Local Organizing through a Global Lens: Muriel Snowden, Boston, and the Pan-African Movement

Thursday, January 4, 2018: 1:50 PM
Columbia 8 (Washington Hilton)
Julie de Chantal, University of Massachusetts Amherst
A New Jersey-born activist, Muriel Snowden was the co-founder of Freedom House, a community center located in the middle of Boston's Black community. Much of her early activism was centered around grassroots organizing at the local level. In 1951, her brother Bill Sutherland left the U.S. to focus on activism work in Europe and eventually in newly decolonized Ghana. For several years, Muriel struggled to understand his reasoning for pursuing political activism abroad instead of at home in the U.S. As letters continued to pass between them, she realized that his choice to leave was not simply him “searching for an inner peace,” as she had first believed. His description of his family’s daily struggles in Ghana, his political activities, and his requests for his sister to connect with his U.S.-based friends helped to expand her view of activism to a global perspective. This paper will examine the ways in which Muriel Snowden ultimately integrated components of Black nationalism, internationalism, and human rights into her interventions in her own community. Furthermore, it will examine her switch to using of a language of democracy, equality, and global citizenship during a time when most activists spoke of Boston only as an isolated city and seldom in contrast to other cities or the world. This paper aims to complicate our understanding of the women’s role in the civil rights movement and how they situated themselves as women in the fight for independence. It will demonstrate how local activists soon became global actors in a slowly decolonizing world through their influence on local politics.