Women, SNCC, and Stokely
An Email Dialog, 2013-14


Chude Pam Parker Allen   
Elaine Baker
Nina Boal
Joan C. Browning
Judith Ezekiel
Casey Hayden
Joyce Ladner
Sheila Michaels
Marsha Rose
Muriel Tillinghast
Lise Vogel

See also How and Why Did Women in SNCC Author a Pathbreaking Feminist Manifesto for additional information.

Marsha Rose
12/28/2013 12:10 AM


I just read this statement online:

At a Student Non-Violent Coordinating Council (SNCC) staff meeting, Ruby Doris Smith presented a paper on "The Position of Women in SNCC." SNCC leader Stokely Carmichael declared, "The only position for women in SNCC is prone." (1964)

Is there anyone who remembers the paper? Is it still in existence? Where can I get a copy? [Posted here.]


Judith Ezekiel
12/28/2013 7:13 AM

This is the paper by Mary King and Casey Hayden.


Lise Vogel
12/28/2013 7:50 AM

And Mary King has a very different account of the context within which Stokely made that remark. In Freedom Song.


Judith Ezekiel
12/28/2013 10:18 AM

I do understand the context in which the statement was first made and would forgive Carmichael's comment. However in other works, it's been shown that he repeated the statement for laughs. The repetition showed the sexism more than the first comment. Still, it is terribly unfair that he be reduced to that comment in much of the history of the women's movement.


Nina Boal
12/28/2013 10:30 AM

Wow! I remember reading Casey Hayden and Mary King's paper when it came out. It was sometime in 1966 when I was in Philadelphia, MS. I remember relating so much with what was in this paper.

I have a confession to make. Back when I first arrived in Mississippi, at one of the orientations, we were asked what skills we had, including office skills such as typing: I realized that if I admitted that I knew how to type, that's all I would be doing during my time in Mississippi. Being young and wanting to experience adventure, as well as wanting to help the Movement, I acted as if I knew nothing about typing. So as a result, I was assigned to community organization and voter registration work out in the field. As it turned out, we didn't have enough staff to have anyone just stay in an office doing nothing but typing.


Muriel Tillinghast
12/28/2013 1:56 PM

I don't know of any paper ever written by Ruby Doris. When did she have the time? And, out of a deep respect for her and her work, I would not venture to speak on what I know was her thinking internal to the organization.

The one line referenced to Carmichael is out of context, it is an anachronism, if you will. Carmichael's off-handed remark is truly much ado about nothing, it is neither a fitting legacy for him or for SNCC women. To make it more than that is to try to draw analogies in concert with some contemporary feminist thinking which was nascent, if at all, within the organization. Gender relationships were rather non-specific and based on skill, interest and mettle. Movement work was not a walk in the park. All of our efforts were driven to staying alive, staying afloat and doing the tasks given to us, more often than not, from Ruby Doris who was one of the central figures making the architecture of SNCC happen. Carmichael's comment was a quip, a style in speaking for which he was well known.

Let it rest. Please!


Joyce Ladner
12/28/2013 2:45 PM

Dear Muriel,

I agree with you 100 percent. I have some thoughts on the issue as well. The skills of everyone were needed to do whatever had to be done. I have stated numerous times that I, too, have grown weary of contemporary feminists and those who preceded them who wish to draw broad grand theories of white female subjugation in SNCC based almost entirely on Stokely's quip. As you said, he often quipped about various things, large and small. For those who want to delve into this black hole of nothingness, I suggest that they study Stokely/Kwame Ture's behavior. His record speaks to his deep respect and admiration for SNCC women.

The type of "retrospective" analysis that is done by those who are looking for sexism under every rock is unfair and meaningless insofar as I am concerned. To type or not to type is a metaphor for those who are looking for evidence for how they feel black brutish SNCC men kept their Delta muddy black boots on the necks of white females. I wish more people who are interested in the psychodynamics of black male — white female relations in SNCC would not start with a set of a priori assumptions but would conduct empirical research not on how, but whether, such discrimination existed.

By the way, I was one of the best typists in SNCC and I loved working in the office because it was often the nerve center. In no way did I denigrate office work or think it was beneath me. I will never forget the time Bob Moses asked me to answer a stack of letters he received from northern supporters. I remember that one letter contained a check for $500.00, a not insignificant sum of money at the time. I was honored to draft, type and mail those letters. In no way did it occur to me that this was demeaning work, nor did it occur to my peers in the Mississippi movement.

