eliminating racism

1800’s The first Negro YWCA Branch was organized in Dayton, Ohio, in 1889; although Negro branches were separate from white branches, by 1898 the YWCA had seven Negro Student Associations affiliated with it. The YWCA also extended its mission to American Indian young women, founding an Association at Chilocco, Oklahoma, in 1890, work which continued for many years as part of the Student Department of the National Board.

1900-1920’s In 1913 Eva Bowles became the first African American staff member to work as a professionally trained leader to work with Local Associations. In 1915, the YWCA held its first interracial conference in Louisville, KY. In the 1920s the Student YWCA organized its first councils on an interracial basis, adopting the principle of iinclusion for all of the membership in regional councils. In 1924, the National Student Assembly took a program stand on race relationships, “pledging ourselves to seek anew the mind of Jesus in regard to our race relationships and to know students of other races, that we may rid ourselves of prejudices and may promote justice and understanding.”

1930’s In the thirties, the YWCA set its face against lynching and mob violence and supported the struggle for civil rights for African Americans in the United States. The first interracial seminar in the South took place at Shaw University, Raleigh, North Carolina in 1938. Students called for an investigation into segregation in YWCA associations and community life.

1940’s During World War II, discrimination against Japanese Americans led to thousands being forced from their homes into relocation camps in desolate areas by order of the United States government. Japanese Americans were deprived of their rights as citizens; the YWCA extended its services to the Relocation Centers, and many Associations, including many in the Midwest, opened their facilities to Japanese Americans as they prepared for resettlement.

In 1946 the YWCA reached a watershed in adopting the Interracial Charter at the 17th National Convention. It accepted recommendations that “the implications of the YWCA Purpose be recognized as involving the inclusion of Negro women and girls in the mainstream of Association life, and that such inclusion be adopted as a conscious goal.” In an unequivocal statement of its position on civil rights, the Charter states: “Wherever there is injustice on the basis of race, whether in the community, the nation, or the world, our protest must be clear and our labor for its removal vigorous and steady. And what we urge on others we are constrained to practice ourselves.” Three years later, YWCAs in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Princeton, New Jersey, elected a Black president.

1950’s Between 1950 and 1970, the YWCA remained on the cutting edge in support of the Civil Rights Movement, which culminated in the adoption of the One Imperative. Through the ups and downs of the era, the student YWCAs remained in the vanguard with regard to issues of race and gender. The emphasis immediately post-war was on the spiritual welfare of women and girls, and the provision of social services to them. In May, 1954, the US Supreme Court rules segregationist doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ unconstitutional. This fueled the Montgomery Bus Boycott in Alabama. The YWCA acted to disseminate material on the Supreme Court decision with a booklet, ‘Our Schools, and Our Democracy.’

1960’s In the United States the 1960’s was the decade of the Civil Rights Movement in which African American people made unprecedented strides in affecting social, economic and racial change, and self-empowerment. However, in the YWCA of the U.S.A., the struggle to combat racism had begun early in its history, in the days of “service laced with social action” in the American South. This decade, however, ended with the epoch-making decision in 1970 to adopt the One Imperative, a statement which was rooted in the Christian purpose of the National Association, seeking “to respond to the barrier-breaking love of God in this day’, drawing together women and girls of diverse experiences and faiths, that their lives may be open to new understanding, and deeper relationships and that together they may join in the struggle for peace and justice, freedom and dignity for all people.”

During Dorothy Heights’ tenure, the YWCA, combined with other organizations such as the United Council of Negro Women, Church Women United, the International Council of Jewish Women, and the Catholic Women, to break the law in the South to challenge racial segregation. The YWCA invited activists such as Stokely Carmichael, Whitney Young, and Roy Wilkins to talk to members, and the Office of Racial Justice initiated Dialogue and Action Groups in 1968 in Community and Student YWCAs throughout the country.

1970’s At the YWCA’s April 1970 Convention, it adopted the One Imperative: “To thrust our collective power towards the elimination of racism wherever it exists and by any means necessary.”

Journey of Faith, The History of the World YWCA 1945-1994, by Carolyn Seymour-Jones, Allison & Busby, 1994

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