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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Ruth Dial Woods, June 12, 1992. Interview L-0078. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Separatism in the civil rights movement in comparison to the women's liberation movement

Woods describes the evolution of her political activism over the course of the 1960s and 1970s. Initially involved with the civil rights movement, Woods's focus gradually shifted to the women's liberation movement. In particular, Woods focuses on the role of separatism within the civil rights movement and argues that she favored women's liberation later on because she saw it as being about women speaking out collectively, rather than as distinctive groups.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Ruth Dial Woods, June 12, 1992. Interview L-0078. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

ANNE MITCHELL COE:
Could you talk a little more about your interest in women's issues? Did that come out of your involvement in the civil rights movement sort of logically? I know a lot of women felt that they'd awakened to discrimination against women while they were in the civil rights movement. How did you feel that you became a person that was interested in feminism?
RUTH DIAL WOODS:
You have to realize that people join movements just as they join clubs and organizations for different reasons. I guess you have to go back and examine my psyche which you couldn't examine if I didn't care to share it with you. You have to grow up in an isolated culture that on the one hand is supporting you and nurturing you to feel good about yourself, to strive to achieve, to excel, to accept responsibility, to meet the expectations that are held for you and then, on the other hand, interact with another culture that says that you don't look Indian, you don't act Indian and always having to justify that you're Indian but you're not federally recognized, that you've never had a treaty with the federal government. You go through all these explanations of having to justify your very being, your very birth right. That creates a big void of self-confidence, a big void that allows you to develop an ethnic pride to which you have a birth right. So you grow up wanting to belong, wanting to be accepted, wanting to be a part, and yet there's always some kind of hurdle you have to overcome. If it isn't justifying why you're Indian or having to explain that you are Indian or if it isn't trying to excel so that you can access some opportunity, just a whole series of hurdles. So, the civil rights movement, that supportive climate, that nurturing climate of "We are about the business of humanity." became that place for me to find that acceptance, that sense of belonging, that sense of freedom. As I said, toward the end of the civil rights movement in the last few years, as you know, we started moving toward separatism. We dealt with black separatism. The interestingߞquote interestingߞphenomenon about the American Indian is that the American Indians would not get involved with the civil rights movement because they believed in separatism and until black separatism evolved the Indians would not support the concept of civil rights. But then that's a deeper psyche you'd have to deal with because another friend says "He who questions the identity of another is insecure within his or her own identity." So I'll leave that and let it rest where it falls. This black friend of mine, I remember we were in Washington at some meeting. I don't remember which one now. We had worked together eight or nine years and they called a black caucus and, of course, I just proceeded to go walking into the black caucus and he looked at me and he says, "Ruth," he says, "you can't go in here." I said "Why?" He says "It's a black caucus. I'm sorry. You can't go in here." And I guess that's what sort of shocked me into reality, to take off my rose-colored glasses and turn the tint down a little and look at things a little bit differently. It did not impair our relationship because we are thirty years down the road now and still maintain a very close relationship, but it got to the point where he had to say, "Ruth, I love you. I love you like a sister, but I am about the business of black people." and when you've been on the battle line with people for seven, eight, ten years and you realize that that's what happens. So, I tried my best to accept separatism as a means to an end, but that's contradictory when you believe in pluralism and then also foster separatism. So I found that conflict. So, you see, when the women's movement came along, we were not into ethnicity. We were into a common goal. We broke it down and I really do think that the women's movement contributed more to those who chose to understand cultural diversity because women went about the business of "What is the mission? What is the goal?" And you knew we were black and white and red and brown and Asian and we didn't get bogged down into ethnicity. It was "We are women. These are problems and issues that effect women." We never did that in the civil rights movement. We dealt with race, you know, the white against the black, squeeze the Indians where we could. We never talked about Asian Americans, never talked about Hispanic Americans, never talked about Alaskans and native Eskimos and Hawaiians or anything. So, I think the women's movement, although I don't think it was an outgrowth of civil rights, I think its time was right. I can sit back forty years now and tell you that there's no hope, but you see at that time it was just another vehicle.