To place relative values on the different types of movement work misses the boat entirely. All movement work was valuable. One final point: pre-1964 Freedom Summer, SNCC stalwarts understood clearly that white women were lightning rods for extreme danger if they went into the communities to organize. Freedom Rider and SNCC worker Joan Trumpauer, a white Tougaloo student who was my roommate rode on the floor of SNCC cars many a day and especially at night because had she been observed by the white racists as the white woman riding in a car with blacks, especially black men, all of our lives would have been put at great risk. The cars were usually driven by guys in the movement and they would have been the first person murdered by those who could not abide a "virtuous white woman" (this is how they felt about white womanhood) consorting with black people, especially men.

In such a highly charged racial environment the rights of white women to do community organizing, and the alleged discrimination that some claim occurred was so insignificant in the scheme of things that most of us never took notice of that which feminists are absolutely certain took place. Therefore, I question the motives of those who keep harping on the quip by Stokely/Kwame Ture, despite the fact that a lot of us have tried, apparently unsuccessfully, to explain its true meaning. After fifty years, it has become a trite, insignificant, worn-out and downright boring story line that is lacking in imagination.


Joan Browning
12/28/2013 3:00 PM

Amen, sister Joyce.

Though by the summer of '64 I was struggling to resume being a student, and not actively volunteering with SNCC, in those early days of '61-'63, we all thought we'd be killed, so such trivial matters as roles and sexism was irrelevant. I remember sitting in discussions about what to do next, with lots of facts and analysis and then each of us freely choosing our role. All that cotton picking as a child and high school typing classes prepared me to bang out those old purple, then blue, stencils. I was proud to type Julian's press releases, run them off, stuff envelopes, and then see the same information, often word for word, in the next days newspapers. I thought Julian's insistence on credibility saved lives, and particularly in Albany, my life. It was important work and I was honored to be a part of it.

As for Stokely, even during the Atlanta project which preceded the Peg Leg Bates meeting, whenever he and I met, it was bear hug time.

Let it go. There are far more interesting as yet unresearched elements of the 60s freedom struggle. And today's.


Joyce Ladner
12/28/2013 3:07 PM

Thanks, Sister Joan. So many topics to research, so much yet to learn, so many veterans of the civil rights movement whose stories have not been recorded by oral historians. As a scholar, I have little tolerance for shoddy research including preconceived notions of what existed despite evidence to the contrary.


Judith Ezekiel
12/28/2013 3:28 PM

I hope I was not being targeted in these comments.

Feminists came to their movement inspired by and having embraced the visions of previous movements, particularly SNCC, not just out of anger at their sexism. Any feminist historian worthy of the name knows that.

But to say that because activists were afraid of getting killed sexism isn't important to analyze is to give a very narrow definition to the word. As several of you have pointed out, the dangers to a black man driving with a white woman in the car is the result of racialized sexism, or sexualized racism. The recent book, At The Dark End of the Street on the history of organizing against rape of black women is an excellent example of recent research on the intersections of sex and race.


Nina Boal
12/28/2013 7:31 PM

By the way, in my earlier comments, I never meant to be either say or imply that I was a "victim" of any sort of discrimination by Movement people. I meant to say that I was very young and naive when it came to Movement work in the deep south. I wanted to help the Movement, but as a very young, naive, and inexperienced person, I saw myself wanting loads of exciting adventures. At no time did anyone in the deep south Movement discriminate against me. I learned that, being a part of the Movement was a lot more than exciting adventure. It was a time of great struggle and danger. The idea that I, or anyone else would be "stuck" in an office doing typing, turned out to be erroneous.

When I wrote that I "related" to what Mary King and Casey Heyden had written, I was not thinking about conditions in the southern Movement. I was thinking about what women were facing in the world in general. After I went north to my home in Chicago, I found myself becoming involved in the women's Movement as well as the anti-Vietnam War Movement. And I continued in the Movement against racism.

I hope I have made my self a bit clearer. Nina


Marsha Rose
12/28/2013 7:49 P


This has been a marvelous Saturday. Thank you for responding to what I thought was a simple request. These reflections and memories are never found in history books.

Again, thank you all for the interesting comments on our history.


Joyce Ladner
12/28/2013 8:14 AM

Dear Judith Ezekiel,

No need to target you or anyone else. There is something akin to a school of thought that Stokely's statement that, "the position of women in the movement is prone," was proof that women were subjugated.


Sheila Michaels
12/28/2013 8:58 PM

This is what I wrote to the Feminist.Org (& really, really, is their little newsletter representing Feminism? Brass balls they have!)

