The women who stood with Martin Luther King Jr. and sustained a movement for social change

The women who stood with Martin Luther King Jr. and sustained a movement for social change

Women listen during the March on Washington on Aug. 28, 1963. Bettmann Archive/Getty Images
Vicki Crawford, Morehouse College

Historian Vicki Crawford was one of the first scholars to focus on women’s roles in the civil rights movement. Her 1993 book, “Trailblazers and Torchbearers,” dives into the stories of female leaders whose legacies have often been overshadowed.

Today she is the director of the Morehouse College Martin Luther King Jr. Collection, where she oversees the archive of his sermons, speeches, writings and other materials. Here, she explains the contributions of women who influenced King and helped to fuel some of the most significant campaigns of the civil rights era, but whose contributions are not nearly as well known.

An activist in her own right

Coretta Scott King is often remembered as a devoted wife and mother, yet she was also a committed activist in her own right. She was deeply involved with social justice causes before she met and married Martin Luther King Jr., and long after his death.

Scott King served with civil rights groups throughout her time as a student at Antioch College and the New England Conservatory of Music. Shortly after she and King married in 1953, the couple returned to the South, where they lent their support to local and regional organizations such as the NAACP and the Montgomery Improvement Association.

They also supported the Women’s Political Council, an organization founded by female African American professors at Alabama State University that facilitated voter education and registration, and also protested discrimination on city buses. These local leadership efforts paved the way for widespread support of Rosa Parks’ resistance to segregation on public busing.

A man in a light-colored suit and a woman in short-sleeved dress look at a piece of paper together in a study.
Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife Coretta Scott King work in his office in Atlanta in July 1962. TPLP/Archive Photos via Getty Images

Following her husband’s assassination in 1968, Scott King devoted her life to institutionalizing his philosophy and practice of nonviolence. She established the King Center for Nonviolent Social Change, led a march of sanitation workers in Memphis and joined efforts to organize the Poor People’s Campaign. A longtime advocate of workers rights, she also supported a 1969 hospital workers’ strike in South Carolina, delivering stirring speeches against the treatment of African American staff.

Scott King’s commitment to nonviolence went beyond civil rights at home. During the 1960s, she became involved in peace and anti-war efforts such as the Women’s Strike for Peace and opposed the escalating war in Vietnam. By the 1980s, she had joined protests against South African apartheid, and before her death in 2006, she spoke out in favor of LGBT rights – capping a lifetime of activism against injustice and inequalities.

Women and the March

While Scott King’s support and ideas were particularly influential, many other women played essential roles in the success of the civil rights movement.

Take the most iconic moment of the civil rights struggle, in many Americans’ minds: the Aug. 28, 1963, March on Washington for Jobs and Freeedom, at which King delivered his landmark “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

As the 60th anniversary of the march approaches, it is critical to recognize the activism of women from all walks of life who helped to strategize and organize one of the country’s most massive political demonstrations of the 20th century. Yet historical accounts overwhelmingly highlight the march’s male leadership. With the exception of Daisy Bates, an activist who read a short tribute, no women were invited to deliver formal speeches.

A black and white photo shows several formally dressed women putting money in a church collection plate.
Members of Carmel Presbyterian Church donating money for the March on Washington. Carl Iwasaki/The Chronicle Collection via Getty Images

Women were among the key organizers of the march, however, and helped recruit thousands of participants. Dorothy Height, president of the National Council of Negro Women, was often the lone woman at the table of leaders representing national organizations. Anna Arnold Hedgeman, who also served on the planning committee, was another strong advocate for labor issues, anti-poverty efforts and women’s rights.

A woman in an evening dress with a corsage stands next to a man in a suit, both smiling and chatting.
Dorothy Height stands with Martin Luther King Jr. in November 1957. Afro American Newspapers/Gado/Getty Images

Photographs of the march show women attended in large numbers, yet few historical accounts adequately credit women for their leadership and support. Civil rights activist, lawyer and Episcopalian priest Pauli Murray, among others, called for a gathering of women to address this and other instances of discrimination a few days later.

