Date of Graduation

8-2017

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in History (PhD)

Degree Level

Graduate

Department

History

Advisor

Calvin White

Committee Member

Pearl K. Dowe

Second Committee Member

Steven Rosales

Keywords

Black Womanhood, Civil Rights, Intersectionality, US South

Abstract

“And They Entered as Ladies: When Race, Class and Black Femininity Clashed at Central High School,” explores the intersectionality of race, gender and class status as middle-class black women led the integration movement and were the focal point of white backlash during the 1957 Little Rock Central High School crisis. Six of the nine black students chosen to integrate Central High School were carefully selected girls from middle-class homes, whose mothers and female family members played active parts in keeping their daughters enrolled at Central, while Daisy Gatson Bates orchestrated the integration of the capital’s school system. Nevertheless, these women have generally been examined through the lens of black male activism or as catalysts for white women’s gendered and social fears. The marginalization of these women’s experiences at Central High ignores their uniquely gendered and racialized challenges that factored profoundly in the violent defense of white supremacy that targeted middle-class black femininity, and women who bore every credential for the title of Southern 'lady'--except for skin color. These women, their motivations and experiences in a pivotal moment in civil rights history must be examined with the same gravity that has been afforded to the singular racial component of the Little Rock school crisis, as well as to the gender and class explorations that have been afforded to segregationist, moderate, and liberal white participants. My work will expand our understanding of the social crisis in the Arkansas capitol, center the voices of black Arkansan women in the historical record, and provide a springboard for understanding how black women have organized for social justice, been marginalized in those same movements, and transcended intersectional discrimination across the nation.

Available for download on Tuesday, September 11, 2018

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