this is six years before the “start” of the Civil Rights Movement, the decision helped to draft the arguments for the Brown case).; Diane Nash Bevel was one of the co-founders of SNCC, a civil rights activist and a co-recipient, along with her husband, of SCLC’s Rosa Parks Award in 1965.; Gloria Richardson was the head of the Cambridge Nonviolent Action Committee (CNAC), which was the adult affiliate of SNCC.

[7] For example, Mrs. Coretta Scott King’s biography in the Africana starts by stating that she is the widow of Dr. King and then explains who he was. Ibid, 1095  In Black Saga, Dr. Height’s name is not included in any of the events that happened during the Civil Rights Movement up until 1991. Christian, Charles M. Black Saga: The African American Experience. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1995.

[8] The argument is not that they are not known but that they and their contributions are not as well known as their male counterparts.

[9] Bayard Rustin, a civil rights activist, was one of the leaders of the Congress of Racial Equality’s (CORE) 1947 Journey of Reconciliation, which sent freedom riders into the South on buses. This freedom ride served as a model for the 1961 freedom rides.

[10] In 1957, Dr. King, Bayard Rustin and other Black ministers, with the purpose of consolidating the efforts of all of the existing civil rights organizations, founded the SCLC.

[11] Africana, 165

[12] Birnbaum, Jonathan and Taylor, Clarence, eds. Civil Rights Since 1787: A Reader on the Black Struggle. New York University Press, (2000), 470

[13] Olson, Lynn. Freedom’s Daughters: The Unsung Heroines of the Civil Rights Movement from 1830 to 1970. New York: Simon & Schuster, (2001), 471

[14] Hampton, Henry and Foyer, Steve. Voices of Freedom: An Oral History of the Civil Rights Movement from the 1950s Through the 1980s. New York: Bantam Books, 1990.

[15] Africana, p165

[16] Olson, 221

[17] Levy, Peter B. The Civil Rights Movement. Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1998. p133

[18] Ibid, 116

[19] Founded by Mary McLeod Bethune, NCNW, currently has an outreach to over four million women in the United States, Egypt, Senegal and Zimbabwe.

[20] General George C. Marshal appointed Dr. Height to the Committee, where she served from 1952-1955.; Dr. Height was appointed by Governor Averell Harriman and reappointed in 1961 by Governor Nelson Rockefeller.

[21] The members of the “Big Six” were Dr. King, SCLC; James Farmer, CORE; John Lewis, SNCC; A. Philip Randolph, Brotherhood of the Sleeping Car Porters; Roy Wilkins, NAACP; and Whitney Young, National Urban League.

[22] Online News Hour. Open Wide the Freedom Gates: Gwen Ifill talks with Dorothy Height, a legend of the civil rights movement and former head of the National Council of Negro Women, about her memoir, Open Wide the Freedom Gates. (accessed 10 July 2006)

[23] Paul Robeson was a civil rights activist and internationally renowned singer, actor and speaker.

[24] Black Saga, 427

[25] Applebome, Peter, “Coretta Scott King, 78, Widow of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Dies“. The New York Times , 31 January 2006. (accessed 10 July 2006); Civil Rights History from the Ground Up: Local Struggles, a National Movement.

[26] The primary purpose of The Center was to train people in how to organize and participate in nonviolent social protest. (accessed July 22, 2006)

[27] In 1970, Black and white leaders from across the nation celebrated the anniversary of Dr. King’s death and committed to working to establish his birthday as a national holiday. Mrs. King led the fight that lasted for sixteen years.

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