Hidden in plain view

African American women led and served in all the major campaigns, working as field secretaries, attorneys, plaintiffs, organizers and educators, to name just a few roles. So why did early historical accounts of the movement neglect their stories?

There were women propelling national civil rights organizations and among King’s closest advisers. Septima Clark, for example, was a seasoned educator whose strong organizing skills played a consequential role in voter registration, literacy training and citizenship education. Dorothy Cotton was a member of the inner circle of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, of which King was president, and was involved in literacy training and teaching nonviolent resistance.

A man crouching on the pavement cradles an injured woman.
A civil rights marcher exposed to tear gas holds an unconscious Amelia Boynton Robinson after mounted police officers attacked marchers in Selma. Bettmann/Getty Images

Yet women’s organizing during the 1950s and 1960s is most evident at local and regional levels, particularly in some of the most perilous communities across the deep South. Since the 1930s, Amelia Boynton Robinson of Dallas County, Alabama, and her family had been fighting for voting rights, laying the groundwork for the struggle to end voter suppression that continues to the present. She was also key in planning the 50-mile Selma-to-Montgomery march in 1965. Images of the violence that marchers endured – particularly on the day that came to be known as Bloody Sunday – shocked the nation and eventually contributed to the passage of the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965.

A sitting woman with gray hair in a gold-colored dress and jewelry.
Civil rights activist Amelia Boynton Robinson attends an awards ceremony in New York in 2011. Marc Bryan-Brown/WireImage via Getty News

Or take Mississippi, where there would not have been a sustained movement without women’s activism. Some names have become well known, like Fannie Lou Hamer, but others deserve to be.

Two rural activists, Victoria Gray and Annie Devine, joined Hamer as representatives to the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, a parallel political party that challenged the state’s all-white representatives at the 1964 Democratic Convention. A year later, the three women represented the party in a challenge to block the state’s congressmen from taking their seats, given ongoing disenfranchisement of Black voters. Though the congressional challenge failed, the activism was a symbolic victory, serving note to the nation that Black Mississippians were no longer willing to accept centuries-old oppression.

Many African American women were out-front organizers for civil rights. But it is no less important to remember those who assumed less visible, but indispensable, roles behind the scenes, sustaining the movement over time.The Conversation

Vicki Crawford, Professor of Africana Studies, Morehouse College

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

27 Summers: Ronald Olivier x UrbanFaith

27 Summers: Ronald Olivier x UrbanFaith

UrbanFaith Editor Allen Reynolds sat down with prison chaplain and author Ronald Olivier to talk about his story of going from a life of poverty and violence to facing a life sentence in prison to being saved and freed by the power of Jesus Christ in his amazing book 27 Summers. The full interview is above, below are excerpts edited for clarity and length.


I am excited today to have with me an author, a chaplain, a man of God who has an incredible story and an incredible journey to share. And that is Mr. Ronald Olivier sharing to tell about [his] book: 27 Summers. One of the things people don’t realize is how long the justice system can take. Can you talk a little bit about the trouble of getting used to living a life that is violent or that is trouble? And really, I’m trying to get to how the idea of living a sinful lifestyle can feel so normal that we don’t realize that sooner or later it’s gonna catch up [to us].


Yeah, I think one of the tricks is what the enemy uses is that belief that you will never get caught. Yeah, [they] got caught, but not you. You too slick, you too sharp. He just lets us see all that we can accumulate, all this stuff, the money, the fame that comes with it. But never let us see the end of it. And most of my friends never made it out of their teens. Murder was all around me and I really thought that was my fate. I felt that’s how I supposed to go. I thought this was a way of life. You do what you do, live as long as you can live and die. And I always thought I would die before I was 21. I never thought I’d make it out my teens.

You just become accustomed to it. It’s like I heard a story about boiling a frog. You never just put them in hot water. You put them in temperate water and let the temperature increase and he’ll stay there and boil. But if you just drop them in hot water they get out.

So that’s how sin is. You know, it progresses, and you can’t figure out how to get out. I really felt like that was my fate and I couldn’t get out. Now I can look back and see all the escape routes that God was trying to get me out on. But the enemy had been blinding my mind so much to make me think that there was no way out and that’s one of the greatest lies of the enemy. Man, you’re stuck there. You never get out. This is the way life is supposed to be. No, that’s a lie.



