Ohio State Newark Professor Adds to Civil Rights Literature
NEWARK, OH, December 14, 2015 — Much has been written about the civil rights era, but not enough has been said about black women’s influence on the civil rights movement. Associate Professor Tiyi Morris, Ph.D., brings black women to the forefront as agents of change in her book Womanpower Unlimited and the Black Freedom Struggle in Mississippi.
“It is my responsibility as a historian to continue to uncover the ways in which black women have contributed to the black freedom movement and how black women have sustained their families, their communities and each other,” said Morris. “This work demonstrates the legacy of black women’s activism that extends from anti-slavery and feminist activism in the early 1800s to the #BlackLivesMatter movement today.”
Womanpower Unlimited was a black women’s civil rights organization based in Jackson, Miss. Founded in 1961, the organization was created initially to provide aid to Freedom Riders, but its activism expanded to include programs such as voter registration drives, youth education and participation in Women Strike for Peace.
“Black women, and Womanpower specifically, were central to Movement success within the state,” said Morris.
In the book, Morris chronicles the organization’s role in sustaining the civil rights movement in Mississippi. She examines the roles of “local people” as well as some of the lesser known women upon whom activists, both inside and outside the state, relied. Womanpower Unlimited brings black women to the center of civil rights scholarship, not just as support workers, but as key leaders. Their idea of civic engagement was a visionary philosophy grounded in a legacy of Black women’s activism, yet unique to the social movement during which it existed.
The research is personal to Morris, who is a native of Jackson, Miss. and the daughter of civil rights activists. Despite what she calls a solid education from her parents on the civil rights movement, she had never heard of Womanpower Unlimited.
“I was interested in the experiences of people who looked like me,” she said. “Writing this book allowed me to center black women’s civil rights activism and demonstrate their centrality to the movement in spite of a lack of recognition.”
As passionate as she is about her own research, Morris is equally passionate about advising students in their own research interests and guiding them to make practical use of the knowledge gained in the classroom.
She teaches African American and African Studies at Ohio State Newark. Her interdisciplinary research and teaching focus combines the fields of American History, Black Studies and Women’s Studies. With this focus, she has taught courses such as 20th century US History; Gender, Sex and Power; Black Feminist Thought; and The Civil Rights-Black Power Movements.
In January and March, Morris and Associate Dean Virginia Cope, Ph.D., took five students to New Orleans. Students interviewed Mardi Gras Indians and, working with Newark-based filmmaker Mike Yearling, produced a documentary on the Indian queens. Students also developed individual research which was presented at the Ohio State Newark Student Research Forum and at the Centennial Conference of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History in Atlanta, Ga.
“I am proud of the students’ work, not only because they produced a stellar documentary but also because it is grounded in the knowledge that they gained from their work in African American and African Studies and Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies,” she said. “Their appreciation of black culture and art, their understanding of survival as resistance, and their understanding of the need to center women’s voices, directed both their interview questions and the film they produced.”
The documentary will air on the PBS Station in Newark Orleans in January 2016 alongside a film on the Indians’ chiefs made by another group of Ohio State Newark students. Until then, you can read Womanpower Unlimited, available through Amazon at http://amzn.to/1KNcthZ.
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