Date of Award

Spring 2005

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Harvard Sitkoff


This dissertation examines the role of female civil rights activists in the black struggle for equality in Louisiana. Drawing on the fields of history, sociology, political science, and gender studies, this project demonstrates that women were indispensable figures in the freedom struggle in Louisiana throughout the twentieth century, and highlights their roles as organizers, participants, and leaders.

The project focuses on the entire state of Louisiana, but more specifically in areas where civil rights organizations concentrated their efforts. While many historical studies of the movement begin with the Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, this study looks at a tradition of dissent that existed well before that historic case and into the late 1960s when the movement "proper" began to wane.

A central theme of this dissertation is the role of women as organizers and leaders. Previous studies have almost solely focused on the leadership of men. I contend, however, that gender variables played a crucial role in how women's roles were perceived. This study challenges the notion that "men led, women organized," and places female activism at the center. In the context of the social, political, and cultural mores of the time, women aptly performed duties similar and equal to that of men.

Long before the modern civil rights movement took hold throughout the South, women challenged the racial status quo in Louisiana, advocating for better pay and working conditions, equality in public and private arenas, and fighting for the rights of African Americans to equal access in education. During the 1950s and 1960s, black and white women worked together to create interracial alliances to challenge the state during the school desegregation crises that ensued post-Brown, for access to public transportation, and in gaining the right to vote. As this study shows, women were not passive participants in the movement for black rights, but emerged as leaders and heroines in the Louisiana civil rights movement.