Yeah, and I think that’s so seductive. I want to take you to that moment which I think was God moment where you realized that you weren’t going to get the death penalty but instead, were going to get life in prison. Can you talk about just what it was like literally to be placed between death and life and to find out you got life?


Yes, so I’m on trial for first degree murder facing the death penalty. And up until that point, everything was fun and games to me. It wasn’t real. I thought I was getting out. I didn’t feel the weight of it until I placed in the holding tank about 12 AM, 1 AM in the morning while the jury was deliberating. I can still hear the iron door slam and the key turn. And I could still hear the guards footsteps fading off until I couldn’t hear him no more. And I’m there alone in a box. And man, the weight of that was going on came crushing down on me. I was like, whoa, there’s 12 people that don’t know anything about me that are making the decision on whether I live or die. I was like, wow. And at that moment I was like, man, I don’t wanna die. I believe God used my mother’s voice. I heard her saying this so clearly to me. It was so loud in my spirit to where she said, son, if you ever in trouble that I can’t get you out, you should call on Jesus. And at that moment, I got on my knees. I’m crying and I called out to Jesus, and I had a very simple prayer. I made a deal with God. A lot of people say you don’t make deals with God. I made a deal with Him. And I said, Lord, if you don’t let them kill me, I promise you, I’ll serve you the rest of my life. And for the first time in my life, I had experienced and felt the peace of God. There was a peace that came. I didn’t know what it was then, but I just had this inward resolve that I was gonna be okay. It was this calmness that came over me. And so the jury came back with a guilty verdict of the lesser offense. That carried a mandatory life sentence without benefits of parole or probation. In layman’s terms, you die in prison. You never get out. But I like to put it like this in that holding tank, I received two life sentences. You know, the state was giving me a life sentence with no benefits. But God was giving me a life sentence with so many benefits that he encouraged me in His word to not forget them. So there it is, man. I get this life sentence and I’m headed to penitentiary. Not just jail, but penitentiary, which is a big difference.


A lot of times we think that, you know, we give our lives to Christ and then they just get better all of a sudden. I love that your story is not a story of an instant change. Why is that important?


I think that’s very important because I know it helped me to be patient with other young believers because you could be you could be very judgmental if you’re not careful and say, oh, they’re not born again. They’re not. But, when you think about it, just like in the natural, when a baby comes out of the womb, the baby looks like what it came out of. And so that baby, you know, that baby don’t come out looking like the little [girl or boy they will be when they’re big.] The baby looks like a little prune with all type of afterbirth on.  They have to go through a process to be clean, to be fed, to be to be changed. And the baby is totally dependent on someone else. And so that’s what the discipleship comes in, you know, and even though I knew I was born again, I look like what I came out. I still was doing some of the same things. But I continued to go to church.  A lot of people [put] pressure on guys, you’re going to church, you’re still doing all that. As if you’re supposed to be perfect when you go to church. But and not realizing that the church is, it’s man, it’s a spiritual hospital. People go there because they’re sick. We’re all getting some type of treatment. If you break your arm, you don’t wait till it get well, then go to the hospital. That’s absurd, you know, I’m going to get some treatment because I’m broken because I have all these issues because, you know, I’m messed up and I’m wrapped up in sin. That’s why I’m going to church. And man, we need to have people with that understanding when guys get to church to help them to disciple, to love on them, to get them where they need to be. And that’s what guys did for me, man. They discipled me. They didn’t judge me. They kept pushing me in the right direction, kept praying for me, you know, and kept being there for me. And man, that’s so important and helping young believers because they look like they’re not nothing really changed. But something did happen in their hearts, and it takes a process. And that was going on the inside coming on outside where you can see it and enjoy.


What advice would you give to young adults now who may be feeling hopeless or may feel like there’s not any way out of their situations? Because I think your story really speaks to that.


