Date of Award

Spring 2015

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Cornelius Bynum

Committee Chair

Cornelius Bynum

Committee Member 1

Nancy Gabin

Committee Member 2

Kathryn Cramer Brownell


This project examines the life and activism of Mattie Rice Coney, a black civic leader from Indianapolis, Indiana. Coney founded the Citizens Forum, Inc., in July 1964 to facilitate the smooth implementation of recently enacted civil rights legislation such as the 1964 Civil Rights Act and Indianapolis's Open Housing Ordinance. Employing a language of racial uplift and civic duty, Coney deftly crafted an image of black conservatism that appealed to moderate white conservatives. In articulating a "quiet," alternative civil rights agenda centered on individual improvement, Coney legitimized her sociopolitical status among whites as a respectable black leader. This status helped Coney secure funds and recognition for her organization, which combatted the effects of poverty through neighborhood cleanup and beautification, job training and placement, and voter registration and education. ^ I argue that Coney's embrace of conservatism was pragmatic as it enabled her to advocate openly for meaningful black equality post 1965. The history of Mattie Coney's life and activism sheds light on the various ways in which African Americans struggled to gain meaningful equality at the grassroots level in the wake of federal civil right policy changes. Moreover, this study offers a more nuanced history of the long civil rights movement by examining the intersections of civil rights and modern conservatism, in effect revealing the varied forms of civil rights activism—including black conservatism—after 1965.