Founded on 29 May 1961 in Jackson, Mississippi, Womanpower Unlimited was the brainchild of local businesswoman and activist Clarie Collins Harvey. A civil rights organization designed to mobilize and empower women, Womanpower was dedicated to supporting civil and human rights on the local, national, and international levels. Womanpower evolved from a meeting Harvey convened at the Central Methodist Church in response to the arrival and incarceration of the Freedom Riders in Jackson. At their trial, Harvey noticed that many of them were improperly clothed because their belongings had been taken from them when they were detained. As a result, she and Aurelia Young, a professor at Jackson State College (now Jackson State University), sent clothing to the jail. Aware of the growing movement in Mississippi and the fact that these youth, most of whom were not local residents, would need continuing support, Harvey sent a call though local churches to solicit money and other items for the activists.
Womanpower sought to address the immediate needs of the Freedom Riders, yet members’ activism was grounded in broadly humanist ideologies of freedom and justice. The group’s stated purpose was “to help create the atmosphere, the institutions, and traditions that make freedom and peace possible. We are all women working together for a peaceful world and wholesome community life.” During its seven-year existence Womanpower focused on empowering women to engage in social activism, providing moral and material support for civil rights activists, generating resources for civil rights organizations, and improving the conditions of African American life.
In addition to Harvey, who served as Womanpower’s chair, vice chair Thelma Sanders and executive secretary A. M. E. Logan were integral to the organization’s success. Both had civil rights experience through the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and other organizations and were economically independent. Sanders owned a women’s clothing store, while Logan worked as a traveling sales representative for A. W. Curtis, a distributor of George Washington Carver products. Other Womanpower members included Aura Gary, Dorestine Parker Carey, Jessie Bryant Mosley, Ruth O. Hubert, R. Arline Young, Artisha W. Jordan, and Jane Schutt. Womanpower also had a “chain of friendship”—individuals throughout the country who provided financial assistance.
Womanpower met bimonthly, usually at the Central Methodist Church, the Farish Street Baptist Church, or the Pearl Street African Methodist Episcopal Church. The group provided emotional as well as material support to the Freedom Riders during their incarceration and food, clothing, and housing after their release. After the Freedom Riders left the state, Womanpower turned its attention to voter registration. Womanpower also lent assistance to the Freedom Summer project in 1964 by maintaining freedom houses and supplying lunches for volunteers at the Farish Street Baptist Church. In the fall of 1964, when public school integration began in Jackson, Womanpower members disseminated information and encouraged parents to enroll their children and later provided material and emotional support for the families of children integrating the schools.
Womanpower also engaged in activities that connected members to national and international communities of like-minded women. In 1962 Harvey helped organize the Box Project, in which women in Vermont donated boxes of clothing, food, and household items to needy families in Mississippi. And in 1965, in conjunction with the New York–based Race Relations Committee of the American Ethical Union, Womanpower began a program that sent poor children from the South, most of them black, to summer camps in New England. Womanpower also supported peace activism through an association with Women Strike for Peace.
Womanpower Unlimited disbanded in 1968, with many members joining the newly founded Jackson section of the National Council of Negro Women.
- Raymond Arsenault, Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice (2006)
- August Meier and Elliot Rudwick, CORE: A Study of the Civil Rights Movement, 1942–1968 (1973)
- Tiyi M. Morris, in Groundwork: Local Black Freedom Struggles in America, ed. Komozi Woodard and Jeanne Theoharis (2005)
- Tiyi M. Morris, Womanpower Unlimited and the Black Freedom Struggle in Mississippi (2015)
- James Peck, Freedom Ride (1962)