One thing I would say is to have hope. Man, you got you embrace the hope of glory, which is Jesus Christ. There is absolutely no hope without him. And so I would encourage you to develop that relationship. I’m not talking about religion. I’m not talking about just going to church. I’m talking about having a real personal relationship. Spending time with him, you develop your ear to hear his voice, to distinguish his voice from any other voice and allow him to lead and direct you. I was in prison. God said, look, don’t go that way. Go over here. And something would happen over there. You know, I get drugged up or killed and all this other thing. And he was he was leading and protecting me in the midst of chaos. He would do the same thing for you. But he’s not a respecter of person, but he is a respecter of faith. He just looking for someone to believe Him at His word. And I promise you God can do exceedingly, abundantly, above all you ask or think, but it’s going to be according to the power that’s working in you. You got to let him work in you. And so I just encourage you with that.

Share The Dream: Chris Broussard on MLK’s Dream

Share The Dream: Chris Broussard on MLK’s Dream

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August 2023 is the 60th anniversary of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech and the historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.  UMI (Urban Ministries Inc.) has partnered with Harper Christian Resources, and the K.I.N.G. Movement to honor, celebrate, and share the lessons of MLK through the Share the Dream Project and curriculum. UrbanFaith sat down with the award winning journalist and Fox Sports commentator, K.I.N.G. Movement President, and co-host of Share The Dream Chris Broussard to talk about the project and MLK’s legacy 60 years after the “I Have A Dream” speech. The full interview is above, excerpts are below edited for length and clarity. 


Chris Broussard co-host of Share the Dream



We are talking about something so special, which is the 60th anniversary of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. It has inspired us and inspire others to honor and celebrate the legacy through a project called “Shared the Dream.” And so today I am here with the commentator, the journalist, the host, the co-host for this project, Mr. Chris Broussard, who has just been someone who’s been at the forefront of helping push the dream forward.



It’s great to join you, Allen. And wow, thank you for that introduction. I’ll try to live up to it in this interview, but it’s great to be with you guys at UrbanFaith. And this Share the Dream project is something that’s special, something that’s anointed, and something that we do hope and believe can have a great impact in our country.


In a lot of ways it feels like we see Dr. King as a meme, right? Like it’s just a picture on social media with a quote taken out of context. People don’t even know for the I have a dream speech, that he starts with laying out the problems before he gets to a vision for what we could do together. Can you talk a little bit about what it looks like to have a vision going forward and why it’s so important to learn from our history and address those realities before we rush to the vision that God might have for us being united and being one?


No, that’s a great question. Because a lot of times you hear talk about racial reconciliation. And to some people, like I said, does that mean a hug? Does that mean, you know, just some superficial gatherings, but not addressing the issues that left us unreconciled and leave us unreconciled? As you said, most people don’t even know that Dr. King addressed those issues before he said, “I have a dream” and all that stuff. And of course, later in his life, he really to some degree was distraught and disheartened when he really looked at the economic differences. And obviously he knew that [before]. But, in the South the racism was so overt that they were addressing those situations. Blacks couldn’t go here; blacks couldn’t go there. You just address those issues. And then we went up to the North and you saw the economic conditions that many Africans Americans were living in. In the North there [wasn’t persistent] legal segregation, but blacks were clearly getting the short end of the stick. It really disheartened him, and he had to rethink and was in the process of even thinking like, “Okay, how are we going to address this?” And he did have ideas and he talked about redistribution of wealth and all that stuff.

I think the key is that, our white brothers and sisters, particularly in the church, have been miseducated on the history of America. All the talk about a great Christian nation, and manifest destiny and the city on the hill. What about the way African-Americans and Native Americans were treated? And so that miseducation informs the way a lot of whites view the racial situation today. And by using a lot of Dr. King’s principles and teaching, like we want to hopefully shed light on how the true racial history of America, as bad as it was, in the past, but also how it impacts us today. How it impacts the disparities you see today and the tension and the distrust that you see today and all the events that we’ve seen in the past few years. All of that is a remnant to some degree of much of the past. The wealth gap. That’s not just because whites have worked hard, and blacks haven’t. It’s not because of that at all. It is because of things like the federal housing administration loans that were given out to mainly overwhelmingly white Americans in the from the 1930s on into the 1960s that built these beautiful white suburbs. The red lining of the African-American neighborhoods that have cost African-American families on average hundreds of thousands of dollars. These are the things [that must be addressed]. It’s not just let’s go have dinner together and be friends. It is let’s address these economic issues that really were created by the racism of the past and address the those. And then [there can] be some real racial unity and we can have some real robust discussions about how we can solve these problems that we have today. So yeah, I think that’s, you know, part of what we’re trying to do with Share the Dream.


