Saturday, June 13, 2020

Ten top life stories of forgotten civil rights pioneers

Jill Watts is a Professor of History at California State University San Marcos and is also the author of Hattie McDaniel: Black Ambition, White Hollywood which has been optioned for film. She is the Brakebill Distinguished Professor of 2017-2018 and is also the coordinator of the History Department’s graduate program.

Watts's new book is The Black Cabinet: The Untold Story of African Americans and Politics During the Age of Roosevelt. [See: The Page 99 Test: The Black Cabinet.]

At Lit Hub she tagged ten life stories about leaders who took up the civil right struggle in the years between 1930 and 1950. One title on the list:
Audrey Thomas McCluskey and Elaine Smith ed, Mary McLeod Bethune: Building a Better World, Essays and Selected Documents

Born to parents who had endured slavery, the dynamic Mary McLeod Bethune (1875-1955) rose from picking cotton to become the founder of Bethune-Cookman University and a leader in the Black women’s club movement. She would achieve her greatest influence as the first African American woman to head a federal program, appointed by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt as a New Deal administrator in 1936. During her tenure, she became a driving force in the “Black Cabinet,” an informal group and unrecognized by the White House. In her government role she fought for equal treatment for African Americans, especially black women, both in federal relief and American society at large. Bethune’s abiding faith in American institutions, and her foundational philosophy of Black feminism, is demonstrated in this edited collection that chronicles her life through her writings and speeches. “Faith, courage, brotherhood, dignity, ambition, responsibility—these are needed today as never before,” Bethune would insist. “The Freedom’s Gates are half ajar. We must pry them fully open.”
Read about another entry on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue