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A Feminist Draws Parallels Between African Americans' and Women's Rights

The March on Washington and other demonstrations finally brought Congress close to passing a sweeping civil rights bill in 1964. At the last moment, and to the surprise of many, "sex" was added to the clause that would prevent employment discrimination based on race, color, religion or national origin. The addition of gender, however, threatened to torpedo the bill in the Senate. Pauli Murray composed this "Memorandum of Support" for the gender provision and quickly circulated it among a network of black and white women who knew the key players in the legislative process. Murray and her peers' efforts were successful: the Civil Rights Act of 1964 banned employment discrimination against women.

Historically, Women's Rights and Civil Rights Have Been Parallel and Interrelated Movements

Although [House of Representatives bill] 7152 is an immediate consequence of the nationwide Negro revolt of 1963, it has become increasingly clear that this revolt is the most acute symptom of a human rights revolution underway in the United States.  It is no accident that revived national interest in the status of women has occurred at precisely the same moment in history that Negroes have shown unprecedented militancy and determination to achieve full participation in the common life.

Public preoccupation with long overdue reforms in civil rights forced upon the national consciousness by the intensity of the struggle should not obscure significant parallel historical developments.  A revolution in women's rights which began in the nineteenth century simultaneously with the antislavery movement and reached one climax with the adoption of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920 is now moving forward to completion even as the civil rights movement creates in the first spontaneous nationwide challenge to racial discrimination since the Emancipation.  

Historically, women and Negroes have held strikingly similar positions in American society and have carried on interrelated struggles to achieve full citizenship.  The idealization of WOMAN as wife, mother, or sister has not concealed the harsh truth that although women have attained a numerical majority, in several respects they have a status comparable to that of an ethnic minority.  As they have assumed various roles in the community as members of the labor force, family heads, civic volunteers and leaders, or public servants, they have experienced both subtle and explicit forms of discrimination comparable to the inequalities imposed upon minorities...

In matters of discrimination, it will be found that the problems of women are not so unique as we have been led to suppose.  Those leaders who were most instrumental in bringing about a change in the stature of women clearly recognized the interrelationship of their struggle with that of Negroes.  That manifestations of prejudice by reason of sex, in no way diminishes the force of the equally obvious fact that the rights of women and the rights of Negroes are only different phases of the fundamental and indivisible issue of human rights.  It is against the background of their parallel development that the "sex" amendment to Title VII must be viewed.  

Source | Pauli Murray, "Memorandum in Support of Retaining the Amendment to H.R. 7152, Title VII (Equal Employment Opportunity) to Prohibit Discrimination in Employment Because of Sex," 14 April 1964, Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe College, available from Women and Social Movements in the United States, 1600-2000,  
Creator | Pauli Murray
Item Type | Government Document
Cite This document | Pauli Murray, “A Feminist Draws Parallels Between African Americans' and Women's Rights,” SHEC: Resources for Teachers, accessed November 29, 2023,

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