[In this curriculum] you outline the six principles of Dr. King’s legacy beautifully: Conscience, justice, perseverance, hope, freedom, and love.] What principles have you seen stand out in your own life or be most influential to you or what were your favorite ones to share in the series?


Yeah man, there’s so many. I think to some degree I’ve addressed a little bit of the conscience of really making America in particular, many of our white Christian brothers and sisters aware of the true history of this country. I’ve talked to whites who have talked about city on the hill and the great Christian heritage of America, who have talked about slavery as if it was just a little blind spot. It was just a little mistake. I’m like “No, you understand that the reason America was able to become the greatest superpower we’ve ever seen was on the backs of slavery.” So that is a part of it trying to just awaken that consciousness within white Americans to understand. So, I think that’s the conscience. I could focus more on justice as well. Yes, we see overt acts [of racism] here and there. But a lot of it is subtle. If you if you don’t have a deeper understanding of it and really dig beneath the surface, you can get the wrong idea of the racial situation in America today. [Racist policies] created the wealth gap and all of that, that’s a part of the justice we need to look at. I’ll quickly just throw out one more, the perseverance. Like a lot of time, I think a lot of people have been beaten down, particularly African Americans by the situation in America today, by the persistence of the oppression. Where they have given up, where they just decided, nothing can improve for us overall or for me individually. It can affect your decision making and things like that. Whereas you look back in the day when Dr. King was marching and even before that, in the face of even worse oppression, you did have, I would say, you probably had more perseverance and hope within the Black community than you do today. And I believe a lot of that was because Dr. King and many of the people that were working with him were rooted in Jesus Christ. And when you’re rooted in Christ, no matter how bad things look on the outside, you will have hope. As bad as things look in this country, I do have hope because of the gospel and the transformative power of the gospel and how it can change a person and a people’s outlook on life, worldview, and decision-making behavior, all of that. And I think that’s what our ancestors had. And that’s what gave them the perseverance and the hope through slavery, through Jim Crow.  We have more opportunities and freedom today, but many of us lack the same perseverance and hope that our ancestors had. So that’s something I would wanna highlight as well. Why did they have that hope? Let me tap into that reason behind their perseverance.


Yeah, I mean, they were so rooted in their faith. And I really appreciate this series pointing that out, highlighting that, bringing that to the forefront, because a lot of times people forget that Dr. King was a minister, right? Like he wasn’t just some great speaker and marcher, he was a minister. You got to work with his friend Andrew Young who was there. What are some of the lessons that you feel like people take away from being able to hear from some elders and from some other folks who are part of the project in the video series in the curriculum?


Well, I think that’s a great question. I think Ambassador Young, he obviously gets accolades and people understand and talk about what he did in the past and his involvement in the movement and all of that. But I don’t think people understand and fully give him the credit for just being how great of a man he is. And to your point, a man of faith. People want to divorce the faith of Dr. King from what he did. They want to divorce [him from his faith]. I could go on and on Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, even Marcus Garvey who [was] a Christian. People want to divorce or [history from faith]. They want to look at these great actions of our ancestors and yet and not look at the sources of their power and the source of their wisdom and the things that they fought for and fought against and stated and so on and so forth. And Ambassador Young is also like that. Ambassador Young is a great man of faith. And I get that we should focus on the other things he talks about and the things he fights for. And everything’s not a religious conversation. But I think it is important that people understand, especially in this day and age, where faith is being marginalized. Christian faith has sustained us as a community and as a people and is now being marginalized, tossed aside, watered down and things like that. It’s important to see in a great man like Ambassador Young that his faith has always been vibrant and to this day is vibrant. And that that’s what motivated him and led him to be able to do and have the strength to do what he did.


