Born in the segregated South to politically active parents, Jean Davis became politically aware as a young girl in Newnan, Georgia. Her early aspiration was to work as a missionary in Africa but instead, she attended Morris Brown College and taught public school in Atlanta. As a student at Morris Brown, Davis was involved in the Civil Rights Movement and participated in boycotts of Rich’s Department Store and sit-ins at Woolworth’s. Davis also worked with the A. Philip Randolph Institute as well as the Georgia AFL-CIO and the National AFL-CIO. Through her work with different union organizations and her activism in civil rights, Davis became interested in the Equal Rights Amendment. She felt strongly that the Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW) was necessary in order to bring union women on board with the ERA and also to establish an organization that would place women in leadership positions. In addition to her work with the ERA, Davis worked on a number of campaigns from local school boards to notable politicians and continues the struggle for human rights.
Abstract of the full interview
Aware of racial discrimination at an early age, Davis begins by recounting her childhood in segregated Newnan, Georgia. Her emerging activism, she believes, was influenced by her community-oriented parents and by her cousin, a railroad worker, and union member. Davis discusses her internship at the A. Philip Randolph Institute, and how that led to her work with several different social justice organizations, including the AFL-CIO. Davis articulates her struggle to find a way to support both the Civil Rights Movement and the Women's Movement -- which was largely considered to be a white, middle-class effort. She recalls, "I couldn't see how I wanted to be a person who advocated for white women; when white women weren't advocating human rights for everybody." Davis also explains that one of the reasons more women of color were not involved in the ERA was because there was economic disparity between white women and women of color. She says that her opinion of the women's movement changed when Sarah Butler couched the issue not in terms of race or class but in terms of human rights. Davis ends the interview by talking about the importance of community activism for all generations, and discusses the various causes and organizations she continues to support.
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