1. Role of Women in the Civil Rights Movement

1. Role of Women in the Civil Rights Movement


Through the play Beautiful Agitators and accompanying curriculum, students will eplore the life of Vera Mae Pigee and the role of women in the civil rights movement.

Beautiful Agitators Lesson Plan: Scene One

Standards: Local civil rights history, power relations & social justice

Content Strand 4:

A. Identify and explain the significance of the major actors, groups and events of the civil rights movement in the mid 20th century in Mississippi (i.e., Fannie Lou Hamer, Medgar Evers, Dr. T.R.M. Howard, James Meredith, Freedom Rides, Freedom Summer, Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party).

B. Understand and describe the historical circumstances and conditions that necessitated the development of civil rights and human rights protections and/or activism for various minority groups in Mississippi.

Tactics: Organizing, Resistance, Collective Action & Unity

Counter Tactics: Intimidation, Surveillance


Instructor will have students read short bio of Vera Mae Pigee and Scene One from the "Beautiful Agitators" script before the whole class disscussion. Students can read the scene aloud or independently.


To complete the research portion of the lesson plan, students will need access to computers. 





LESSON: Introducing Mrs. Vera Mae Pigee

VERA: I told them when we were in the process of getting started, and again when I was elected secretary, that the only thing I knew about the NAACP was that it is something that is supposed to make these Mississippi white folks act like human beings AND I want to be a part of that monster.

ACTIVITY: Discussion

  1. Before watching and reading the play, “Beautiful Agitators,” had you ever heard of Vera Mae Pigee?
  2. Who is Vera Mae Pigee?
  3. Explore the title of the play, “Beautiful Agitators”
  4. How has the word agitator been used as a pejorative when referring to civil rights activists?
  5. What is the significance of using this word in the title?
  6. What might the use of the word beautiful imply?
  7. How does the use of Vera Mae’s beauty salon as a clandestine location for civil rights work and citizenship training demonstrate the way in which women were able to occupy spaces and organize under the radar?
  8. What does this say about the expectations of women’s roles during the civil rights movement?
  9. How has the story of Vera Mae Pigee been preserved by the play "Beautiful Agitators"?

LESSON: Role of Women in the Civil Rights Movement 


Vera Mae Pigee is the heart of our Beautiful Agitators play. The first scene depicts the many hats Vera Mae Pigee wore in her role as an organizer and activist. While we proudly celebrate her unique and valuable contributions, Mrs. Pigee is not an outlier in the civil rights movement. She is one of many women who led the charge and carried and sustained the movement within their communities across the South. These women made great sacrifices for the movement and were themselves the targets of intimidation and violence.


Students will be able to answer the following questions:

  1. Discuss the varied roles that women played in the civil rights movement.
  2. Identify multiple key leaders that are too often left unmentioned.
  3. Evaluate why women were often excluded from the narrative.
  4. Articulate the critical importance of women in the civil rights movement.

ACTIVITY: Research Project

Students will uncover the unsung voices of the women of the civil rights movement. Assign each student a name from the list provided and ask them to create a digital collage representing the life of their leader which they will present to the class. Students will be required to to answer the following questions about their historical figure and her contributions to the movement: 

  1. What is the name of your historical figure?
  2. Where and when was she born?
  3. What role did she play in the civil rights movement?
  4. Was she a part of a specific organization?
  5. Has this person been memorialized? If so, how?

EXTENSION: Monument Proposal

[See above image of Vera Mae Pigee mural in downtown Clarksdale, MS artist Charles Coleman]

Have your students work individually or in groups to submit a monument proposal.  

  1. What type of monument would they design ex: plaque, sculpture, painting, statue, etc.?  
  2. What artistic style would be used as inspiration- realistic, abstract, etc
  3. What words and images would be important to include in the monument? Ex: Personal quote, poetry, song lyric, etc
  4. Where would the monument be placed?
  5. Who would they invite to support the funding of this monument?
  6. Who would they invite to the dedication of this monument?
  7. Why is this monument important to understanding the history of the civil rights movement?
  8. How would this monument serve to mobilize future generations to work for civic change?