A God with a heart for the marginalized

Devotional Scripture

10 When you make a loan of any kind to your neighbor, do not go into their house to get what is offered to you as a pledge. 11 Stay outside and let the neighbor to whom you are making the loan bring the pledge out to you. 12 If the neighbor is poor, do not go to sleep with their pledge in your possession. 13 Return their cloak by sunset so that your neighbor may sleep in it. Then they will thank you, and it will be regarded as a righteous act in the sight of the LORD your God.
14 Do not take advantage of a hired worker who is poor and needy, whether that worker is a fellow Israelite or a foreigner residing in one of your towns. 15 Pay them their wages each day before sunset, because they are poor and are counting on it. Otherwise they may cry to the LORD against you, and you will be guilty of sin.
16 Parents are not to be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their parents; each will die for their own sin.
17 Do not deprive the foreigner or the fatherless of justice, or take the cloak of the widow as a pledge. 18 Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the LORD your God redeemed you from there. That is why I command you to do this.
19 When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it. Leave it for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. 20 When you beat the olives from your trees, do not go over the branches a second time. Leave what remains for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow. 21 When you harvest the grapes in your vineyard, do not go over the vines again. Leave what remains for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow.

Help for Homeless

Of late, I have been thinking about the orphaned, widows and those who are struggling to make ends meet. The feelings of despair and hopelessness can become every day emotions if there is no stability in the area of provision.

Currently, there are millions of people who are one paycheck away from poverty. Many carry the burden of shame, fear and trauma of what will happen to them if they are not able to make ends meet.

A lot of times, in the midst of trial and tribulation, one can feel as though no one sees or understands the plight they are going through. However, in Deuteronomy 24:10-21, we see the thoughtfulness of God.

God cares. He is thoughtful and attentive to your needs. You may not have the courage to pray or ask Him because you are afraid of disappointment. Maybe all your help is gone, you are starting over, going through a break-up or a divorce. A loved one who was your main source of support financially is gone, and now you are picking up the pieces of what is left of their memory and trying to make the best out of the situation you are in.

God’s senses are alert and keen to your needs. Provision may not appear in the form or the way that you thought God would bring it to you, but open your eyes and look again. In the times of old, He instructed those who were harvesting to leave some of the harvest behind, because He knew there were those who did not have fields to harvest from, and what was left behind would be their only meal.

God is constantly providing for you. It may be through:

  • Ideas
  • A fresh perspective
  • A helping hand from a stranger


You will never know if you do not ask, seek, or make your request known. This week, do not wallow in your sorrows, reach out for help. Sometimes your provision is a phone call or an email away.

What you need, is within arm’s reach. You have to stretch yourself by faith, be humble and ask, believing that on the other end, God has already touched a heart to help you in your time of need.

If He did it before, He is able to do it again, do not assume that God has written you off. You are in His thoughts, and He wants the best for you. He has placed the provision in your path, all you need to do is ask Him to show you what to do, and where to go, and He will guide you.


Dear Father,

This week, to reveal to me the fears I have of receiving or asking for help. Remove any form of pride, shame or condemnation that lingers in me, that would cause me to suffer in silence. I believe what I need, you have already provided. Lead me to the path of provision that has my name on it. Open my eyes and show me who I can confide in regarding what I am dealing with, and let me have the faith that you have already made the way.

Lord, If I am the answer to someone’s prayer, show me how I can be of help, and place me in the pathway of the people I am supposed to help this week. Nudge me, when I ignore your voice and affirm me, when I do what is right. Thank you for reminding me, you will use people to bless me, and you will use me to bless others.

Regardless of what I am dealing with today, lift my spirits up, and remind me that you are a thoughtful God, you have always had me in mind, and all things will work out for my good.


In Jesus Name


Wrong Lanes Have Right Turns: An Interview with Michael Phillips

Wrong Lanes Have Right Turns: An Interview with Michael Phillips

Michael Phillips is the Chief Engagement Officer of the TD Jakes Foundation, a well respected pastor and education advocate. But his journey was not easy or simple. His book Wrong Lanes Have Right Turns details his journey, his context, and his perspective on one of the most important topics for us everyday: how to educate our children and dismantle the school to prison pipeline. He masterfully blends personal stories with scripture, statistics, history, and context to help us understand and impact the education system. Check out the full interview above!

You can get the book here

We’ll All Be Free: UrbanFaith x Caroline Sumlin

We’ll All Be Free: UrbanFaith x Caroline Sumlin

Many of us battle for self-worth in a world that is constantly bombarding us with messages that we are not enough. But author Caroline Sumlin argues that the enemy we are fighting is not just our own thoughts, but the insidious nature of white supremacy and the ways it impacts our society. UrbanFaith Editor Allen Reynolds interviewed influencer and author Caroline Sumlin about her new book We’ll All Be Free which confronts white supremacy’s assault on our self worth no matter what our background is, and shares ways we can liberate ourselves, each other, and seek healing. The book is available everywhere. The full interview is above, excerpts below have been edited for clarity and length. More about the book is below.



Hello, Urban Faith. It is a joy and a pleasure to be with just an awesome person someone who I’ve known for a long time who is doing work as an Instagram influencer as an author now that is Caroline Sumlin. And she has written a new book, We’ll All Be Free about dismantling white supremacy talking about self-worth. Why is it that you think it’s important that we deal with these difficult and tough issues?



I think we can see the impacts of not having the tough conversations on our society. Even taking white supremacy aside, when we talk about going to therapy or we talk about dealing with mental health, we talk about trauma. We talk about those tough things. One of the most basic ways that parents sometimes explain emotions to children… is that they’re like farts. Kids don’t have any inhibitions to keep things in because they know it feels good to let out the burp, to pass gas, to cry, to get angry, to stomp our feet, right? They live and then guess what happens? They feel better because they release that stuff. As adults, we are conditioned to keep things inside, to be ashamed of it, to be ashamed of our humanity. And then what happens? The anger happens, right? The crippling and debilitating mental health [issues] happen. I could go on to name things. I mean, I even think the rise in gun violence, all of that is connected to the fact that we are not dealing with what’s going on inside, both individually, but also systemically. The culture we have created has magnified a society of people that are walking around with a lot of anger, with a lot of hurt, with a lot of unworthiness that they don’t realize is going on. Then we wonder why we see what we see in society. And I understand that people would also argue well having the conversations can also lead to “division.” And I would argue back that the reason why we see division when we have these conversations is because we have been conditioned to be defensive. We’ve been conditioned to ignore certain things and as a result we haven’t been [healthy]… But that’s all the more reason to keep going and to keep fighting and say, “Hey, we can get healthy. It takes work.” You know, no one goes to therapy and comes out smiling every day. You’re going to go to therapy and you’re going to come out with tears. You’re going to come out with anger. You may have to process some things that may feel uncomfortable at first, but then the burden starts to lift off your shoulders and it does get better. I do believe in pushing and continuing to have the conversation. I do believe that there will be a positive ending, but sometimes the messy middle is just necessary.




You have that chapter on hustle culture and how that’s tied to white supremacy. Can you just talk a little bit about that?



Yeah, absolutely. I have an entire chapter on this because it is one of the biggest ways that white supremacy culture shows up in our daily lives. Are the entire idea of the American dream and the message that we are given as young children that if you just work hard enough and you just go to college and you’ll be able to achieve this ideal life in America, you’ll be able to buy a house, you’ll be able to have your family, you’ll be able to afford certain things and you’ll have that American dream. Over time that American dream has become a lot higher, a lot narrower. It used to be that middle class and now it’s gone beyond that at this point because again with the white supremacy culture, the standard is always moving. But I wanted to make sure that the readers were able to understand again the roots in that. I wanted to look at where [this idea comes] from where we have to achieve to be worthy. What [is] the definition of achievement, what the definition of success is, where did that come from? What is the definition of professionalism? Where does elitism come from? Where are all these different beliefs? Even the way that we look at intellect and how we score ourselves. All these things have roots, they have backgrounds. Even the economic decisions and how we’ve gotten to the point of having this free market and why again those decisions were being made.

