Anti-poverty Activism, Queer Organizing, and Embodied Resistance

Endorsed by the OAH Committee on the Status of ALANA Historians and ALANA Histories

Saturday, April 1, 2023, 8:45 AM - 10:15 AM

Type: Paper Session

Tags: African American; Latino/a; LGBTQ History and Queer Studies; Local and Community History; Politics; Postwar; Sexuality; West; Women's History

Papers Presented

Amazing Grace: Graciela Olivarez, Mexican American Civil Rights and the War on Poverty

This paper will highlight the connections between the Chicano Movement, feminism and the War on Poverty through the lens of the life and career of Graciela Olivarez, one of the first Latinas to head a federal agency. Born into poverty in the small mining town of Sonora, Arizona, Olivarez became active in the Mexican-American civil rights movement in the 1950s and early 1960s. Olivarez, who did not complete high school, also became the first woman to graduate from the University of Notre Dame Law School. Her experience with civil rights organizations led directly to her leadership in antipoverty efforts at the state level in Arizona and, later, in New Mexico. President Jimmy Carter selected Olivarez to direct the national War on Poverty as head of the Community Services Administration, a position she held from 1977-1980. In that role, she became one of the first Latinas to head a federal agency. Her life and career demonstrate the relationship between social movements and the War on Poverty. Building on my previous work and the scholarship of others, and based on extensive research in Olivarez's papers at Arizona State University, as well as archival collections at the University of Notre Dame, the University of California Santa Barbara, the National Archives and other repositories, this paper will explore those often intricate and fundamental connections between Mexican America civil rights, feminism and antipoverty activism and explain the significance of Graciela Olivarez's often overlooked life and career.

Presented By
Robert Bauman, Washington State University, Tri-Cities

Gay SoCal: Connecting Los Angeles and Orange County's Gay Rights Movements

In the field of queer history, the case study of the city has become a popular topic in recent years. Scholars such as Nan Boyd, Genny Beemyn, and Timothy Stuart-Winter have provided significant contributions to the field of queer history by examining queer life, activism, and culture in San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and Chicago, respectively. Yet as this subfield continues to grow, one perspective is missing: that of the suburban and metropolitan queer histories. Scholars have remained steadfast in their focus on large urban areas like New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, neglecting both the suburban areas that lie outside of them and their relationship to the suburbs. Yet, in order to tell a truly comprehensive queer history, especially as America became increasingly suburbanized in the late twentieth century, one must consider both city and suburb. This paper seeks to usher in a new area of inquiry within the subfield of queer case studies by connecting the queer histories of Los Angeles and its Orange County suburbs. In doing so, I show how interrelated these two areas are, and how it becomes impossible to separate the two when conducting a thorough case study of Southern California's queer life and activism. Focusing on the gay liberation movement of the 1980s, I show how Orange County and Los Angeles-based gay activists collaborated with and influenced each other across the fifty miles of space separated these two counties. Combining lines of inquiry from the field of metropolitan history and queer history, I hope to push the field of the queer case study beyond just the city.

Presented By
Haleigh Marcello, University of California, Irvine

Resistant Bodies and Civil Rights: The Route 40 Desegregation Campaign and the Elkton Three

In September 1961 three Black pacifists, all seasoned activists, stopped to eat in Elkton, Maryland en route to their Philadelphia homes from Washington, D.C. The segregated restaurant along busy Route 40 refused to serve them and called the police to have them removed. However, Wallace and Juanita Nelson, accompanied by their close friend Eroseanna Robinson, were veterans of total noncooperation in the linked pacifist and civil rights movements. When the police arrived, they went limp. And while in jail they refused to eat or walk to the courtroom to be sentenced. After two weeks on a hunger strike a judge sent them to the state mental hospital, a common response to hunger strikers who authorities frequently labeled psychologically incompetent. After the superintendent there declared them “perfectly sane” the judge suspended their fine and set them free over a month after their arrest. Meanwhile the “Elkton Three” saga, covered widely in the press, brought significant attention to persistent segregation along Route 40, which connected the nation’s capital to New York City. African diplomats attempting to travel from their embassies to the United Nations had long complained of the discrimination and the state department had put pressure on the state of Maryland to address the problem. In addition, the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) was considering a mass campaign of civil disobedience along Route 40. The Elkton Three’s struggle, combined with the threat of a CORE freedom ride, forced businesses to desegregate and accelerated civil rights campaigns across East Coast border states. While there has been significant scholarship on CORE’s Desegregate Route 40 project, the role of the Elkton Three has been overlooked. The embodied resistance they deployed through total noncooperation, particularly their hunger strike, brought attention to the persistent segregation in Maryland’s public accommodations. The Nelsons and Robinson also demonstrated a commitment to radical nonviolence that went beyond more mainstream civil rights activists, including those in CORE. All three had all spent significant time in prisons, and on hunger strikes, since the mid-1940s as a result of their civil rights and pacifist work. All three were members of the radical group The Peacemakers, who engaged in tax refusal and practiced total noncooperation when arrested. Peacemakers also lived communally and developed ascetic practices such as meditation and vegetarianism. This paper will tell the Elkton Three’s story and suggest the role of embodied resistance to the relative success of the freedom struggle.

Presented By
Victoria W. Wolcott, University at Buffalo

Session Participants

Chair and Commentator: Hasan Kwame Jeffries, Ohio State University

Presenter: Robert Bauman, Washington State University, Tri-Cities
Robert Bauman is Professor of History and Academic Director of Arts and Sciences at Washington State University Tri-Cities. He is an award-winning scholar and author of a number of articles and book chapters and two books, Race and the War on Poverty: From Watts to East LA (2008) and Fighting to Preserve a Nation’s Soul: America’s Ecumenical War on Poverty (2019). He also is co-editor, with Robert Franklin, and co-author of Nowhere to Remember: Hanford, White Bluffs and Richland to 1943 (2018) and Echoes of Exclusion and Resistance: Voices from the Hanford Region (2021). His article, “Jim Crow in the Tri-Cities, 1943-1950” won the Charles Gates Award from the Pacific Northwest Quarterly in 2005. Professor Bauman teaches courses on African American History, The Chicano Movement, and Immigration and Migration in American History.

Presenter: Haleigh Marcello, University of California, Irvine
Haleigh Marcello is a Ph.D. candidate in History at the University of California, Irvine. Her research interests broadly encompass the histories of gender and sexuality in the mid-to-late 20th century United States. Haleigh's dissertation explores the gay rights movement and its relationship with suburban space in Orange County, California during the 1980s.

Presenter: Victoria W. Wolcott, University at Buffalo
Victoria W. Wolcott is Professor of History at the University at Buffalo, SUNY. She has published two books: Remaking Respectability: African-American Women in Interwar Detroit (2001) and Race, Riots, and Roller Coasters: The Struggle Over Segregated Recreation in America (2012). In addition, she has published articles in The Journal of American History, The Radical History Review, and the Journal of Women’s History among others. Her new book, Living in the Future: The Utopian Strain in the Long Civil Rights Movement, explores the role of interracial pacifist communities in the civil rights movement and will be published by the University of Chicago Press in March, 2022.