Sunday, October 01, 2006

Civil Rights Tales Of Black Women In The 60's

From Everyday Gospel Magazine
Everyday Gospel

UNDAUNTED BY THE FIGHT: Spelman College and the Civil Rights Movement

(1957 - 1967)

Interview with author Dr. Harry G. Lefever by Hattie Robinson - 100106
UNDAUNTED BY THE FIGHT is a study of a small but dedicated group of Spelman College students and faculty who between 1957 and 1967, risked their lives, compromised their grades, and jeopardized their careers to make Atlanta, the South, and the nation a more just and open society.

Although the primary focus is on one educational institution (Spelman) and one city (Atlanta), the study, in fact covers a much broader context in that it documents the civil rights actions of Spelman students and faculty outside Atlanta.

It is important that the story of Spelman's involvement in the civil rights movement be told by the women who lived it.

Author, Dr. Harry G. Lefever is Professor Emeritus of Sociology at Spelman College, Atlanta, Georgia. We had the privileged of talking with him about UNDAUNTED BY THE FIGHT (Mercer University Press).

EGM: Dr. Lefever could you please give us a brief history of Spelman College's start?

HL: Spelman College was founded in 1881 by two New England white women, Sophia B. Packard and Harriet E. Giles both of whom worked with the women's committee of the American Baptist Church. With $100.00 from First Baptist Church of Medford, Massachusetts and the promise of support from the group that sent them they set out to open a school for "Colored Women" which originally was called The Atlanta Baptist Women's Seminary.

Their first school was opened in the basement of Friendship Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia . One of their classrooms was in the "coal bin" of the church. Working with their first class of eleven women who were barely literate the course emphasis was basic reading and writing skills coupled with social training. The school soon exploded in size and had to move from the church basement. To this end a plot of land with barracks that had been utilized by the Union Army during the Civil War was secured. Packard and Giles bought this land with the help of John D. Rockefeller whose wife's maiden name in 1884 became the name of the school, Spelman.

Packard and Giles fought to keep Spelman a women's school since back then it was a seminary and back in New England there was a push to combine the women's seminary with the men's which had been located across the street. That men's seminary eventually developed and became known as Morehouse.

From its inception up until 1953 Spelman College presidents were White. The first Black college president was Albert Manley. He was president from 1953 until 1976 the period that my book covers.

EGM : The Civil Rights period of 1957 - 1967 you focus on in the book. Who were some of the faculty and students you highlight during that period of time?

HL: Dr. Howard Zinn and Dr. Whitney Young were very influential faculty at that time. In fact Dr. Zinn who was white was dismissed from Spelman for his support of student participation in the civil rights actions in Atlanta by Albert Manley the college president of the time.

Marilyn Price, Alice Walker (author and playwright), and Gwendolyn Robinson are just a few of the Spelman student names that come to mind that I cover in some detail in the book.

EGM: Most recently Spelman College women have risen again to detest the way African American women are portrayed in popular music videos. Is it safe to say that we will continue to see women of Spelman involved in causes that reflect their tradition of protest?

HL : Yes there is no doubt that will continue. This goes back to the very founding of the college and the traditions established by Packard and Giles the founders. A victorian concept of teaching "service".

The latest publicity Spelman has received involved an opposition to an appearance by rap artist Nelly. There were enough students who felt that Nelly's depiction of a women's buttocks as a credit card slide over shadowed fund raising for a charity. This rebuff led to Nelly canceling his appearance.

One must be aware that just like back during the civil rights movement of the 50s and 60s the students who came forth to stand during this episode were a minority not a majority of the students. But this is still reflective of the norm when it comes to activism and social change.

We must remember that Dr. Martin Luther King was not originally supported by many in the black community. But for any just cause it does not take many to get the movement started.

EGM suggests that you place this book in your library. Not only does it have historical significance but it opens a world of information that should be remembered and honored. Ask for it at your favorite book store or go on-line at


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