via History News Network, which quotes the best line in Michelle Obama’s speech at the DNC convention: “When you’ve worked hard, and done well, and walked through that doorway of opportunity, you do not slam it shut behind you. You reach back, and you give other folks the same chances that helped you succeed.”
HNN traces this view to the Progressive Era, which spread the message that “Lack of success was a sign of failure not by the individual but by societal structures and institutions that limited the individual’s opportunities, no matter how hard he or she worked. . . in the Progressives’ view, the helping hand had to be extended by the body politic as a whole. And the obvious agent of the body politic is government.”
Excellent points. Furthermore, I think the First Lady’s remarks harken back to a specific organization that originated in the Progressive era and continues today — the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs. The organization’s motto — “Lifting As We Climb” — reflected their belief that their work didn’t end with self-improvement: they had a duty to uplift their communities as well as themselves.
Now, Michelle Obama didn’t mention race in her speech. Perhaps, as Sophia Nelson has argued, she didn’t need to. Still, it’s worth placing her words within a longer tradition of black women’s activism.