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BHM Student Work Feature: "Women's Experiences in the Civil Rights Movement," by Tess Shields-Mclean

In honour of Black History Month, the Department of History is featuring undergraduate student research that addresses Black histories, Black cultures, and Black experiences. Throughout the month of February, we will post the eight essays deemed to be the strongest of the many exceptional projects we received during our open submission call. We hope you enjoy reading our students’ work.

The Selection Committee would like to thank all of those who submitted their work for consideration.

Our fifth selection for our Student Research Showcase is "Women’s Experiences in the Civil Rights Movement," an essay written by Tess Shields-Mclean for the upper-year History seminar course, HIST 473: Black Women in U.S. History.

The assignment asked students to consider the ways gender and generation shaped the experiences of Black and/or white women during the Civil Rights Movement. In response to this prompt, Tess' paper examines the experiences of women within the Civil Rights Movement and highlights how Black women’s experiences were distinct from those of white women or Black men. Through the use of secondary and primary sources, Tess examines gender roles and associated constraints within the Civil Rights Movement and draws on evidence from accusations and accounts of sexism within the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and Southern Christian Leadership Council (SCLC). 

As Tess argues,

[B]oth Black and white women faced sexism in civil rights organizations, which impacted their experiences and how they were viewed, but Black women were more likely to engage in high-risk activism because of the direct impact of racism, discrimination, and inequality on their lives. Black and white women had different motivations for becoming involved in the movement, and they also became involved through different recruitment networks. Black women who were engaged in high-risk activism commonly experienced violence and threat of violence. The work and leadership of women, but especially Black women who were the backbone of the movement, has been largely under-recognized.

Tess is a fourth-year History student at Queen's University.

Read the full essay here


Tess Shields-Mclean

Department of History, Queen's University

49 Bader Lane, Watson Hall 212
Kingston ON K7L 3N6




Queen's University is situated on traditional Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabe territory.