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Boycotts, Buses, and Passes

Boycotts, Buses, and Passes: Black Women's Resistance in the U.S. South and South Africa

Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 338
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  • Book Info
    Boycotts, Buses, and Passes
    Book Description:

    In the mid1950s, as many developing nations sought independence from colonial rule, black women in the American South and in South Africa launched parallel campaigns to end racial injustice within their respective communities. Just as the dignified obstinacy of Mrs. Rosa Parks sparked the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955, the 20,000 South African women who marched in Pretoria a year later to protest the pass laws signaled a new wave of resistance to the system of apartheid. In both places women who had previously been consigned to subordinate roles brought fresh leadership to the struggle for political freedom and social equality. In this book, Pamela E. Brooks tells their story, documenting the extraordinary achievements of otherwise ordinary women.In comparing the experiences of black women activists in two different parts of the African diaspora, Brooks draws heavily on oral histories that provide clear, and often painful, insight into their backgrounds, their motives, their hopes, and their fears. We learn how black women from all walks of life—domestic and factory workers, householders, teachers, union organizers, churchwomen, clubwomen, rural and urban dwellers alike—had to overcome their class differences and work through the often difficult gender relations within their families and communities. Yet eventually they came together to forge their own political organizations, such as the Women’s Political Council and the Federation of South African Women, or joined organizations of women and men, such as the Montgomery Improvement Association and the African National Congress, to advance the common agenda of black liberation.By tracing the dual rise of political consciousness and activism among the black women of the U.S. South and South Africa, Brooks not only illuminates patterns that have long been overlooked but places that shared history within the context of a larger global struggle to bring an end to the vestiges of European colonialism.

    eISBN: 978-1-61376-073-4
    Subjects: Sociology, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xiii)
  4. [Illustrations]
    (pp. xiv-xx)
    (pp. 1-10)

    In the heart of Montgomery, Alabama, Mrs. Idessa Redden, a slender eighty-four-year-old, sat comfortably in her well-appointed living room. A lifelong activist in the Black freedom struggle, Mrs. Redden recounted stories of how she joined the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in her mid-twenties, made repeated attempts to register to vote during the 1940s, and finally succeeded in registering in 1949. By the 1950s she was working with Rufus Lewis, a respected local activist, helping to register voters. In early December 1955, Mrs. R edden’s cousin informed her that the Black riders of Montgomery had decided...

  6. Chapter One IN THE BEGINNING: Early Resistance among Enslaved and Free Women, 1721–1870
    (pp. 11-37)

    One Easter season, well before the 1955–1956 Montgomery bus boycott had become a daily reality in the lives of the Black residents of Montgomery, Ms. Ora Lee Bell, a domestic worker in the affluent Cloverdale section of the city, took all five of her young children downtown to purchase their new Easter outfits. Ms. Bell was particularly interested in finding white baby-doll shoes for her girls that season. She wanted good shoes for her children this time, not the cheap, stiff ones on sale at Weber’s Department Store. Perhaps she would find better-quality, more comfortably fitting shoes at the...

  7. Chapter Two NO WASH OR PASS: Institution Building, Migration, and Protest, 1867–1918
    (pp. 38-61)

    Mrs. Thelma Glass, a tall and striking woman in her mid-eighties, retired many years ago from her position as a professor of political and cultural geography at the historically Black Alabama State University in Montgomery. “I think world events made [teaching] so interesting,” she observed. “Things that were going on all over the world … and why people from certain areas had ideas [interested me]. One of the most exciting things was [that] Africa came into prominence in my last three or four years…. Ghana was the first [in 1957] and then Nigeria [in 1960].” During the mid-1950s, Mrs. Glass...

  8. Chapter Three WHEN WE WERE JUST GIRLS: Rural Life Challenges in Black Belt Alabama and Pre-apartheid South Africa, 1920s–1940s
    (pp. 62-98)

    Eighty-three-year-old Amy Collins Harris remembered spending her childhood and adolescence in the Black Belt Alabama village of Free Town, which was officially known as Allenville at the time. She recalled a place where her large family, which included numerous extended members, fashioned a comfortable self-sufficiency undergirded by a cooperative spirit of interdependence. Founded in Hale County in the 1860s, Free Town was established on land that John Collins IV, a white man, bequeathed to his three mixed-race sons who regarded themselves as Black. Richard Collins, Mrs. Harris’s great-grandfather, was one of the three brothers, who each received a thirty-five-acre plot...