I was able to tie all of that to racist ideas, systemic racism, white supremacy. The ideal in our country is that whiteness should always be the standard, should always be what rules the country, should always be what leads the country, should always be what’s in charge. And to be successful, you have to assimilate to that. And that comes from, again, decisions that were being made based on ensuring that there was a racial hierarchy. Creating these standards in education, these standards in professionalism, these standards in our careers to ensure that that hierarchy always maintains. If you happen to be a person of color and you happen to kind of ascend higher than what, you know, the status quo says that you’re supposed to be as a person of color, well, you had to assimilate quite a bit and you had to make sure that you essentially connect yourself or tie yourself to whiteness in order to get there. And then if you happen to be a white person, there still is the fact of the matter is the standards of whiteness are also very inhuman. They go against our natural rhythms. We’ve been conditioned to believe that going against our human rhythms, being very industrial, being very work on the clock 24/7, all those things kind of tying back to again the plantation and then the industrial revolutions, all those things [tie] to where we are now. We’re conditioned to think that that’s like normal and it’s not. Even the way that we have constructed a society to ensure that black indigenous and people of color are at the bottom, it still affects everybody because now everyone is tied to this hustle mentality, this work around the clock mentality in order to make something of yourself, in order to prove yourself worthy, in order to prove yourself to be really more white, so to speak. So that America and the western world approves of you. I could go on and on and on, which, which is why I wrote the book.


What advice would you give to the young girl, the young person who’s trying to find their self-worth in this culture that’s telling them that they’re not as valuable?


To understand that the standards that you are being told you [must] measure up to were constructed for a reason and they were constructed not because of who you are but of maintaining that hierarchy of whiteness. So, to understand that it’s really not you. Like if you think you’re constantly swimming upstream and you’re working against a current and you just can’t figure out quite what is wrong with [you], why am I always exhausted? Why am I always trying to measure up to something? Why am I always looking in the mirror and saying something is wrong with me? It is because you’re being fed these messages left and right from every corner of society to try to tell you, “Hey, you’re not worthy,” so you can spend more money, so you can keep trying harder, so you can keep assimilating, so that white supremacy can continue to be maintained. And it’s not you. It’s them. And of course, you have to still live in this world. I wish we could just take a remote and just kind of turn it off. But unfortunately, that doesn’t work that way. And I think just knowing where it comes from and knowing that you can say no to believing those things and choosing a different route in how you approach life, I think is extremely freeing. I think the knowing the roots of it [is freeing], even if you still have to play the game a little bit. Because everyone’s gonna have to play the game a little bit, especially in the workplace. I’m not saying just, go tomorrow and start just doing things differently because you might lose your job. But I’m saying at least you know the roots of something, and you can say, “Okay. I know that it’s not me. I know that society is set up like this and I don’t have to measure my worth against this.”



What message would you give for the church about how to confront white supremacy?


Stop being afraid to talk about it, stop being afraid to have the meetings about it and looking at how you are perpetuating white supremacy in your congregations. This is not something to be afraid of. This is not something that is against Jesus. This is something that Jesus, I believe, would be for. He would be for dismantling any system that oppresses anybody else. This is the work of Jesus. And again, it doesn’t have to be simply marching in the streets when another black person is killed or there’s another racist injustice that we see. That’s important, but it is perpetuated in our boardrooms. It’s perpetuated within leadership, and it’s perpetuated with misogyny. It’s perpetuated when you refuse to play any other worship songs in your church besides a certain group that doesn’t have any people of color in it. Let’s be real. And then you dismiss somebody that wants something else because that’s not the only way to worship. There are simple ways that white’s supremacy is perpetuated, and they all need to be talked about and confronted so that every single human being that walks through your church doors feels like they are home and welcomed there and don’t have to be on edge because they’re a person of color. But again, not even just that, for everybody because my book is We’ll All Be Free, and I make it very clear that my book is written for everybody. White supremacy harms us all. It causes all of us to deal with feeling unworthy in some type of way. And so, looking at how you’re perpetuating it is the first step to dismantling it and it’s not a conversation to be scared of. It’s not work to be scared of. It’s work that is freeing.