Eliminating Racism: The YWCA USA History



Throughout our history, the YWCA has been in the forefront of most major movements in the United States as a pioneer in race relations, labor union representation, and the empowerment of women.

1890s - First African American YWCA branch opened in Dayton, Ohio. First YWCA for Native American women opened in Oklahoma.

1909 - YWCAs International Institutes featured bilingual instruction to help immigrant women.

1915 - YWCA held the first interracial conference in the south, at Louisville, Kentucky.

1930s - YWCA encouraged members to speak out against lynching and mob violence, for interracial cooperation rather than segregation and for efforts to protect African American's basic civil rights.

1942 - YWCA extended its services to Japanese American women and girls incarcerated in World War II Relocation Centers.

1946 - YWCA adopted its Interracial Charter - eight years before the United States Supreme Court decision against segregation.

1950s - As African countries became independent, the United States sent leaders who moved from village to village to tell the YWCA story and help women marshal their own leadership and resources to create indigenous YWCAs in Kenya, Uganda, Rhodesia, South Africa and elsewhere. Uganda achieved remarkable participation - 90 percent of women were YWCA members by the 1990s.

1960 - The Atlanta YWCA cafeteria opened to African Americans, becoming the city's first desegregated public dining facility. Separate black YWCA branches and facilities were integrated into the whole.

1963 - The National Board of the YWCA became a sponsoring agency for the summer March On Washington in support of civil rights. The National Board voted support for A Direct Action Program, two-year project to complete desegregation of Community YWCAs.

1965 - The YWCA National Board created the Office of Racial Justice to lead the civil rights efforts and appointed Dr. Dorothy Height as director.

1966 - The National Board voted to participate in Project Equality and reassessed its business dealings with companies that have discriminatory employment practices. The National Board withdrew its funds from the Chase Manhattan Bank and others that overtly participated in the South African Consortium.

1969 - Racial Justice Institutes were held in eight locations around the United States.

1970 - The YWCA National Convention, held in Houston, adopted the One Imperative. "To thrust our collective power toward the elimination of racism, wherever it exists, by any means necessary." The resolution passed and renewed effort went into racial justice work. The National Board's Office of Racial Justice convened four conferences for women of color seeking input; affirmative action workshops were held to teach YWCAs how to implement strategies; nationwide Web of Racism conferences helped members recognize the layering of racism in jobs, housing, schools, institutions and daily lives.

1980s and 1990s - Work on racial justice continued through public policy action on legislation, through collaborations and by hosting the YWCA Racial Justice Convocation  bringing together key civil rights leaders, public officials, and university representatives  to develop blueprints for racial justice training.


1992 - The YWCA National Day of Commitment to Eliminate Racism began in response to the beating of Rodney King, an African American, the acquittal of four white Los Angeles police officers accused of the crime,  and the subsequent riots and unrest across the country. The annual event is held April 30.

1995 - The YWCA Week Without Violence was created as a nationwide effort to unite people against violence in our communities. The annual observance is held the third week of October.

2001 - Steps to Absolute Change was adopted. The YWCA shifted from a top down to a bottom up grassroots organization. Local associations joined regions and elected their regional representatives to the National Coordinating Board. They also adopted a focus on Hallmark Programs - the Economic Empowerment of Women and Racial Justice, set in place the goal for a revitalized brand identity and put a renewed emphasis on advocacy, developing leaders under 30 and enhancing connections with the World YWCA.


2006 - Igniting the Collective Power of the YWCA to Eliminate Racism -- moving the conversation to the next level, the YWCA USA's Summit on Eliminating Racism, is held in Birmingham, Alabama, bringing together associations from across the country to explore YWCA best practices and create a plan for full equality for all.

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