This talk examines black women’s activism in Harlem and explores the ways in which women assumed a public, and sometimes controversial, role in the black freedom movement in New York City. It focuses specifically on consumer-rights campaigns and on one organization, the Consumers Protective Committee (CPC), which formed in 1947 in response to high prices and exploitative business practices in local stores. Although men often supported and even encouraged women’s activism, at times tensions arose in communities where women engaged in such public work. Harlem was no exception and the CPC soon found itself under attack from local ministers, labor leaders, and businessmen. Examining the work of the CPC allows us to explore competing conceptions of women’s acceptable public role, and how women both challenged, and benefitted from, traditional gender expectations.
Julia Sandy, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of History, Shepherd University
Julia Sandy received her undergraduate and graduate education at the University of Virginia and the University of Massachusetts Amherst, respectively. Her research interests focus on the history of American social and political movements, especially the northern civil rights movement. She has published on topics ranging from consumer activism in Harlem to lesbian softball leagues in Northampton, Massachusetts. Her current book length project examines the black freedom movement in New York City, and how that movement utilized and was shaped by Madison Avenue’s courting of black consumers. In addition to teaching world history and modern American history courses at Shepherd, she is also Co-Director of the history department’s Historic Preservation and Public History program.