“Tell Them about the Dream Martin!”: The Retelling, Reframing, and Re-examination of the Civil Rights Movement through a Black Feminist and Postmodern Lens
Date of Degree
Arts and Humanities | Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies
Black, Women, Gender, Civil Rights Movement
This research seeks to explore the intersectionality of race, gender, and class that existed during the Civil Rights Movement, and the tensions that were a result of that intersectionality. This is accomplished through a re-examination of The Movement through a post-modern and Black feminist lens. Post-modern theorist Jean Francois Lyotard proposes the necessity of throwing off the grand narratives or metanarratives of well-known historical events, with the intention of creating micronarratives that depend heavily on the experiences of those who lived during those times. The aim of this research is to conduct a gendered study of the CRM, while investigating the unequal positions of power that Black men and Black women held during The Movement.
Additionally, I will examine the oppressive tactics utilized by Black male leaders of that time, as they sought to promulgate their own rhetoric, while suppressing the rhetoric of Black women. The emergence of organizations like the BWOA (Black Women Organized for Action and the NBFO (National Black Feminist Organization) that gained national attention in 1973, are indicators that all was not harmonious within the movement. It seems clear that for the duration of the CRM, Black women were forced to resist both the racism without The Movement, and the sexism within. Parallel to my examination of the linguistic oppression and subsequent linguistic erasure of the Black female rhetors of the CRM, is my examination of how linguistic oppression of marginalized students is prevalent in academia today. It is this skewed binary of the university that tends to privilege “powerful” white male figures in the academy and to alienate people of color, women, members of the working class, and multilingual and marginalized students. The diverse discourse represented by marginalized students, are not deemed legitimate within some quarters of the academy. These groups still grapple with having the discourses from their native communities deemed illegitimate and subjected to what I call “linguistic lynching” from the time they enter the educational system.
I postulate that feminist pedagogy can allow for the existence of alternative discourses within the academic community, and more specifically in the composition classroom. Alternative discourses have the potential to allow for new ways of thinking and being in the academy. The hierarchical structure of institutions of higher education have historically acknowledged the traditional discursive practices subscribed to and prescribed by those in power, as those institutions worked to privilege an entrenched white male elite and alienate an ever more diverse body of both faculty and students. Championing alternative discourses can allow space for the language of marginalized students to be heard, validated, and for new forms of knowledge production in the academy. This new type of knowledge production should arise from student-centered learning, as it positions students as experts of their own culture and seeks to celebrate rather than negate their native languages. This can and should challenge traditional teaching practices, genre, and analysis in composition. The argument for alternative discourses within composition, is an argument for legitimacy, and for inclusion. I do not argue that ASE (American Standard English) should be eradicated in the composition classroom. However, I do argue that ASE should not be given elite status within the hierarchy of language in the classroom. It should partner with other alternative discourses in order to empower students who find that they must continually battle attempts at cultural, and linguistic erasure from the dominant culture both within and without the university.
I propose nothing less than feminist activism in the composition classroom, that seeks to rectify and remediate the historical privileged white male discourse of the university, through the implementation of feminist pedagogy. This seems a natural outgrowth of the research for my dissertation project that seeks to excavate suppressed rhetoric, restore the historical and cultural memory of buried narratives, and ultimately disseminate and recirculate the historically disavowed discourses of subjugated people to a wider audience. Specifically, the buried or disqualified rhetoric at the center of my interest is Black female discourse suppressed during the CRM. My research will attempt to explicate the underlying theme that is an important backdrop of The Movement: the suppression of Black female rhetoric, as opposed to the favored dissemination of Black male speech and writing. My work both in the classroom, and in my own research, leads me to advocate for the often-neglected voices of subjugated people.
Elliott-Hubbard, Damele, "“Tell Them about the Dream Martin!”: The Retelling, Reframing, and Re-examination of the Civil Rights Movement through a Black Feminist and Postmodern Lens" (2023). CUNY Academic Works.