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Literate practices in women's memoirs of the civil rights movement

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ABSTRACT This dissertation examines the literate practices of women reading and writing in the press during the civil rights movement in the 1950s/60s. Through a textual analysis of literacy events

ABSTRACT This dissertation examines the literate practices of women reading and writing in the press during the civil rights movement in the 1950s/60s. Through a textual analysis of literacy events (Heath) in the memoirs of Sarah Patton Boyle (The Desegregated Heart: A Virginian's Stand in Time of Transition), Anne Braden (The Wall Between), Daisy Bates (The Long Shadow of Little Rock) and Melba Pattillo Beals (Warriors Don't Cry), this dissertation highlights the participatory roles women played in the movement, including their ability to act publicly in a movement remembered mostly for its male leaders. Contributing to scholarship focused on the literate lives of women, this study focuses on the uses of literacy in the lives of four women with particular emphasis on the women's experiences with the literacy they practice. Drawing on ideological views of literacy (Gee, Street) and research focused on the social, cultural and economic influences of such practices (Brandt), the women's memoirs served as the site for collecting and analyzing the women's responses and reactions to literacy events with the press. Through an application of Deborah Brandt's notion of sponsor, literacy events between the women and the press were recorded and the data analyzed to understand the relationship the women had with the literacy available and the role the sponsor (the press) played in shaping the practice and the literate identities of the women. Situated in the racist climate of the Jim Crow South in the 1950s/60s and the secondary role women played in the movement, the women's memoirs and the data analyzed revealed the role the women's perception of the practice, shaped by personal history and lived experiences, played in how the women experienced and used their literacy. This dissertation argues that their responses to literacy events and their perceptions of the power of their reading and writing highlight the significant public role women played in the movement and argues that, although the women remain relatively unremembered participants of the movement, their memoirs act as artifacts of that time and proof of the meaningful public contributions women made to the movement.

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  • 2012