Tag Archives: civil rights

Conclusion: Women’s History Month, Intersectionality, and Ella Baker

All month long, I’ve had the opportunity to highlight female leaders throughout history and sectors of society. I’ve written full posts about Anna Howard Shaw, Christie Whitman, Sonia Sotomayor, and Eleanor Roosevelt. I’ve called to memory New Jersey-specific pioneers: Molly Pitcher, Marie Hilson Katzenbach, and Alice Paul; while also commemorating the efforts of national and international leaders: Sheryl WuDunn, Coretta Scott King, Michelle Obama, Carrie Chapman Catt, Sally Ride, and Dorothy Irene Height. I’ve had the chance to reflect on some of my favorite fictional female characters from books, movies, and TV: Leslie Knope, Hermione Granger, Elizabeth Bennet, and CJ Cregg.

It has been an inspiring journey, especially prescient for me personally, as I prepare to complete my Master’s Degree this May and enter the world of politics, nonprofits, and advocacy. I am truly standing on the shoulders of giants, and I owe a great deal of gratitude to all of the women I have highlighted this month.

While each woman’s story represents a unique thread of the broader tale of women’s advancement and quest for true equality, I’ve come to realize one major central theme among them all: being a woman is only one aspect of the identity of each of these women. It is only one piece of what drove them to greatness. Identity is a tricky thing, wrought with complex layers and changing constantly as contexts change.

Many of these women faced more than “just” a gender barrier. They were racial or ethnic minorities, LGBT, students, came from a different background or geographic region, or in a field not very receptive to those outside a particular mold. In academia, we call these varying identities “intersectionality,” and I think intersectionality defines the face of feminism today and the future of where it will go.

And so, I offer as my last blog post of Women’s History Month, a truly intersectional figure: Ella Baker. Born in 1903, Ella Baker’s grandmother was a slave. Baker was smart and hard working, graduating as valedictorian of her class from Shaw University in North Carolina in 1927. From there, she moved to New York City and got involved with civic associations focused on advancing the social and economic status of African Americans and women (Are you keeping track? Baker represents women, African Americans, members of the GI Generation, and first generation college students, so far)

In 1957, Baker was tapped by MLK to help organize the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, where she stayed for three years before leaving in 1960 to form the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. She believed in the power of educated young people to create social change, and the NSCC attempted to tap their collective power to tackle the issues of the day.

Like the League of Women Voters, Baker believed in the power of voting and that true freedom cannot be achieved without both voting rights and voter participation. She believed in servant leadership and shared leadership, and the need for an organization’s capacity to be strong enough to survive its first transfer of power, proving that it is sustainable even when the first strong leader abdicates. She was a facilitator and a work horse, often behind-the-scenes, so that the end result of her work could be strong and impactful. After all, community organizing requires organization. These beliefs allowed her to leave a strong institutional legacy. It was also these beliefs that contributed to her nickname: “Fundi,” which is Swahili for “a person who teaches a craft to a younger generation.” (The Child Defense Fund even has the Ella Baker trainers program built around her ideals and work ethic!)

Ella Baker died on her 83rd birthday in 1986. While she wasn’t necessarily the flashiest, big-name, in-front-of-the-cameras figure, she was a major force in the Civil Rights movement practically from its inception. She lived through a period of rapid transformation of the social and political fabric of our nation, and she was at the center of it all, bringing with her all the aspects of her identity. Ella Baker is the perfect capstone to this Women’s History Month series, and we thank her today.



(sources: http://ellabakercenter.org/about/who-was-ella-baker, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/marian-wright-edelman/ella-baker-my-civil-right_b_5052112.html)

Women’s Equality Day: The March Continues

The following blog is written by Toni Zimmer, President of the League of Women Voters of New Jersey.

After participating in the historic 50th Anniversary March on Washington in our nation’s capital this weekend, I still feel the giddiness and euphoria of being part of such an important and powerful event. As the first African American president of the League of Women Voters of New Jersey, I felt especially proud to stand with so many other organizations to celebrate this commemorative March. The collective voice and sense of purpose from the thousands of people who graced the Mall could not be mistaken:  We must have equality and justice for all, we must protect women’s rights, we must preserve our voting rights.

ImageToday we celebrate another historic moment in time. It’s Women’s Equality Day, the historic anniversary of August 26, 1920, when the 19th Amendment was ratified giving American women the right to vote. The League of Women Voters of New Jersey joined in the original 1920 effort to launch this successful transition.  But please, don’t kick up your heels just yet – that old cliché still holds true:  “A woman’s work is never done,” especially when it comes to ensuring that voting rights for women, and men, are forever granted and protected.

