Today’s article focuses on a woman who’s words, written up nearly sixty years ago, are still relevant and strong today: Anne Braden.
Anne Braden was a white southern woman activist, at least that is what she identified herself as, who fought for equal rights. Her way of thinking comes very close to the anti-racist approach we see happening nowadays all around the world. She saw her position as a white woman in the south as a privileged one, with a privilege that built upon a system of injustices still intact. With her activism she strove to demolish this system and tried to make, especially white women, aware of the system at play. She worked hand in hand with other activist groups without taking the role of the leader and putting herself first: her focus was on helping others and not gaining fame by doing so. This is something we should all take as an example: helping others is about them and not yourself!
Read more about Anne Braden’s life and impact on the fight against racism in the South of America in the full article below!
Anne Braden ǀ * 18-7-1924 | † 6-3-2006 ǀ USA ǀ Equal Rights Activist, Journalist
Anne Braden was an equal rights activist, born in 1924 in Louisville, Kentucky. She grew up in an elite Southern family, descendent from enslavers, who stressed the importance of their Southern heritage. Anne herself openly denounced this view and spent her entire adult life working as an activist to create equal rights for black people. She always tried to involve white people in the movement, stressing their responsibility in opposing racism.
After a fairly sheltered upbringing in a traditional southern family, Anne attended Stradford and Randolph-Macon, two exclusive women’s colleges, during the Second World War. At university, she came into contact with ways of thinking different from her family’s. This led to a large personal transformation which she has described as ‘turning myself inside out’, because she had to come to terms with the realisation that her family and social circle held wrong ideas. Anne realised that her family’s way of life could only exist because black people, but also working people, were subjugated. She concluded that no white person in the South could be untouched by segregation. She had to actively oppose it, or she would become part of the evil.
During this turning point in her life she met Carl Braden, because they were co-workers at a newspaper. He was also an activist and became her mentor. They worked together in social reform movements, and at some point fell in love. Anne described her decision to marry him as ‘marrying not just a man but a movement.’ They both supported a lot of leftist ideology, connecting anti-racism work with social justice and economic equality. Therefore the couple became a target in the severe anti-communist movement of the fifties. This witch hunt meant that anything seeming communist (or leftist) was viewed with great suspicion. Anne and Carl never confirmed or denied their loyalty to communist ideas.
Anne’s activism was mostly local and regional, but this changed with one decision she and Carl made in 1954: to help an African-American couple buy a home in Louisville. Due to segregation laws, this was illegal. The couple, Andrew and Charlotte Wade, were violently threatened and eventually their house was exploded. No one was injured, but the Bradens became the target of a legal investigation in which they were accused of being the leaders of a communist plot who had wanted to create unrest with the purchase of the house. Anne and Carl fought back, using the publicity from the case to show the injustices in the system. Using the case’s fame, they toured the country, reaching black and white people, mostly in the South.
In this way, Anne acquired a network of activists with whom she collaborated and whom she could connect to one another. She focused on building bridges between people and communities, also through her work for the ‘Southern Patriot’, a newspaper which she helped popularise and which she used to increase understanding amongst Southerners for issues such as the desegregation of schools. Due to the court case, Anne’s name continued to be associated with the communist threat. As a result, she often kept her involvement in activist groups quiet, so that the groups would not be associated with communism through her. In her activism, Anne always identified herself as a white, southern, woman activist. The rare sight of a white woman advocating equal rights was often enough to make people listen to her. She always reached out to other white people to convince them to support equal rights. She thought that specifically white southern women had the responsibility to oppose racism, because violence against African-American men was often justified by reasoning that the perpetrators did it to protect white women.
Even in Anne’s progressive circles women were often discredited and overlooked for leadership positions. While her main focus was always to improve the position of black people and to oppose racism, she also felt that it was her mission to get women ‘out of the kitchen and involved in things.’ She and Carl had a marriage that was still very uncommon, in which he supported her activism and shared in the household duties and the care for their three children. Anne made a point of creating bonds and solidarity between herself and other (black) women, in order to provide mutual support in what could often be a lonely battle. As virtually the only (white) woman in the racial justice movement, she became an example and a mother-like figure for younger generations of female activists.Anne Braden continued her activist work, in later years mainly locally in her hometown of Louisville, virtually until her death of pneumonia in 2006. Carl had passed away in 1975, but she continued to spread the message of racial equality. Those who want to know more about her can read her own book ‘The Wall Between’, published in 1958, about the court case, or her biography written by Catherine Fosl in 2002. In ‘The Wall Between’ she wrote that no white person can be neutral on racism, saying that ‘Either you find a way to oppose the evil, or the evil becomes part of you and you are a part of it, and it winds itself around your soul like the arms of an octopus.’ This message, written sixty years ago, is strikingly similar to the modern discussion on the importance of being actively anti-racist. It goes to show how relevant Anne Braden’s life and work remains.
Author: Sara van Rijt
Image: Unknown Author