because the woman's place is wherever the woman is...

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Ruby Doris Smith-Robinson

Ruby Doris Smith-Robinson was eighteen years old when she helped to conceive the civil rights tactic that came to be known as "jail, no bail." That civil rights organizers and demonstrators would get arrested had become a given as the movement for racial justice unfolded. But the sense was that they were too valuable to languish in cells while the work outside fell on others. So an increasing part of the work became scrounging up the bail to get them out. In 1961, in Rock Hill, South Carolina, however, Smith-Robinson and three other young African-Americans decided that they would refuse bail and do the time.

Though it was only thirty days (this time) because the "crimes" they committed were rarely grievous and were often only misdemeanors, the point was being made. These were young people who were prepared to suffer. Warriors who would not be denied.

Hitting the ground running as an social change agent, Smith-Robinson joined the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee and immediately helped to organize chapters in Charleston, North Carolina; Nashville, Tennessee; and Macomb, Mississippi. Then she went on to participate in the Freedom Rides, for which she spent 45 days at the infamous Parchman Prison Farm.

Within two years, despite her youth and her gender, she had become such a responsible member of SNCC, she was in charge of an entire summer voter registration drive in Mississippi and the Sojourner Truth motor fleet that provided transportation for organizers to move around the southern United States. Eventually, she was voted the organization's Executive Secretary (its chief administrator) and, as such, was a focused and militant Black Power proponent.

Once, when a group of SNCC volunteers were waiting to board a plane for a trip to Africa, they were told the plane had overbooked and they would need to wait for a later flight. Without a signal to anyone, Smith-Robinson simply marched out and plunked herself down on the jetway until they were given their seats. In-your-face women don't mind taking the lead and will do what's necessary.

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