Standing up for their rights - formation of The National Association of Coloured Women in USA
We have all heard of Rosa Parks right? In 1955, after Rosa Parks, a coloured woman living in Montgomery, Alabama, boarded the bus after a long and tiring day at work as a seamstress. As the bus filled up she was ordered to give up her seat to a white passenger by the bus driver who was taken aback at her refusal to do so. She was arrested and charged with violating laws but that day ushered in a significant change in the way coloured people reacted to the subjugation by the whites and Parks became a symbol of the Civil Rights Movement in the USA.
But long before she stood up to such injustice, forays had been made by brave and independent women, to abolish racial inequality. As far back as 1896, a movement was begun to restore the dignity of the coloured people and to ensure equal rights and benefits for them. Though the struggle was hard, it was not in vain.
In 1896, The National Association of Coloured Women ( NACW) was formed and set up in Washington by Josephine Ruffin and Mary Church Terrell. They and the members worked tirelessly and campaigned against evils such as lynching of the coloured members of the community, the Jim Crow Laws which enforced segregation according to colour and fought for coloured women’s right to vote and stand for office. They were successful in this to a large extent and found many followers – by the time America was involved in the First World War, the member count of the NACW was almost 300,000.
These brave women are perhaps the first to start the struggle for equality in a racially biased world and proudly stood at the forefront of their struggle. Their objectives are many - not only did they work for equality on all fronts – religious, social and moral,they also worked to protect rights of women, raise the standards of living and promote education of African American women so that they were able to reach the heights of success on the career front. Their motto was to promote a peaceful integration of all races and allow for inter racial understanding.
The two women who were responsible for starting this movement were both from economically well off homes and used their affluence to further this movement. Josephine Ruffin ( nee St Pierre) was encouraged to go to integrated school by her parents instead of going to segregated ones and this probably gave her the impetus to campaign for equality later. She later used part of her money to sustain Women’s Era, the first journal that was published by African American women. Mary Terrel campaigned in Washington against segregation of eating places etc and was able to legally win the campaign and allow for integration there.
Years later, she made a mark at the Berlin International Congress of Women, giving her speech in brilliant and flawless French and German, standing tall as the only coloured woman in the conference. She was the first president of the association.
The association ushered in a new dawn in the movement for equality against racial discrimination and bias, focusing especially on women and has worked ceaselessly in this regard. They have achieved many a milestone and continue to do so, having worked for over 100 years to do away with the stigma that coloured people, especially coloured women have to endure. Rosa Parks may have been a pioneer in civil rights, but there are many untold stories of women just like her, many years before her, who lit the flame of the movement for racial equality.