Civil Rights Movement Strategies

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Same Objectives, Different Strategies: The Transformation of the Feminist Legal Strategy The fight for women’s rights had never been easy for feminists and at the outset of the 1960s, women’s legal equality seemed momentarily out of reach. The chaotic social and political landscape of 1960’s America was as much a blessing to feminists, as it was a burden. The civil rights movement had picked up momentum from landmark judicial decisions and simultaneously fostered a discussion about the opportunity for women’s legal equality. However, not everyone was eager to engage in the discussion. Ideological rifts and political alliances plagued feminist’s attempts for change. Nevertheless, advocates within the legal community sought to build a united…show more content…
The first issue was the conflict-ridden Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). The second issue was the ongoing fight for racial equality during the civil rights movement. The ERA had been a source of conflict among feminists ever since the amendments introduction in 1923. Feminists who were devout supporters of the ERA, referred to in most scholarship as equal rights feminists, believed it was crucial to keep the issue of race equality separate from that of sex equality (Mayer, "Constitutional Choices"). Miriam Holden, a devout National Women’s Party (NWP) member and avid ERA supporter represented the faction of feminists who believed it was important to remain in good graces with segregationist in congress in order to secure the success of the ERA. Feminists such as Holden held fast to the single-minded belief that formal equality was only possible by the passage and ratification of the ERA. ERA advocates who formed alliances with civil rights villains, usually in the form of southern democrats, threated the possible success of an organized feminist legal strategy. In 1963, Holden wrote a letter to another party member, sharing her dissatisfaction with the race-sex analogy that legal feminists, such as Pauli Murray, were drawing inspiration from (Holden, “Letter from Holden to Pollitzer”). Holden feared that Murray’s litigation strategy was too closely tied to the “negro problem” and if…show more content…
The passage of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, although riddled with ironies, was crucial in legitimizing the legal feminist strategy. The main paradox of Title VII was the amendment that include the word “sex” into the bill’s language, was offered by Rep. Howard Smith, an anti-civil rights democrat from Virginia (Freeman, “How ‘Sex’ Got into Title VII”). Therefore, the language of Title VII made it unlawful for employers to discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, and nation origin. Rep. Smith’s plan to kill the bill by attaching the “sex” discrimination language backfired in a major way. The benefits Title VII had on the discourse of the feminist movement were innumerable. However, for the purposes of this analysis, the most significant benefits for legal feminists were threefold. First, equal rights feminists and labor protective feminists were no longer forced against each other over the ideas of a need for an ERA and a need for workplace protection. Second, the ERA did not disappear from the feminist’s dialogue, however, the passage of Title VII allowed pro-ERA feminists to sever the poisonous ties with anti-civil rights bigots. Third, the passage of Title VII finally allowed Pauli Murray and other like-minded feminists to connect a race-sex analogy that would advance the feminist legal strategy, without tossing African
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