You have:

At a Student Non-Violent Coordinating Council (SNCC) staff meeting, Ruby Doris Smith presented a paper on "The Position of Women in SNCC." SNCC leader Stokely Carmichael declared, "The only position for women in SNCC is prone." (1964)

At the Waveland Meeting (I was not there, but I was manager of the largest Project in Mississippi) people were asked to submit anonymous papers on SNCC's positions & works. Elaine DeLott (married name: Baker) wrote a paper on the position of women. Mary King & Casey Hayden seem also to have written a paper on the position of women. Stokely made a joke, because he did not know how to keep his mouth shut. It did not reflect his point of view. When I stopped in Atlanta in the summer of '66, Julian Bond showed me the paper Mary & Casey had written (apparently incorporating some of Elaine's points). He knew I would want to see it. Ruby Doris' exploitation was featured in the paper, but I do not believe she was named.

I really do not know where you got that bit of misinformation.

Stokely loved strong women. No one could say his mother was not strong-minded, or that Mary Lovelace and Miriam Makeba were bland. It is small-minded to single him out because he could not ever resist running his mouth & sometimes ran on to dry ground while his mouth kept moving.

No one could say that Ruby Doris & I were friends, but I was with her a couple of hours a couple of days every week on my way from work, when she was dying far from home at Beth Israel Hospital in that huge room, isolated from other patients. She told me that she had gotten a disease from blood transfusions she was given when she had a miscarriage while dancing at a party.

They were keeping her in isolation while they figured out what she had. Uh-huh.

If you ask me if Ruby Doris was a Feminist, I would have to say that as a founder of SNCC, she sure acted like one. Anyone who dealt with her when she held SNCC's purse strings, anyone who encounter her with her posse, anyone who had to go on dangerous errands because she sent them, would have said she was a Feminist. But she bought the self-serving line of some men in SNCC & the Black Power Movement that they were making the Revolution & Feminism distracted from (their) Great Work. Feminism was individualism & of course their self-aggrandisement had nothing to do with individualism. So, in effect, Ruby Doris was a Feminist in praxis & not a Feminist in lip-service.


Chude Pam Allen
12/30/2013 9:55 PM

The "Women in the Movement" paper was written by a group of white women in the fall of 1964 and submitted anonymously at the SNCC meeting in Waveland, Mississippi. At least three of the women have written about that experience, Mary King in Freedom Song, and Elaine DeLott Baker and Casey Hayden in Deep in Our Hearts: Nine White Women in the Freedom Movement and Hands on the Freedom Plow: Personal Accounts by Women in SNCC.

Their stories all correct inaccuracies in Robin Morgan's 1970 anthology, Sisterhood is Powerful and Sara Evans 1979 book, Personal Politics: The Roots of Women's Liberation in the Civil Rights Movement and the New Left. Casey Hayden and Mary King wrote another paper, Sex and Caste that was published in 1966 in Liberation magazine. I believe it was this paper — or an earlier version of it — that was distributed among many of the white women activists who began organizing women's liberation groups. And it is this second paper that gets confused with the first, giving Hayden and King sole authorship of what was a group effort.

I agree with what has been written in this discussion. Like so many women, my experiences in the Southern Freedom Movement caused me to grow. I brought the lessons I'd learned back north to continue the struggle.

However, as one of the earliest organizers of women's liberation I knew nothing of the two papers about women nor about Stokely's joke. Although early inaccuracies and even distortions can be attributed to some women's liberation activists, I think most of the responsibility for perpetuating the lie that Stokely's comment had anything to do with starting women's liberation comes from academics and writers quoting other books rather than checking the facts. Some used the example carelessly and have perpetuated a racist stereotype of black men.

The "prone" joke in response to the women's paper should be put to rest. There are excellent examples of sexism among white male activists to satisfy any historian or journalist wanting to write about the early women's liberation movement. However, I agree with Judith Ezekiel that people heard Stokely repeat his prone joke later when he knew exactly what he was doing. Stokely wasn't perfect; none of us are.


Elaine Baker

Thanks, Chude, for inviting me into this conversation. I see a number of different issues here: the clarification of the two memos that are seen as integral to the emergence of second wave feminism, the comment by Stokely, and the question of sexism in the movement.

In terms of the two women's memos, I was indeed involved in the writing of the memo titled "the position of women in the movement "(position paper #24, often referred to as "the Waveland memo"). I wrote about my involvement and what I understood as the motivation for that involvement in my chapter in Hands on the Freedom Plow. Sheila was also correct in saying that I wrote a position paper (position paper #27) for the Waveland meeting prior to the writing of this memo, but the focus of that position paper was my personal frustrations with SNCC politics, and not with the position of women in the movement. I'm copying Casey on this conversation in hopes that she will provide further information on the provenance of the Waveland memo.

