Freedom's Sisters, Twenty Great African American Women
Freedom's Sisters A Museum Exhibition
On March 15, 2008 a three year traveling museum exhibition called Freedom's Sisters made its debut at the Cincinnati Museum spotlighting twenty African American women who have fought for equality for all Americans. The display was a collaborated effort between the Cincinnati Museum Center, Ford Motor Company and the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES).
These are women pioneers, making the world a better place because of the path they have forged.
Freedom's Sisters was a Teaching Venue
Quoting one of the honorees, Septima Poinsette Clark (1898-1987), “The greatest evil in our country today is not racism, but ignorance.”
Designed as an educational tool targeting students, Freedom’s Sisters consisted of historical simulations and interactive displays designed to drive home the messages and meanings of each of the twenty different women who were being honored.
The Freedom’s Sisters displays were organized around four themes – “Dare to Dream,” “Inspire Lives” “Serve the Public” and “Look to the Future.”
Freedom's Sisters Making a Difference
Ella J. Baker- Freedom's Sister
Freedom's Sister- Ella J. Baker (1903-1986)
Beginning her work with civil rights in 1931, Ella J. Baker joined the Young Negroes Cooperative League and was soon appointed its national director.
During the 1940’s she became the field secretary to the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP), commanding a leading role in the desegregation of New York City public schools.
In 1956 she helped establish an organization called Friendship, and helped to fight against Jim Crow Laws in the Deep South.
Influential in the civil rights movement during the 1960s, Ella became involved with a student sit-in which was held at the local Woolworth’s store in Greensboro, North Carolina. The restaurant in the store had a policy that refused to seat black people, and over the course of a few days it became completely occupied by black students, who refused to leave until they were served. Although many times they were physically assaulted they refused to hit back. Baker was influential in establishing the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) who adopted the Gandhian theory of nonviolent direct action.
Constance Baker Motley- Freedom's Sister
Freedom's Sister- Constance Baker Motley (1921-2005)
Graduating from New York University in 1943, Constance Baker Motley started her legal career as a law clerk in the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF), becoming the first female attorney for that organization.
A key legal strategist involved in the civil rights movement, she was the first African-American woman to ever argue a case before the U.S. Supreme Court, the first to be elected to the New York Senate, and the first ever to be appointed as a federal court judge.
Shirley Chisholm- Freedom's Sister
Freedom's Sister- Shirley Chisholm (1924-2005)
Shirley Chisholm became the first elected African-American women to have a seat in Congress. As an American politician, educator and author, she joined the Congressional Black Caucus in 1969, and in 1972, made a bid for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, becoming the first majority party African-American candidate for President of the United States, winning 152 delegates. During her tenure in Congress, she was influential in improving opportunities for inner-city residents, as well as a vocal opponent of the draft.
Mary Church Terrell- Freedom's Sister
Freedom's Sister- Mary Church Terrell (1863-1954)
An offspring of former slaves, Mary Church Terrell was not only a civil rights activist but also fought for the rights of women. She was one of the first African-American women to have earned a college degree, which she did from Oberlin College. She received her Masters from there also.
She was a teacher and a principle, who was later appointed to the District of Columbia Board of Education, the first black women in the United States to hold such a position. She was one of the founding members of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
Septima Poinsette Clark- Freedom's Sister
Freedom's Sister- Septima Poinsette Clark (1898-1987)
Passionately opposed to segregation in the school system, Septima Poinsette Clark worked unceasingly for equal access to education for African- Americans. Being a leader in the civil rights movement decades before its rise to national awareness, she became known as “Queen mother” or “Grandmother of the American Civil Rights Movement.”
"Her courageous and pioneering efforts in the area of citizenship education and interracial cooperation" won her Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s (SCLC) highest award, the Drum Major for Justice Award.
Kathleen Cleaver- Freedom's Sister
Freedom's Sisters- Kathleen Cleaver (1945- )
Mostly known as the wife of Eldridge Cleaver of the Black Panther Party, Kathleen Cleaver is an accomplished lawyer and teacher of law as well as a civil rights activist.
She was the communications secretary and the first female member of the Party’s decision making body. In this position she served as the Party’s spokesperson and press secretary, giving speeches all over the country. Kathleen was influential in organizing the national campaign to free the Party’s minister of defense, Huey Newton, and ran unsuccessfully on the Peace and Freedom Party ticket for the California state assembly.
