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Celebrating Women's Leadership and Grassroots Activism
Nearly 200 people gathered at UNC-CH's Hanes Auditorium on September 13,
1998, to celebrate the completion of the Southern Oral History Program's
Women's Leadership and Grassroots Activism project and to view the video
documentary Leading Women. Co-sponsored
by UNC-CH's Curriculum in Women's Studies and the Communication Studies
Department, the event brought together female leaders and activists from
around North Carolina, UNC-CH students and faculty, and friends of the
The program included remarks by State Senator Ellie Kinnaird and Janice
Periquet of the North Carolina Humanities Council. After the screening,
the audience had a chance to discuss leadership with participants in the
project. Many of the insights shared during the discussion echoed comments
made by Women's Leadership and Grassroots Activism interviewees:
- "Leadership means inspiring confidence,
respect, and initiative in people so that they will act for themselves."
- "The most important thing for a leader is
simply to stand up, speak up, and take responsibility by rolling up
your sleeves and pitching in."
- "The essence of leadership is to be able
to gain the trust of the group, to inspire them and organize them
without separating yourself as an authority."
- "Leadership means helping a group confront
a controversy as a way to energize rather than dissolve itself."
The oral history project, initiated by the SOHP in
1994 to document the lives of female activists in the South, generated
over 200 interviews that challenge conventional definitions of leadership
and propose new frameworks for understanding women's activism. By focusing
on the South, considering conservative as well as progressive movements,
and paying careful attention to race and class, the Women's Leadership
interviews offer a varied perspective on the ways in which women can
act collectively to change society. Launched by Jacquelyn
Hall and coordinated by Alicia
J. Rouverol, the project involved over a dozen graduate and undergraduate
students from UNC-CH, primarily from the departments of history, folklore,
and religious studies.
Leading Women, directed by Joanne Hershfield and co-produced
by Hershfield and Rouverol, focuses on six interviewees who exemplify
the diverse experiences of female leaders: UNC-CH housekeeping organizer
Barbara Prear, poultry grower organizer Mary Clouse, North Carolina
Central University law professor Cheryl Amana, charter school advocate
Louise Cole, La Voz de Carolina editor Lizette Cruz-Watko, and
Principal Chief Joyce Dugan of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.
Leading Women uses their stories to explore how women take action
on behalf of themselves and their communities, how they define leadership,
and what leadership entails for women on a daily basis. A performance
piece, "Performing Women's Leadership," was also produced
as part of the project.
The complete collection of SOHP interviews from the
Women's Leadership and Grassroots Activism initiative is available in
the Southern Historical Collection
at UNC-CH, as are copies of Leading Women, which is distributed
through the University
of California Extension Center for Media and Independent Learning.
Want to learn more?
Watch the Leading Women
documentary that tells the story of the Women's Leadership project
and its discoveries (50 minutes, Real Audio format).