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American Women: Resources from the Manuscript Collections

African American Civil Rights

Nine African-American women posed, standing, full length, with Nannie Burroughs holding banner reading, "Banner State Woman's National Baptist Convention". Between 1905 and 1915. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Women's involvement in the twentieth-century civil rights movement is another aspect of reform particularly well documented by the division's holdings—both in the papers of individuals such as Mary Church Terrell, Nannie Helen Burroughs, Mamie Phipps Clark, Jennie Dee Booth Moton, Mabel M. Smythe, and Patricia Harris described elsewhere and in the records of numerous organizations.

One of the largest and most frequently consulted collections consists of the records of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) (2,575,375 items; 1842-1992; bulk 1919-1978). Founded in 1908 as the National Negro Committee, a biracial protest group, the NAACP developed into the nation's premier civil rights organization, focusing much of its attention on obtaining legal equality for African Americans. Women have played a key role in the association from its earliest beginnings, and material by and about women appears throughout the collection. Of particular importance are the diaries, correspondence, and other papers of Mary White Ovington (1865-1951), one of the group's founders, who in her forty years with the organization served as an officer of the New York City branch, national secretary, and chairman of the board. Other officials include Daisy Bates, Mildred Bond, Hazel Bowman, Serena Davis, Joan Franklin, Addie W. Hunton, Ruby Hurley, Daisy Lampkin, Catharine D. Lealtad, Juanita Jackson Mitchell, Constance Baker Motley, June Shagaloff, and Althea T. L. Simmons. The collection's voluminous finding aid lists numerous women correspondents, including Mary McLeod Bethune, Myrlie B. Evers, and Pauli Murray. Also available are files on the National Training School for Girls, the National Woman's Party, women's suffrage, the Equal Rights Amendment, the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps, and the Young Women's Christian Association.

Elton C. Fax, artist. Finish the fight!--Join NAACP now. [19]46. NAACP promotional poster showing woman voting, boy carrying books, and man working. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

For fund-raising and tax purposes, the NAACP established in 1939 the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (1,057,500 items; 1915-87; bulk 1940-87), the records of which cover many of the same topics found in the files of the parent organization. Of interest to women's historians are the papers of attorney Constance Baker Motley (b. 1921), an expert in housing issues; materials relating to Josephine Baker's discriminatory treatment; and files concerning the fund's handling of rape cases.

In 1910, just two years after the creation of the NAACP, three New York City welfare organizations merged to become the National League on Urban Conditions among Negroes, later the National Urban League (NUL). The division holds the records of the NUL's national headquarters (483,600 items; 1910-1986; bulk 1930-79), Washington, D.C., bureau (26,100 items; 1961-1985) and southern regional office (106,600 items; 1900-1988; bulk 1943-1978). Among these materials are: personal papers (1931-1986) of league employee Ann Taneyhill; files on Marian Anderson, Isobel Chisholm, and Malvina Hoffman; information on aid to dependent children, black women in World War II, Camp Fire Girls, child care, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, domestic workers, African American social workers, and the Young Women's Christian Association. The NUL Southern Regional Office records contain files on Bethune-Cookman College, the Big Brother and Big Sister movement, and the Women in Non-Traditional Jobs Program. A separate collection of the personal papers of Ann Taneyhill (350 items; 1879-2012; bulk 1920-1985) also document her career as an official and vocational guidance program director with the NUL.

Although labor issues and labor unions came under the purview of both the NAACP and NUL, those topics are more fully explored in the records of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP) (41,000 items; 1920-1968; bulk 1950-1968) and in the personal papers of the brotherhood's founder A. Philip Randolph (13,000 items; 1909-1979; bulk 1941-1968). Women are not the focus of either collection, but both sources contain financial records and miscellaneous papers relating to the BSCP's Ladies Auxiliary. In addition, the BSCP records contain information on the work of railroad maids and correspondence from such prominent women as Josephine Baker, Mary McLeod Bethune, Freda Kirchwey, Eartha Kitt, and Anna M. Rosenberg.

[Rosa Parks – National Urban League Award]. July 24, 2004. Rosa Parks Papers. Library of Congress Manuscript Division.

Nearly twenty-five years after establishing the BSCP, Randolph joined Roy Wilkins and Arnold Aronson in founding the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR) (93,350 items; 1943-91; bulk 1960-87), a coalition of more than one hundred national organizations dedicated to the enactment and enforcement of civil rights legislation on the federal level. Yvonne Braithwaite, Shirley Chisholm, Patricia Roberts Harris, Coretta Scott King, Esther Peterson, Natalie P. Shear, and Glenda Sloan are among the correspondents represented in the LCCR records. Subject files of interest are titled affirmative action, displaced homemakers, Equal Rights Amendment, International Women's Year, women's rights, women's issues, and World Conference of the United Nations Decade for Women. Dozens of women's organizations are also represented in the collection, including such diverse groups as B'nai B'rith Women, National Association of Colored Women's Clubs, National Council of Catholic Women, and Women's Legal Defense Fund.

Rosa Parks (1913-2005), a seasoned civil rights activist who organized to free the Scottsboro Boys in the 1930s and helped operate the offices of the NAACP and Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters in Montgomery during the 1940s and 1950s, is best known for her refusal to give up her seat to a white man on a crowded bus in Montgomery, Alabama, on December 1, 1955. Her papers (7,500 items; 1866-2005; bulk 1955-2000) demonstrate her commitment to the struggle for social justice and human rights throughout her lifetime, inspiring millions of people around the world.

In 1970 civil rights lawyer William L. Taylor established the Center for National Policy Review (50,300 items; 1959-1986; bulk 1971-1985) to monitor the government's enforcement of and compliance with federal civil rights laws. Coming under the center's consideration were the Women in Construction Compliance Monitoring Project, Title IX, sex and pregnancy discrimination, the feminization of poverty, and the Equal Rights Amendment.

In 1980, Anne B. Turpeau (b. 1924) and Faith Berry (b. 1939) were part of the American delegation to the World Conference of the United Nations Decade for Women in Copenhagen, Denmark. Turpeau, a social activist affiliated with the Washington Urban League and the District of Columbia Commission for Women, collected files (20,000 items; 1915-1986; bulk 1960-1986) relating to the UN conference and to numerous African American women's groups, including the Organization of Black Activist Women, Black Women's Agenda, and National Council of Negro Women. Berry's papers (2,500 items; 1963-1984; bulk 1971-1983), on the other hand, primarily relate to her research on the life and literary career of poet Langston Hughes and her work as media coordinator for the President's Advisory Committee for Women.

Manuscript Resources Referenced

The following collection titles link to fuller bibliographic information in the Library of Congress Online Catalog. Links to additional online content, including finding aids for the collections, are included when available.