Beautiful Agitators Script: Scene One

Scene One

July 1955, Clarksdale Mississippi

Sunday evening in the Pigee house, Mary Jane is reading the newspaper after dinner.

MARY JANE: (reads aloud from newspaper) Pictured left to right, Aaron E. Henry and Vera Mae Pigee of the Coahoma County chapter. Did you have to wear that hat with those boots?

VERA: Now Mary Jane, You know I am “Thee Hat Lady” of Clarksdale! Among many other titles too! (all laughs) I’ve got to have the look to go with this attitude folks, like Chief Collins, call “big”. Besides, didn't you know, fashion is a part of my work too, child? (all laugh as Vera takes the newspaper and studies the photo)

MARY JANE: I don’t think the NAACP knows what they’ve gotten themselves into.

VERA: I told them when we were in the process of getting started, and again when I was elected secretary, that the only thing I knew about the NAACP was that it is something that is supposed to make these Mississippi white folks act like human beings AND I want to be a part of that monster.

MARY JANE: So look at you now - here you are!

VERA: And so here I am serving as the secretary for our chapter, and now advisor of the Youth Council here, my own baby.  

MARY JANE: I’m glad you listened to Mr. Evers.

VERA:  “When nobody else is moving and the students are moving, they are the leadership for everybody AND Vera, we need you to direct them.  Medgar said that.

MARY JANE: And he was right!

[CUE 2 - Phone Ring 1]

(The phone rings, Mary Jane enters the scene to answer the phone. Paul

VERA : Pigee’s beauty shop. How can I help you? Hello? Hello? (pause, Vera hangs up the phone) Mary Jane, you better not be courtin’!

MARY JANE: Oh, Mama!

[CUE  - Phone Ring 2]

Phone rings again. This time Mary Jane rushes to try to answer.

VERA: Pigee’s beauty shop.  This is Vera.(answers the phone) Hello? (pause) Hello? (pause). (hangs up phone)

[CUE  - Phone Ring 3]

VERA: Hello?  - what? Who is this? Don’t call here again.

Vera hangs up the phone

MARY JANE: Who was that? What did they want?

VERA: I don’t know./ The bigger this movement gets, the greater the attention. And the greater the attention the movement gets, the more those at the forefront of this struggle are targeted. Not only will we be targeted, but everyone that supports us will be targeted too. Lord, did I make the right decision?

MARY JANE: Mama you’re scaring me. What did they say? Who was on the phone.

VERA: I won’t repeat it.  You’ve been sheltered, Mary Jane. You don’t know the seriousness of a black person in Mississippi today challenging the white power structure. The Klu Klux Klan, the White Citizens Council, have all got their parts in this thing.

MARY JANE: But...Mama, you’re just organizing voter registration. You’re not challenging anyone.

VERA: That is exactly what I am doing. Everytime one of our people exercises their right to vote we gain a little more power - and that will lead to change. And that terrifies the Mississippi white folks who have profited from our disenfranchisement . Our family -  your father works for those white people.  The worst kind. Those who own the plantations, cotton compress and the shacks, in which many colored folks live and many of those folks are my customers. Our money, our lives are dictated by white folks who contribute to our struggle everyday. My customers, your classmates, your father’s co-workers. As a community, we share our hardships, even when they don’t affect us directly. Do you see Mary Jane?

MARY JANE: I don’t want you to shelter me any longer. I want to understand, I want to help you change things.

VERA: Thank you my girl, you will be a great help. I pray I’m doing the right thing.

BLACK OUT End of Scene

Beautiful Agitators

 written by Aallyah Wright, Charles Coleman, Jessica James, Nick Houston and Jennifer Welch

commissioned and produced by StoryWorks, Jennifer Welch, artistic director




Lesson 1 Video: The Role of Women in the Movement

Lesson 1: The Role of Women in the Movement