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You Must Be from the North

You Must Be from the North: Southern White Women in the Memphis Civil Rights Movement

Kimberly K. Little
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 208
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    You Must Be from the North
    Book Description:

    "You must be from the North," was a common, derogatory reaction to the activities of white women throughout the South, well-meaning wives and mothers who joined together to improve schools or local sanitation but found their efforts decried as more troublesome civil rights agitation.You Must Be from the North: Southern White Women in the Memphis Civil Rights Movementfocuses on a generation of white women in Memphis, Tennessee, born between the two World Wars and typically omitted from the history of the civil rights movement. The women for the most part did not jeopardize their lives by participating alongside black activists in sit-ins and freedom rides. Instead, they began their journey into civil rights activism as a result of their commitment to traditional female roles through such organizations as the Junior League. What originated as a way to do charitable work, however, evolved into more substantive political action.

    While involvement with groups devoted to feeding schoolchildren and expanding Bible study sessions seemed benign, these white women's growing awareness of racial disparities in Memphis and elsewhere caused them to question the South's hierarchies in ways many of their peers did not. Ultimately, they found themselves challenging segregation more directly, found themselves ostracized as a result, and discovered they were often distrusted by a justifiably suspicious black community. Their newly discovered commitment to civil rights contributed to the success of the city's sanitation workers' strike of 1968. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s death during the strike resonated so deeply that for many of these women it became a defining moment. In the long term, these women proved to be a persistent and progressive influence upon the attitudes of the white population of Memphis, and particularly on the city's elite.

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-351-8
    Subjects: Sociology, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-2)
  4. Introduction Trashing Jim Crow The Sanitation Workers’ Strike, 1968
    (pp. 3-10)

    Echol Cole and Robert Walker died in a freak accident on 30 January 1968 while working for the City of Memphis Sanitation Department. Trapped inside one of the city’s numerous archaic and dilapidated garbage packers, these men died a grisly death from injuries sustained while operating the machinery. Their fellow workers staged a walkout in protest of abysmal working conditions thirteen days later. Striking sanitation workers believed that a walkout would prove to be their only bargaining tool in an ongoing struggle between the public works employees and their employer, the city of Memphis, over issues surrounding better wages and...

  5. Chapter 1 “You Must Be from the North.” “Yes, North Mississippi” Women and Direct Action Protests, 1955–1964
    (pp. 11-28)

    Often labeled the “most northern city in Mississippi,” Memphis has historically attempted to distinguish itself from the rest of the Deep South. Pointing to its position as a business center, a city with a large black middle class, and a culturally thriving metropolis, Memphis prided itself on its progressivism throughout the racial struggles of the twentieth century. The first protests of the 1960s civil rights movement in Memphis mimicked those of Greensboro, Nashville, Atlanta, and Birmingham, in that participants were primarily young, black college students. While there were isolated instances where white individuals contributed to the demonstrations, white participation did...

  6. Chapter 2 “All Are Worthy” “Woman’s Work” as a Catalyst for Civil Rights Reform
    (pp. 29-49)

    Married middle- and upper-class white women of the postwar period filled the role of volunteer worker regularly. American society praised housewives and mothers who transplanted their nurturing, maternal abilities from the home and hearth into the public sphere. For some women, this volunteer work took the form of wage earning in the fields of social work or education, and for others, it evolved into tangible political activism. Women activists since the beginning of the twentieth century often began their careers in reform work through involvement in volunteer organizations devoted to causes superficially deemed “nonpolitical.” Nancy Cott’s research on the growth...

  7. Chapter 3 “The Message Came on a Beam of Light” Women in Religious Groups
    (pp. 50-63)

    A strong belief in God proved to be yet another motivating factor in drawing female reformers into civil rights activism. Women coming from both Jewish and Christian backgrounds echoed the claim that since all human beings belonged to a universal brotherhood, the unjust treatment of one of God’s children constituted a sin against God. Memphis’s activist community took no exception to this rule. Following in the footsteps of female activists from the nineteenth century, a number of women central to Memphis’s civil rights movement began their journey into social reform from a deep-seated religious faith.

    Although many historians have explored...

  8. Chapter 4 Raising a Generation That Does Not Hate The 1968 Sanitation Strike and the Radicalizing of Memphis Activists
    (pp. 64-86)

    An investigation into the participation of white women in the 1968 sanitation strike uncovers involvement at random intervals. Activities ranged from women orchestrating individual acts of support—such as sending letters to the mayor urging him to end the strike in the name of racial harmony or giving the family of a striking sanitation worker a charitable donation of food, clothing, or money—to more formal involvement in the struggle. Fund for Needy Schoolchildren (Fund) founder Myra Dreifus, for example, used her support of Loeb in his 1967 campaign and election as leverage to pressure Loeb to resolve the strike...

  9. Chapter 5 “Little Old Ladies with Tennis Shoes” The Relationship Between White Women and Racial Reform in a Post-King Memphis
    (pp. 87-109)

    The Memphis chapter of the Panel of American Women (Panel), Concerned Women of Memphis (CWM), New Attitude-Memphis Encounter (NAME), and the Fund for Needy Schoolchildren (Fund) were the central organizations of Memphis’s white female activist community in the aftermath of King’s assassination and the resolution of the 1968 sanitation workers’ strike. Many of their programs operated in concert at various times, and the groups shared personnel, tactics, and meeting space on occasion. Membership within these organizations often overlapped, yet their focuses varied from 1968 to 1971. The majority of Panel members identified as full-time housewives and mothers. The Memphis Panel...

  10. Chapter 6 “Be Thankful It Was Only Sand” Community Reaction to White Women in a Movement for Black Civil Rights
    (pp. 110-127)

    Histories of the civil rights movement highlight the contributions of white northern women, yet few detail the experiences of white southern women, who, in many instances, faced an enormous amount of resistance from their friends and family members, as well as other activists in the struggle for racial justice. While the backlash experienced by white southern women paled in comparison to that faced by black southern activists, male and female, opposition to their work existed, and the repercussions of their actions continued for years to come. Unlike their northern counterparts, southern workers did not return home after a particular project...

  11. Chapter 7 “I Am Not Your Social Conscience” Busing in the Memphis City Schools
    (pp. 128-144)

    The year 1971 marked a turning point for Memphis and its activist community. The economic inequality exposed by the strike at St. Joseph’s Hospital proved to be only the beginning of a new series of racially divisive events that mobilized Memphis’s activist community and continued to drive a wedge between black and white Memphians. The death of a black suspect, Elton Hayes, held in Memphis police custody, and the proposed desegregation of the Memphis city school system created renewed opportunities for activists to hone their skills and arguments within the fight for racial justice.¹

    Dorothy “Happy” Jones met the horrors...

  12. Epilogue
    (pp. 145-154)

    An awareness of the interconnectedness of race, class, and gender motivated Memphis’s female reformers into their work with civil rights organizations, and those connections evolved into work with groups dedicated to other reform efforts. All of the women in this study initially avoided characterizing their work as political activism, preferring instead to label it social reform work. Regardless of the moniker, these women effected tangible political change through such “innocuous” endeavors as assisting impoverished children receive free lunch and breakfast, teaching children Bible stories in ad hoc Sunday schools, and working to shift racist attitudes among the white power structure...

  13. Appendix
    (pp. 155-156)
  14. Notes
    (pp. 157-188)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 189-214)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 215-219)