During this time, Bethune’s National Council of Negro Women rose to prominence. Her friendship with Eleanor Roosevelt and indefatigable energy placed her squarely in the place as a national leader and power broker similar to Booker T. Washington and Frederick Douglass. Bethune’s organization linked social justice issues with political policies and opportunities for black women and children. It is believed that her meteoric rise to power came from her conciliation with black men. She did not view them as the enemy nor sought to undermine their strides in organizational leadership, rather she preferred to harness the power of black women who she dubbed the backbone of the race. The NCNW convulsed from the 1930s to the 1950s when their aim of providing black women with professional work, often in the federal government, faded when the Roosevelts left office.
Bethune’s power diminished when the Democratic Party was replaced by a steady stream of Republicans whose interest in black women did not warrant special treatment. By 1952, when the Republican Party regained the White House, the NCNW encountered internal strife with regards to their future and direction. Council leadership realized they would have to modulate their agenda to remain a viable element within the black community. These changes had to address class, race, and gender matters that initially promoted educated leadership over passionate grassroots activists. NCNW adjusted themselves accordingly and provided a rich source of talented women whose minds were tempered with a radicalized and racialized gendered understanding, yet were sympathetic to regional and grassroots issues and activists. The rising civil rights movement introduced new voices and methods to clubwomen and grassroots leaders. The melding of these two groups provided a dynamic relationship which changed the social and political landscape of America.
Charlotta Bass with Paul Robeson, 1949.
Los Angeles Daily News.
In areas of professionalism, black women charted courses. In 1950 attorney Edith Sampson was the first African American to be appointed as a delegate to the United Nations General Assembly. Also, in 1950, Helen Octavia Dickens, M.D became the first African American woman admitted to the American College of Surgeons. In 1955 Clotilde Dent Bowen became the U.S. Army’s first black female physician to attain the rank of colonel. In education, Arie Taylor became the first black person to be a Women’s Air Force classroom instructor in 1951. In 1952, Charlotta Bass became the first black woman to be nominated for vice president of the United States by a major political party when she ran on the Progressive Party ticket.