Myrlie Evers-Williams- Freedom's Sister
Freedom's Sisters- Myrlie Evers-Williams (1963- )
Myrlie Evers-Williams is probably best known as the wife of Medgar Evers, the Mississippi state field secretary for the NAACP who was shot in the driveway of his own home in 1963. She unceasingly appealed for justice concerning the murder of her husband, but after two all-white juries deadlocked he was set free. Years later she still continued in her quest until in 1994, the 73-year old man was sentenced to life in prison.
Active in the Civil Rights movement she was the first black woman to be named to the five-member Board of Public Works by Mayor Tom Bradley of Los Angeles.
Fannie Lou Hamer- Freedom's Sister
Freedom's Sisters- Fannie Lou Hamer (1917-1977)
Instrumental in the fight for American voting rights, Fannie Lou Hamer was known for her Biblical beliefs in righteousness and the manner in which she expressed them to others.
She became the Vice-Chair of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, and was known as an electrifying speaker.
Dorothy Height- Freedom's Sister
Freedom's Sisters- Dorothy Height (1912- )
Recipient of the Congressional Gold Medal, Dorothy Height began her civil rights career as a caseworker with the New York City Welfare Department. From there she joined the National Council of Negro Women where she fought for equal rights of both African Americans and women, and ultimately became president of that organization.
She is known for her work in the organization of “Wednesdays in Mississippi” a group which brought together both black and white women form the North and the South in dialog of understanding.
She has served on several presidential committees, and currently serves as the Chairperson of the Executive Committee of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, the largest civil rights organization in the United States.
Charlayne Hunter-Gault- Freedom's Sister
Freedom's Sisters- Charlayne Hunter-Gault (1942- )
Acclaimed journalist and civil rights activist, Charlayne Hunter- Gault has won numerous awards in her field of expertise. Currently serving as a foreign correspondent with National Public Radio, she was the chief national correspondent for PBS and the first African American reporter for The New Yorker as an investigative reporter.
She was also one of the first African Americans to attend the University of Georgia in 1961 putting an end to racial segregation at the university.
Barbara Jordan- Freedom's Sister
Freedom's Sisters- Barbara Jordan (1936-1996)
Congresswoman in the Untied States House of Representatives, Barbara Jordan was an American politician who, being from Texas, became the first black woman from a southern state to serve in the House. A successful attorney and politician, she was influential in supporting the impeachment of President Richard Nixon.
Among her many awards an honors she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1994.
She is buried in the Texas State Cemetery and was the first black woman to be interred there. The Austin-Bergstrom International Airport has named the main terminal in her honor.
Mary McLeod Bethune- Freedom's Sister
Freedom's Sisters- Mary McLeod Bethune (1875-1955)
Mary McLeod Bethune was an educator and civil rights leader, who started a school for black students in Daytona Beach, Florida that eventually has become the Bethune-Cookman University.
Founder of the National Council of Negro Women in New York City, she brought together 28 different organizations that worked to improve the quality of life for women and their communities.
She was a close loyal friend to both Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt. Her house is a National Historic Site in Washington, D.C. and her home in Daytona Beach, Florida is a National Historic Landmark.
Rosa Parks- Freedom's Sister
Freedom's Sisters- Rosa Parks (1913-2005)
Known as the “Mother of the Modern-Day Civil Rights Movement”, Rosa Parks has become widely known for her refusal to give up her seat on a bus to make room for a white person. This action led to one of the largest movements against racial segregation in the United States. Renowned activist and speaker, her legacy is known worldwide.
Sonia Sanchez- Freedom's Sister
Freedom's Sisters- Sonia Sanchez (1934- )
Famous poet and author, Wilsonia Benita Driver Sanchez is a major part of the Black Arts Movement. She has been a professor at eight universities and has lectured at over 500 college campuses across the United States.
As an activist for the people she was a member of CORE (Congress for Racial Equality). Her work of art concentrating on the struggles of Black American have gained her notoriety and respect among the world. Among her numerous awards she has received is the Peace and Freedom Award from the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.
Coretta Scott King- Freedom's Sister
Freedom's Sisters- Coretta Scott King (1927-2006)
Wife of civil rights activist Martin Luther King, Jr., Coretta Scott King worked side by side in support of this cause. She was influential in the creation of the federal holiday commemorating the birth of her husband in 1986.
