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Unpublished Paper
Marching Across the Putative Black/White Race Line: A Convergence of Narrology, History and Theory
ExpressO (2012)
  • Carol Zeiner, St. Thomas University

When a woman in the South, whether African American or white, made the decision to become active in the U.S. Civil Rights Movement, she did so in the face of reprisals that ranged from loss of friends and alienation of relatives, to outright social ostracism, loss of employment for family members, physical harm and even violent death. Her choice exposed not only herself, but also members of her family, to those risks. She had to deal with the fear of not knowing which of those reprisals would come her way and, if she had children or were married, which of them might be visited on her children or husband. The scholarly literature includes works on Black women who braved these risks to stand for racial equality. It has come to include the stories of southern-born, atypical white women who chose to stand in harm’s way in order express their moral convictions for racial justice. It also includes the stories of Northern white women who supported the civil rights movement in the North, and Northern white women who travel south for brief periods to work on specific projects, such as Freedom Summer. This article introduces a new category of women that, until now, has been omitted from the scholarly literature: northern white women who lived in the South and became active in the civil rights movement, yet intended to continue to live in the South on a permanent basis following their activism. These women already were viewed with suspicion as “newcomers” and “outsiders” in the deeply segregated communities in which they resided. They chose to validate those suspicions and become permanently branded with the pejorative ”civil rights supporter” by joining their ostracized women counterparts, both African American, and white, in the fight for social and economic justice for African Americans. This article presents the stories – a narrology -- of two such women, one as she first made her choice to become active and faced her fears, and the other a seasoned veteran of the civil rights movement in the South. It provides insight into their experiences and the thought processes that led them to challenge the status quo on civil rights. This article also eliminates a criticism often leveled at legal narrology: the reliability of the stories. It authenticates these women’s stories through their convergence with extensive historic detail, including comparison with the scholarly literature about other categories of white women civil rights activists. It then goes on to examine their experiences through the lens of the jurisprudential theory, therapeutic jurisprudence. The result is a cogent, reliable addition to the literature that provides another perspective and voice, and deeper understanding of those historic and tumultuous times. Like works on other categories of women who participated in the civil rights movement, this article expands our knowledge of the breadth and complexity of the civil rights movement, biracial activism, and women’s identities and interests.

Publication Date
February 24, 2012
Citation Information
Carol Zeiner. "Marching Across the Putative Black/White Race Line: A Convergence of Narrology, History and Theory" ExpressO (2012)
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