‘It doesn’t mean they weren’t transformational’: Philly event celebrates women of the Civil Rights Movement

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They cooked and fundraised, helped people to vote, and put their lives at risk in the name of racial equality. But the Black women who helped fuel the Civil Rights Movement from behind the scenes are rarely recognized — even on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

On Monday, a panel event at the Independence Visitor Center in Philadelphia sought to change that for at least one afternoon. While honoring the legacy of the holiday’s namesake, the discussion focused on the movement’s many hidden figures and their critical roles.

Panelists talk about the hidden role of women in the Civil Rights Movement during a Martin Luther King Day event hosted by WHYY and NewCORE. Host Cherri Gregg (left) joins panelists, (from left) the Rev. William Gipson, the Rev. Dr, Donna Lawrence Jones, and Dr. Doreen E. Loury. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Women like Amelia Boyton Robinson: A voting rights activist who was knocked unconscious on “Bloody Sunday,” when law enforcement officers beat unarmed marchers crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama.

Women like Ella Baker: A shrewd organizer who helped form the influential Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, commonly known as SNCC.

Women like Dr. Prathia Hall: A native Philadelphian whose words in 1962 inspired King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, delivered during the March on Washington about a year later on a stage with just one woman.

The Rev. Dr. Donna Lawrence Jones (center) talks about the unseen role of women in the Civil Rights Movement during a panel discussion hosted by WHYY and NewCORE, ”Conversations of King: Hidden Faces Behind the Work.” (Emma Lee/WHYY)

“The women weren’t seen as threatening, they weren’t seen as contributing, they weren’t seen. It doesn’t mean they weren’t transformational. It doesn’t mean that they weren’t taking great risks,” said Rev. Donna Lawrence Jones, executive director of the Metropolitan Christian Council of Philadelphia.

  • January 16, 2024
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