 This is especially relevant today because last June, the Supreme Court gutted Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, a decision that gave nine states, mostly in the South, the ability to change their election laws without advance federal clearance. Section 4 was created to determine which states would need approval from the Justice Department or a federal court to make major or minor changes to voting procedures, such as relocating polling places or redrawing electoral districts.

ImageThe negative effects of the Supreme Court decision were realized almost immediately. Before the ink on the 5 to 4 decision was barely dry, Texas placed a previously banned voter identification law into effect, and announced that their bogus redistricting maps were valid and no longer needed federal approval. We must implore Congress to pass a new bill to determine which states would be covered, once again, under the special provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Despite the disappointing and unfortunate setback rendered by the Supreme Court decision, I believe it is important for us to remember the efforts of the strong women who maintained their focus and stood up more than 93 years ago to ensure that equality for women was realized through the passage of the 19th Amendment.

We might also take a moment to admire the many strong and principled women of today, such as Justice Ruth Ginsburg. In her dissent from the bench regarding Section 4, Justice Ginsburg drew on the words of Dr. King: 

“The great man who led the march from Selma to Montgomery and there called for the passage of the Voting Rights Act foresaw progress, even in Alabama,” she said. “ ‘The arc of the moral universe is long,’ he said, but ‘it bends toward justice,’ if there is a steadfast commitment to see the task through to completion.”





League member honored, shares story of Dr. King

From  L to R: Gail Roberts, MLK committee member, Dion Davis, MLK committee member, Winnefred Rowell-Bullard, 2012 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Service Recipient, Vanessa Jenkins, MLK committee member and Thomas Seddon, Superintendent of Schools, Gloucester Township Public School District and MLK committee member.

League of Women Voters of New Jersey member Winnefred Rowell-Bullard received the 2012 Community Award from the Martin Luther King, Jr. Service Committee of the Gloucester Township Public Schools. Congratulations to Winne on this well deserved honor. Her acceptance speech was incredibly moving and it is my pleasure to be able to share it with you (below).

It is with gratitude and appreciation that I say, “Thank You” to the members of The Gloucester   Township Public Schools Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Service Committee.  My heart is filled with, cherished appreciation, and unforgettable gratefulness because you have selected me to receive this prestigious honor.

Today, along with you, I, too, look back and reflect on the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr…

My reflection shows me when I was a college freshman attending Allen University, which is located in Columbia, South Carolina, Two days before going home for the Christmas holidays,  I along with 20 other college students participated in a non-violent, sit-in demonstration at a segregated movie theater in downtown Columbia. After paying for our tickets, we took our seats downstairs in the White only section. Immediately, we were told to go up stairs and sit in the Colored only section. We refused to leave our seats to go and sit in the Colored section. Then, harshly, we were told we would be arrested and taken to jail, if we did not sit in the Colored section. WE REFUSED TO MOVE. In addition, the TICKET ATTENDANT CALLED THE LAW. DURING THAT DECADE, LAW MEANT POLICE. WE SAT IN THAT WHITE ONLY SECTION UNTIL THE LAW CAME to take us to jail, but instead of being taken to jail, we were finger printed and taken to the state penitentiary- the  place for convicted criminals. We learned later that as soon as Dr. King received the word that twenty African American college students in Columbia, South Carolina had been taken to the State Penitentiary and locked up for refusing to sit up stairs in a segregated movie balcony in downtown Columbia, early the next morning, he traveled from Atlanta, Ga. to the State Penitentiary to have our finger prints exonerated and to set us free. From that remarkable visit, I never forgot Dr. King’s strong words, and I quote: “From this day forward, you will always be proud of yourselves, because you have taken a direct stand for social justice by demonstrating non-violently and peacefully against the social ills of inequality toward humankind. From this day forward, I want you to continue to take a stand and to advocate for social justice.”

After returning from dinner with Dr. King, we formed a big circle on campus, we asked Dr. King to stand in the middle of the circle, and then we sang together, loudly, WE SHALL OVERCOME. From that memorable day, and over the decades to follow, to this day, I have taken a stand for social justice and as a giver of knowledge,  my goals as an educator and as an instructional and community leader have been to make a positive difference in the lives of my students and others.  I remain active in many community service organizations such as Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., South Jersey Alumnae Chapter, The League of Women Voters of Camden County, and the League of Women Voters of New Jersey. Each of these organizations works  to offer community services for the betterment of humankind.( and I say thank you to some of the members who have come today to show support and to give congratulations).

In closing, I will forever cherish meeting Dr. King, listening to his strong, everlasting words, and becoming an advocate for social justice. Dr. Kings’ visionary dreams of social justice remain strongly prevalent today. Thus, I will continue my work in the community for the cause of direct action for social justice. Again, I thank the Gloucester Township Public Schools Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Service Committee for honoring my call to be a community advocate in the name of service for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

– Winnefred Rowell-Bullard