Fannie Lou Hamer, Dorothy Height and Viola Liuzzo: not just a dream, initiators for equality

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University of Alabama Libraries

This thesis uses the standpoint theory and lived experiences method, introduced by Patricia Hill Collins and Sandra Harding, to examine the lives of three women who were active in fighting for freedom, equality, and a more democratic society for all citizens. It is argued that these women were concurrently combating issues associated with sexism, racism, classism, and disabilities in order to create a more fair society. My research indicates their motives for publicly fighting racism stem from their childhoods, a strong sense of social justice, and the desire to create a safer world. They envisioned a world where nobody feared for their lives simply for casting a ballot or dining at a lunch counter. The first chapter briefly discusses the history of the Civil Rights Movement and actions taken when systematic forms of redress do not create results. The chapter also discusses gender roles, coalition building, the need for allies and their roles, as well as race, class, and gender politics. The discussion of using structural violence, systematic oppression, accusations of mental instability, and disabilities are also introduced; showing how they all intersected during instances of political and social turbulence. The chapter presents the concept as whiteness as property, a concept researched and introduced by Cheryl I. Harris, and how bodies are racialized. The second chapter acknowledges the work of Dorothy Height. Height used her education, class standing, and knowledge to fight for equality for Black people within society and politics. Facing sexism and racism, Height instigated many of the most well-known marches and platforms for equality among races. Sharing the stage with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Height in some ways accepted oppressions of sexism, but rallied against racism. The third chapter recognizes Viola Liuzzo, wife and mother to five children, from Detroit, Michigan. Liuzzo came south to challenge the violence and mistreatment accompanying the struggle for civil rights. Using her voice, dedication, and car to transport marchers, Liuzzo would become noted as the only white woman to lose her life in the Civil Rights Movement. The discussion surrounding Liuzzo will include how bodies are racialized and discredited when white women joined the ranks with Black freedom fighters. The fourth chapter discusses the role that Fannie Lou Hamer had toward empowering Black and poor white people. Hamer had a vision of a more just and democratic society. Facing racism, sexism, classism, and disability issues, Hamer used her experiences and rhetorical talent to break societal barriers. Becoming a victim of structural violence herself, she told her story in order to protect others. The fifth chapter conceptualizes why I chose to bring these three women together for discussion. The chapter discusses common experiences and ideas these women shared and draws conclusions about their similar motivations. Another major aspect discussed in this chapter is how these women crossed class, geographical, and race lines to work toward a common goal. This research suggests that all three women were aware of the dangers they faced when crossing these boundaries, but did it anyway for a need much greater than their own.

Electronic Thesis or Dissertation
Women's studies