Saturday, March 15, 2008

5224: Freedom’s Sisters.

From The Associated Press…

Exhibit honors women’s contributions to civil rights

CINCINNATI — A veteran civil rights leader says the Democratic presidential field this year represents what she and others who have worked for equal rights have long anticipated.

Myrlie Evers-Williams was in Cincinnati on Friday to preview a new Smithsonian traveling exhibit called “Freedom’s Sisters” that showcases the pivotal roles she and 19 other black women played in the struggle for civil rights.

Referring to the strong candidacies of a woman and a black man, Evers-Williams said, “I knew this day would come; it was a matter of when.”

She urged people to look at the campaigns of Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton as the result of years of work by many people -- including those represented in the exhibit -- who have struggled for equal rights, regardless of race or gender.

“It’s more than time for this to happen,” Evers-Williams said.

Fellow civil rights activists and honorees Dorothy Height, Sonia Sanchez and Charlayne Hunter-Gault also attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony at the Cincinnati Museum Center, where the exhibit opens to the public Saturday. The four, along with activist and professor Kathleen Cleaver, are the only living women among the 20 whose lives are chronicled in the exhibit.

Evers-Williams’ husband, NAACP leader Medgar Evers, was assassinated in their driveway in Mississippi in 1963, and she continued her activism after his death. She served as chairwoman of the board of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and became the first black female commissioner of public works in Los Angeles.

Height, who was elected president of the National Council of Negro Women in 1957, was often the only woman in attendance at top civil rights meetings in the 1950s and 1960s. Poet and playwright Sanchez was a leading voice in the Black Power movement of the 1960s, while journalist Hunter-Gault and another student won a court case enabling them in 1961 to become the first black students at the University of Georgia.

Height, 95, said she also was thrilled to live to see the strong candidacies of a black man and a woman, as well as an exhibit honoring some of the many black women who contributed to the growth of civil rights -- women she said have not always received enough recognition for their efforts.

“When I look back and see all these women who always had a positive outlook and knew what could happen, it makes me so grateful to be part of this,” Height said. “I hope the young people seeing these stories will realize that we have come a long way, but we also have a long way to go.”

The exhibit was created by the Cincinnati Museum Center in collaboration with the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service and funded by a grant from Ford Motor Co. It includes large-scale photos of the women, accompanied by information about their contributions and several interactive displays.

Among the honorees is Rosa Parks, whose refusal to give up her bus seat to a white man in Montgomery, Ala., in 1955 led to the end of segregation in public transportation and helped spark the civil rights movement. But also honored are lesser-known women such as Septima Poinsette Clark.

Clark, fired in 1956 after 40 years as a South Carolina teacher because of her NAACP membership, later started the Citizenship Schools that taught adults reading and writing skills required to pass voter literacy tests.

Clark’s granddaughter traveled from her home in Atlanta to see the exhibit. She said it would have made her grandmother proud, but humble.

“She didn’t think anyone should think big things of her,” said Yvonne Clark, who cried when she saw the exhibit. “She just did what she felt was the right thing to do.”

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