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Analysis: Black women's roles in the civil rights movement have been understated -- but that's changing

February 21, 2021. Summarized by summa-bot.

Compression ratio: 22.2%. 2 min read.

Claudette Colvin did a revolutionary act nearly 10 months before Rosa Parks.

But civil rights leaders, pointing to circumstances in Colvin's personal life, thought that Parks would be the better representative of the movement.

Colvin's story and the experiences of other Black women and youth underscore the difficult questions and realities that Black leaders and activists have been forced to grapple with.

As a former leading member of the Black Panther Party, Ericka Huggins was one of the most consequential figures of the Black Power movement, which sought to bring more radical attention to the US's abiding system of racial caste.

"Women ran the party, and the men thought they (the men) did," Huggins says in the 1997 documentary, "Comrade Sister: Voices of Women in the Black Panther Party. "

"Here we are in 1963, and you don't have any Black women speaking.

The gender politics of the March on Washington is just one example of how masculinist authority often replicated within parts of the Black freedom struggle, relegating women to the shadows of their own movement.

In his influential 1968 essay collection (and prison memoir) "Soul on Ice," the early Black Panther Party leader Eldridge Cleaver twists Black homosexuality into a deeper denial of Black masculinity: "It seems that many Negro homosexuals, acquiescing in this racial death-wish, are outraged and frustrated because in their sickness they are unable to have a baby by a White man. "

Racial justice organizers today seem to have learned from earlier forms of Black politics.

Two of its co-creators, Garza and Cullors, identify as queer, and the group has always highlighted the usually overlooked prejudices beleaguering Black women and Black LGBTQ Americans.

It would allow people who are often marginalized or blocked from exercising leadership to lead in public," Garza writes in her 2020 book, "The Purpose of Power: How We Come Together When We Fall Apart," of the thinking behind BLM's leader-full (not leaderless) arrangement.

When King, Malcolm and Newton were killed, "so in large part were the movements they led," Garza writes, referring to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Nation of Islam and the Black Panther Party, respectively.

BLM might be the most prominent group in the contemporary Black freedom movement.

"We believe that to get liberation, the most marginalized voices should be at the forefront -- that means Black trans women, Black nonbinary folks, Black working class people," Washington said.

Even so, BLM and 50 Miles More (among other groups) are vital and refreshing in their embrace of the same joyous tension: honoring previous iterations of Black struggle, while also moving them forward.

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