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Let Me Help You Learn about Black Women's Organizations in the South

The family of a Tuskegee Institute professor, circa 1920s

Doing a series of post on the Movie The Help based on my own research on southern women and life in the Jim Crow South. Today let me say the obvious which the movie does not: Not all black women in the south worked as domestics. Yes it represented one of the most common forms of employment of black women, but there existed a class of black elites in the south that did not work outside the home. For example a group of women who lived on and around the campus of black colleges organized Woman’s Clubs a self-help and philanthropic groups for well off black women. Most of these black self-help organizations were controlled by upper class women. For example, the Tuskegee Women’s Club, started in 1895, only admitted female faculty members of Tuskegee Institute or wives or female relatives of male Tuskegee faculty.  Most of these women’s clubs left a more substantial paper trail about their struggles to stop the tide of lynching that racked the country at the turn of the century than on their efforts to reduce the amount fried foods African American ate. African American Margaret Washington, the wife of Booker T. Washington, and founder of the Tuskegee Woman’s Club, was a typical progressive era reformer in many ways but not in others. She championed Tuskegee’s mantra of “Bath, Broom, and Bible,” that is cleanliness and Christian morality. What was different about her and other black reformers of the turn of the century was a conservative black nationalism that emphasized teaching black history and encouraging black landownership which she believed would lead to black economic independence. The Help is set in Jackson, Mississippi, the home of Jackson State College a historically black college. The city of Jackson, the state capital, had a vibrant population of black college students, professors, and other black professionals. In fact the students from the college worked closely with other members of the city's black community in creating a strong civil rights movement led in Jackson by the NAACP's Medger Evers. But you would never get that from seeing The Help because it depicts black folks on the whole as one dimensional and too scared to challenge white supremacy. 

Tuskegee Stories and Related Recipes: http://frederickdouglassopie.blogspot.com/search?q=Tuskegee+


Series on the Movie the Help: Montgomery’s “Club from No Where”

Let Me Help You Get More Complex Look at The South