Opposed to apartheid she has participated in a series of sit-in protests in Washington, D.C. and traveled to South Africa to meet with Winnie Mandela while her husband, Nelson Mandela was imprisoned.
As one of the founders of The Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy, she was a strong advocate for world peace. When she died over 14,000 people were in attendance at her funeral.
Betty Shabazz- Freedom's Sister
Freedom's Sisters- Betty Shabazz (1936-1997)
Wife of the Nation of Islam leader Malcolm X, Betty Shabazz was known as “Betty X”, the X representing the African family name she would never know.
As a leader in that community she experienced pain and heartache as she watched the assassination of her husband in 1965. Betty was a registered nurse and was determined to provide for her family of six daughters, being a role model for them in this trying time.
In 1976 she started to work at New York’s Medgar Ever College as an assistant professor, and soon became the head of public relations at the school. She traveled extensively, speaking about civil rights and racial tolerance.
An influential icon in the Islamic community “She never stopped giving and she never became cynical.” She was the epitome of hope and healing.
Harriet Tubman- Freedom's Sister
Freedom's Sisters- Harriet Tubman (1820-1913)
Harriet Tubman known as the “Moses of her people” led hundreds of slaves to freedom though a network of safe houses known as the Underground Railroad.
She later became a great leader in the abolitionist movement as well as an active participant in the Civil War, where she became a spy for the federal forces in South Carolina. She also worked as a nurse and a cook for the Union army.
Active in the women’s suffrage movement as well, she became a symbol of courage and freedom.
C. Delores Tucker- Freedom's Sister
Freedom's Sisters- C. Delores Tucker (1927-2005)
Marching with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and raising funds for the NAACP are just two of the magnificent contributions that Delores Tucker participated in.
Selected as one of 25 of the World’s Most Intriguing People from People magazine, she was most famous for her stance against explicit lyrics from rap and hip-hop. Often taking the brunt of her stance in songs by artists like Eminem and Jay-Z, she undauntedly took them on unwavering in her quest.
She also served on the Advisory Board of the Parents Television Council until her death in 2005.
Frances Ellen Watkins Harper- Freedom's Sister
Freedom's Sisters- Frances Ellen Watkins Harper (1825-1911)
Holding the honor of being the first published African American author, Frances Harper was a writer, lecturer and political activist who lived years ahead of her time.
Not only did she participate in the Underground Railroad, she was influential in preaching education to the recently freed slaves after the war ended.
A firm believer in women’s rights, she was actively involved with the suffrage movement, and also supported the issue of temperance.
Ida B. Wells- Freedom's Sister
Freedom's Sisters- Ida B. Wells (1862-1931)
A fearless woman, and civil rights activist, who documented hundreds of atrocities and lynching’s, Ida B. Wells was best known for her active role in the Woman Suffrage Movement.
A forerunner to Rosa Parks she refused to give up her seat on the train and move to the “Jim Crow” car which was already full. After being pulled from the train by two white men, she later sued the railroad. Her case won in the local circuit court but lost in the appeal to the Supreme Court of Tennessee in 1887. After her refusal to stand in the back of the parades that were held during woman’s suffrage marches, she began to get major media publicity.As playwright Tazewell Thompson sums her up,"...A woman born in slavery, she would grow to become one of the great pioneer activists of the Civil Rights movement. A precursor of Rosa Parks, she was a suffragist, newspaper editor and publisher, investigative journalist, co-founder of the NAACP, political candidate, mother, wife, and the single most powerful leader in the anti-lynching campaign in America. A dynamic, controversial, temperamental, uncompromising race woman, she broke bread and crossed swords with some of the movers and shakers of her time: Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony, Marcus Garvey, Booker T. Washington, W. E. B. Du Bois, Francis Willard, and President McKinley. By any fair assessment, she was a seminal figure in Post-Reconstruction America."
Freedom's Sisters Are Pioneers!
Quoting the Smithsonian Institute itself:
"Much of our national memory of the civil rights movement is embodied by male figureheads whose visibility in boycotts, legal proceedings, and mass demonstrations dominated newspaper and television coverage in the 1950s and ’60s. Missing from that picture is a group of extraordinary women who, while less prominent in the media, shaped much of the spirit and substance of civil rights in America, just as their mothers and grandmothers had done for decades."
These are women pioneers who walked paths that had not been walked before. They were courageous, hopeful and had charity in their hearts as they fought to make things better for future generations to come.
Freedom's Sisters Museum Exhibit in Your Area
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