  9. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  10. Chapter Four “Looking for better”: Montgomery, Johannesburg, and the Urban Context, 1920s–1940s
    (pp. 99-117)

    In 1924, when Rosa McCauley left rural Pine Level without her mother for the first time, it was to continue her education in Montgomery. She would attend the Montgomery Industrial School for Girls, a private school for Black girls—known informally as Miss White’s—that was run and staffed by white women from the North.¹ Rosa and her younger brother, Sylvester, had been attending a school in Spring Hill—some eight miles from their home—where their mother, Leona Edwards McCauley, taught. Despite frequent bouts of tonsillitis, young Rosa usually walked the distance with her brother. She knew, however, that...

  11. Chapter Five “MY POLITICS WERE INFLUENCED FROM THE TRADE UNION”: Raising Political Consciousness, 1930s–1940s
    (pp. 118-147)

    In 1928 the New York–based Reliance Manufacturing Company opened a plant in the capital city of Montgomery, in the middle of the Alabama cotton belt, where there was easy transportation and a healthy supply of cheap Black labor. The factory, which produced men’s shirts and (later) blue jeans and navy uniforms, employed some 254 workers at its peak, most of them Black women.¹ During the 1930s several attempts to organize the plant failed; however, in 1945, at the suggestion of (and with the labor connections of) Edgar Daniel (E. D.) Nixon, a leader of the 1955–1956 Montgomery bus...

  12. Chapter Six LAUNCHING NEW NETWORKS: Black Women Organizing for Change, 1940–1950
    (pp. 148-178)

    Mrs. Cora McHaney and Mrs. Irene Williams, now retired, are counted among the dedicated Black women teachers of Montgomery, Alabama. Mrs. McHaney—prim in appearance, sporting earrings, a pin at the V-neck of her dress, and a white knit headband that frames her smooth brown face—is originally from Florida. Mrs. Williams—tall and elegant, with a warm, broad smile that lights up her attractive features—is native to Alabama. Proud of their long years of service in the Montgomery city and county school systems, both women embody the practice of teaching as a means of social elevation and racial...

  13. Chapter Seven “PUT MY FOOT IN THE ROAD AND WALKED!”: Black Women Lead the Montgomery Bus Boycott, 1950–1961
    (pp. 179-201)

    At age eighty-two, Mrs. Amelia Scott Green remembered growing up in and spending much of her life within the center city Black community of segregated Montgomery, Alabama. She began school later than many of the children at the Booker T. Washington Elementary School, and in the fourth grade—like many members of her generation—she was forced to leave school to help her mother support their large family. Amelia and her mother worked for the family of Ruth Babbitt, who “was kinda on the poor side—they wasn’t none of them [with] two butlers, and a cook, and a maid,...

  14. Chapter Eight “WE WILL NOT RIDE!” — “WE DON’T WANT PASSES!”: South African Women Rising in Political Movement, 1950–1960
    (pp. 202-238)

    Across the Atlantic, in Johannesburg, South Africa, the theme of personal dignity combined with ardent political activism is evident in the life of Mrs. Kate Mxakatho. Like Mrs. Amelia Scott Green in Alabama, Mrs. Mxakatho, who was a domestic worker in the white suburbs of Johannesburg, gladly participated in the 1950s movement to eradicate white supremacy. The story of her involvement reveals a spirited and purposeful woman whose criticism has remained sharp.

    From her home in Soweto, a feisty eighty-six-year-old Kate Mxakatho clearly remembered 1944 as the year she stopped teaching elementary school in rural Transvaal to find work in...

    (pp. 239-246)

    Perhaps initially, it is easier to point to the differences than to the similarities between 1950s Black women’s resistance in Montgomery, Alabama, and Johannesburg, South Africa. To begin with, the close-up histories of Black people in the two locations differ. Black South Africans were, at the outset, a free people in the land of their birth, but they were forced to surrender their sovereignty to Dutch and British imperial powers and their land to Boer farmers. Black Alabamians in the United States, in contrast, began by being treated as commodities in a multifaceted colonial project of economic exchange in which...

  16. Notes
    (pp. 247-292)
  17. Index
    (pp. 293-304)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 305-306)