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Our History: Where Did We Come From?

The National Hook-Up of Black Women was founded in 1974 by a small group of spirited women during the fourth Congressional Black Caucus Legislative Weekend who recognized the need to establish a communications network between women’s organizations and the Congressional Black Caucus. These black women met in a hotel room and organized a national forum to articulate the needs and concerns of women and children. Historically, our agenda has been to impact public policy.

Dr. Arnita Young Boswell.jpg


DR. ARNITA YOUNG BOSWELL was born April 19, 1920 in Detroit, Michigan. She was an African-American activist and educator. She, her sister Eleanor, and her brother Whitney were raised in Lincoln Ridge, KY, where her vocation for community service was nurtured, along with that of her brother’s and sister’s. Coming from a strong family environment, there was a history of being engaged in the (civil rights) struggle and being involved in the educational advancement of African-Americans. Her father, Whitney M. Young, Sr., was President of the Lincoln Institute. Her mother, Laura Ray Young, was the first African-American postmaster in Kentucky and the second in the United States. Her brother, Whitney, became National Urban League’s President and pioneered the movement for equality for African-Americans in the armed forces.


Boswell earned a Bachelor’s degree in home economics from Kentucky State University in the mid-1940s and a Master’s degree in social work from Atlanta University in the late 1940s. She received an honorary Doctoral degree in social work from the University of Colorado, in Boulder. In 1953, she married dermatologist, Dr. Paul Boswell, who died in 1982.


Most of her professional life was dedicated to teaching and social services. She was a professor of social work at the University of Chicago from 1961 to 1980. In the summer of 1966, she directed the women’s division of a large civil rights demonstration led by the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Chicago, for which she was cited. In 1974, she, along with a small group of women, found the National Hook-Up of Black Women during the fourth Congressional Black Caucus Legislative Weekend. After that, she served as Director of Social Services for families with children with special needs at the University of Illinois Chicago. In the mid-1980s, Boswell served as Director of the Family Resources Center at the Robert Taylor Homes; she was the first National Director for Project Head Start and for the social workers of the Chicago Public Schools.


Besides being a founder of the National Hook-Up of Black Women, Boswell was also the founder of the League of Black Women and the Women’s Board of the Chicago Urban League. Boswell died on July 6, 2002 at a hospital in Los Angeles. She was 82.


Source: The Face of Our Past: Images of Black Women from Colonial America to the Present. Edited by Kathleen Thompson and Hilary Mac Austin. Copyright 1999, Indiana University Press.


FANNIE LOU HAMER (1917-1977), the youngest of 20 children who began working with her Mississippi sharecropper parents at the age of 6, changed a nation's perspective on democracy. Hamer became involved in the civil rights movement when she helped the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) organize a voter registration drive in Ruleville, Mississippi, which challenged the state's laws that were designed to deny blacks the right to vote.


By then, 45 years old and a mother, Hamer lost her job and continually risked her life because of her civil rights activism. Hamer and other activists were arrested in June 1963 and severely beaten at a Montgomery County, Mississippi jail by two black inmates, on orders from white police officers. Hamer suffered permanent injuries. Despite this brutal beating, Hamer spoke frequently to raise money for the movement.


In 1964, Hamer and other SNCC members established the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) after failed attempts to coordinate with the Mississippi Democratic Party. The group sent delegates to the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, where they challenged the all-white Mississippi delegation, arguing that the state's all-white delegation did not truly represent Mississippi. As a result, in l968, the Convention seated an integrated challenge delegation from Mississippi.


Deeply committed to improving life for poor minorities in her state, Hamer, working with the National Council of Negro Women and others, helped organize food cooperatives, low-income housing, school desegregation, day-care and other services. She continued political activities as well, being one of the founders in the 1970s of the National Women's Political Caucus.


Hamer published her autobiography, To Praise Our Bridges, in 1967. She is buried in her hometown of Ruleville, Mississippi, where her tombstone reads,
"I am sick and tired of being sick and tired."

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