"We, too, are Americans": African American women, citizenship, and civil rights activism in Detroit and Richmond, 1940-1954
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
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AbstractThis dissertation explores the activities of middle- and working-class African American women during and immediately after World War II in Detroit and Richmond, Virginia, in order to examine how World War II enabled African American women to negotiate new state structures in order to articulate citizenship in a way that located them within the state as contributors to the war effort and legitimated their calls for equality. This study provides a new understanding of the groundwork that lay behind the civil rights activism of the 1950s and 1960s. By looking at African American women's wartime protest and exploring how those women created templates for activism and networks for the dissemination of new discourses about citizenship, it reveals the gendered roots of the civil rights movement. This study uses a cross-class analysis within a cross-regional analysis in order to understand how African American women of different socioeconomic levels transformed their relationship with the state in order to use state structures to gain equality in diverse regions of the country. Class and region framed African American women's possibilities for activism. In both Detroit and Richmond, women's class positions and local government structures affected how African American women constructed claims to citizenship and maintained activist strategies to promote equality. This study finds that the new discourse and programs of middle-class African American women, linked with the attempts of working-class women to gain and retain jobs and better living conditions, contributed to a new sense of militancy and urgency within the civil rights movement of the 1940s and 1950s. By attempting to claim their rights based solely on their status as citizens within the state, African American women greatly contributed to the groundwork and the ideology of the more aggressive civil rights campaigns of the 1950s and 1960s. African American women's initial forays into desegregating restaurants, jobs, transportation, and housing created the momentum for the entire African American community's struggle for equality.
Degree ProgramGraduate College