American Masters


The role of women entertainers in the civil rights movement

Historian Ruth Feldstein, author of “How It Feels To Be Free,” talks about the important role that entertainers, and women entertainers in particular, had in the civil rights movement. This clip is an interview outtake from the American Masters film of the same name.

AIRED: January 18, 2021 | 0:01:08

- A lot of people think about civil rights,

and they think of mostly male leaders,

and organizations and politics with a capital "P."

When they think of culture, they think of

"We shall overcome."

But there was a lot more to the civil rights movement

beside these male, these male leaders,

and besides marches and efforts to change the legislation,

as important as all those were.

Plenty of people never marched, never boycotted,

never participated actively in that way

in the civil rights movement,

but they engaged with the politics of Black liberation

through the music they listened to,

the films they watched, the theater they went to,

and entertainers were particularly important, therefore,

in performing a certain kind of Black politics

of liberation and disseminating that around the world.

Women entertainers were particularly important

because, for the women who I look at,

they weren't choosing between battles for Black liberation

and their roles as women.

Gender was at the center of their vision of Black freedom.


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