Civil Rights, Women, and Alabama – An Important Part of National History
Alabama is the 22nd state of the United States. It has long played a dramatic and key role in the human and civil rights story of this country. Known as the “Heart of Dixie”, the state was once almost 100% agricultural, particularly during and just after the Confederate Civil War. Today, however, it is a state famous for its technical manufacturing, banking, health care, aerospace, and education. Indeed, it is home to Alabama A&M, one of the best universities of its kind in the country.
Alabama, unfortunately, is also closely associated with civil rights violations, and particularly against African Americans. Yet, two of the greatest minds and reformers of the Civil Rights movement were women from Alabama. They were Sue Berta Coleman and Pattie Ruffner Jacobs, who some say were the heart of the Progressive Movement. Reconstructionism turned the state of Alabama into an urbanized, industrialized society, and women found that the role of the Southern Belle were too traditional for this. No longer were women seen as homemakers, they became integral parts of society. Yet, they endured social problems such as illiteracy, disease, and prejudice. Women like Jacobs and Coleman addressed this with the strongest voices possible.
Jacobs was white, Coleman was African American. The two women were never in contact with each other. This is because they lived at the start of the 20th century, when segregation was still in full force in the state. Hence, women faced the same issues regardless of color, but they could not work through the same organizations. Both women focused on humanitarian and social reforms, which included literacy programs, neighborhood improvements, health issues, temperance, and child welfare. Organizations like the Alabama Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs, the Alabama Federation of Women’s Clubs, the Alabama Equal Suffrage Association, the Alabama Child Labor Committee, and the Alabama Women’s Christian Temperance Union all focused on these important issues.
Women in Alabama wanted to gain more influence and power and joined the suffrage movement. Black women had the added complication of being disenfranchised due to their skin color. However, women like Pattie Ruffner Jacobs played a key role in ratifying the 19th Amendment, which is the women’s suffrage amendment. The Alabama Progressive Movement, in 1920, accomplished reforms in industry, prison, and education, for both girls and boys.
Sue Berta Coleman, meanwhile, worked on ensuring black families in Alabama had proper access to vocational and literacy training, childcare, and nutrition. She did this mainly for young black women. She focused, at first, on domestic and family skills such as sewing and cooking, but the women she worked with even managed to go to college, something that was totally unheard of not long before that, becoming teachers. Indeed, many of these women went to what is now Alabama A&M. These two brave Alabama women set the standard for women all over the state and the country and, some say, even the world. Everybody owes them a great debt of gratitude.