I see Stokely's comment in a much more nuanced way. Stokely was known for his wit, but there was often an edge to his humor. I was there on the dock at Waveland when the comment was made. I don't want to speculate on what was behind the remark, but I don't think it's a great leap to see the changing roles of women and the sexual tensions of those years as contributing to what bubbled to the surface as a spontaneous and playful remark. The fact that the remark was "highjacked" as a motivation for the women's movement is, in my estimation, silly, but neither do I see it as a completely innocent joke. I don't remember my reaction, but I am dead certain that I did not laugh.

On the issue of sexism, what I experienced was an incredibly non-sexist and empowering environment with respect to the movement's willingness to give women serious and heavy responsibilities in both daily activities and leadership, and a genuine interest in listening to and soliciting women's opinions. On the other hand, it would be ingenuous to think that sexism could have been so easily and completely vanquished. The movement gave us a lens to challenge the norms of society. For me, the central message of the Waveland memo is this — the unconscious habits of treating women in ways that we now acknowledge as sexist were continuing to play out despite the movement's genuine, revolutionary and deep commitment to democratic equality.

I have been ruminating on these issues over the past few years and am currently working on collecting and clarifying my thoughts, with the encouragement of my dear colleagues from those times as well as some newer ones that have entered my life.


Casey Hayden

Thanks. Joyce. I helped compose the women's paper at Waveland, even typed it, because I understood it existentially and theoretically. But I didn't initiate it, nor did it represent my experience in SNCC. Inside our Movement, our family, I thought we transcended all that. Your statement about what it was like to work within such an atmosphere speaks for me.

Thanks, Chude. You are almost right about the authorship of the Waveland women's paper authors. Emmie Schrader Adams was also in the group writing it.

Thanks. Elaine, for including me. And thanks for addressing all that. I'll say a word about the provenance of the papers.

I was living in the house which Bob [Moses] had arranged for me, Helen O'Neil and Doris Derby to rent just outside the gates of Tougaloo College while we were working on the Literacy Project the previous fall. Emmie and Elaine, ex-Radcliff, incisively intellectual, well traveled and bold, arrived the spring of '64 and gravitated there, as many in COFO did; it was a safe place. Mary came over for the Summer Project and moved in, too. We had been roomies in Atlanta, both having worked for Ella Baker on a Southwide Human Relations Project sponsored by the National Student YWCA.

One of the Y's missions was to relate to "the changing roles of men and women." Mary had just been part of some women's sit in at the Atlanta SNCC office. The four of us, and many others, talked women's rights in the kitchen of the Literacy House before, during, and after the summer. We wrote the paper at the SNCC staff meeting at Waveland, after Freedom Summer, 1964. We didn't title our paper, just calling it "SNCC Position Paper," but the staff at Waveland prepared a numbered list of papers with author's names, so folks could be sure they got them all. Number 24 is listed as "SNCC Position Paper (name withheld by request) (women in the movement)," hence the source of Kwame's pun. He sure took the lid off that topic.

I've written about all this, and the subsequent paper, below, in Deep In Our Hearts and in Hands on the Freedom Plow.

In the fall of 1965 I drafted a second document, and Mary and I met at her family's place in Virginia, where we completed it, typed it on stencils, ran it off onto blue paper and mailed it to perhaps 40 women friends from SNCC and SDS. We called it "A Kind of Memo." Dave McReynolds later published it in Liberation magazine, under the title "Sex and Caste", a reference to our argument. It asked women to talk to each other about being women, in order to support each other and establish a stable core for the whole multi-issue Movement, which was already fragmenting.

Little did I know.


Joyce Ladner

Dear Casey,

Thank you for the very thoughtful email re: the background of the papers. It should clarify for others, as it did for me, the facts of what occurred, as well as the motivation you and others had for writing them. What has always bothered me about those outside SNCC are the motives the impute and the facts they obscure about our actions. I have often said that it is difficult, if not impossible, to superimpose an ex post-facto analysis using contemporary concepts and theories onto actions that occurred, in this case, half a century ago. Even though our mantra was "black and white together" we and our work were very complex and defied easy categorization. As we all know, Kwame's comment about women's position being prone was not only a quip used for effect and laughter, it most definitely did not define him, his beliefs, and actions.

As we do the work of the SNCC Legacy Project it is clear that if we want to get the facts and "truth" out it is up to us to do so. We should not rely on others to do it for us.

Thanks again.


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