Thursday, March 7

Kitchen to Classroom: Women Who Make America

Photo by Alfred T. Palmer, 1943, courtesy of the Library of Congress.
"Kitchen to Classroom" is a weekly dispatch from our postdoctoral fellow, Angela Jill Cooley.

March is women’s history month, and I want to mark the occasion by highlighting “Makers: Women Who Make America” a video partnership by AOL and PBS documenting the stories of hundreds of women—some well-known and others undersung—who shape the course of our nation. Many of these women pursue social justice in our food systems. (All of the videos are short, available online--use the links below--and extremely compelling.)

Diane Nash with Nashville Mayor Ben West at a peaceful protest in 1960, leading up to the successful desegregation of lunch counters in Nashville

In 1960, Diane Nash led efforts in Nashville to desegregate the city’s lunch counters. When she moved from Chicago to attend Fisk University, she found racial segregation in local restaurants to be “humiliating.” Nash’s sharp acumen and tenacity led to a public encounter with Nashville mayor Ben West in April 1960 during which West agreed that racial segregation was wrong. Several weeks later, Nashville integrated six of its lunch counters, and eventually, the rest of the region followed suit.

Dolores Huerta at a 1965 strike (huelga, in Spanish) courtesy of the Harvey Richards Media Archive

Dolores Huerta furthered social justice for migrant farm workers in 1966 by forming the United Farm Workers with Cesar Chavez. Her organization encouraged nationwide boycotts to encourage higher wages for the laborers who grow our food. Like Nash, she risked her own safety and well-being for the cause of justice. In 1970, in response to pressure from the boycott, grape producers agreed to provide higher wages and better working conditions.

Nikki Henderson

The pursuit of a more just and inclusive food system continues today with activists like Nikki Henderson who leads efforts in West Oakland, California, to empower the community to grow and access healthy foods. She is Executive Director of People’s Grocery, a food justice organization with a mission to improve the health and economy of West Oakland through local food systems. Henderson describes her work as a “partnership with the community that tends to know what it needs and what it wants.”

Issues of food access and labor justice are of national importance, yet they have particular resonance in the South—a region with a paradoxical history marked by agricultural production and food insecurity. "Makers" reveals how women can lead the way in improving our food systems. This year, every month will be focused on women at the SFA. Join us as we explore the role of women in shaping the changing food culture of the American South.