Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Dissertation



First Advisor

Wanda A. Hendricks


On February 10, 1930, Charles Guerand, a white police officer, killed a fourteen-year-old African American girl named Hattie McCray in a New Orleans restaurant when she refused to consent to a sexual relationship after repeated coercion. In response, three African American organizations, the New Orleans branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Federation of Civics Leagues and the black newspaper, the Louisiana Weekly, formed a coalition to hire a special prosecutor in Guerand's trial. As they sought contributions, McCray became a symbol of black womanhood in need of protection from bestial white men, spurring donations from hundreds of individuals from various religious, socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds. The organizers emphasized McCray's respectability and attempted to appeal to black men in particular to donate as a means to prove that they would protect the virtue of all African American women.

The rhetoric and imagery utilized by the McCray Fund were frequently employed by the coalition organizations during this period. Calls to action utilizing images of respectable, middle-class manhood and womanhood were central to the NAACP's campaigns. Despite near-debilitating declines in membership and internal power struggles, these conceptions enabled the branch to rally periodically around specific causes, challenging police brutality, lynching, segregation and disenfranchisement. Similarly, the civic leagues employed a gendered rhetoric of protection and provision to secure advances in voter registration, education and segregated public spaces as well as to demand justice in criminal cases involving interracial rape, murder and police brutality. The city's black newspaper, the Louisiana Weekly, also used the desires of individuals to demonstrate and safeguard middle-class respectability and to protect black women and children from white abuses. The paper garnered support from a broad range of individuals to call for changes in language, segregation policies, white business practices and the justice system to reflect the status of those men and women who held themselves to high standards of behavior. Through an analysis of these mechanisms for mobilization, this work demonstrates the power of these middle-class ideals to unite African American men and women to overcome extreme financial difficulty as well as social divisions to demand justice and equality.


© 2010, Michele Grigsby Coffey