Pam McMichael

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Pam McMichael

Template:TOCnestleft Pam McMichael is a Kentucky, and Tennessee activist.

She is an activist and writer in Louisville, Kentucky, who co-founded Southerners On New Ground (SONG).

She is a working-class white lesbian.[1]


Pam McMichael (b. 1953) was born and raised in rural Kentucky and attended Georgetown College, Georgetown, KY, where she got her B.A. in Psychology, and later the University of Louisville, where she earned an MAT. She became a social justice activist and community organizer in Louisville, KY, where she lived until taking her current job as Director of the Highlander Research and Education Center in New Market, TN, in 2005.


"I think I would have to go pretty early in life, to experiences of race, class, and gender. I grew up, never hungry, but always aware of the haves and have-nots. We were a working class farming family. I was a strong girl child who wanted to do things and had a lot of permission to do things, and there were pushbacks to that from the broader society. My parents really talked and lived the golden rule, that you treat people like you wanted to be treated. That created a situation where both of them crossed the color line through their jobs, my mom at her work in the factory, and my dad, who drove a truck delivering to small stores in rural areas. In the early 1960's, as a white kid in central Kentucky, I had a race experience a little different from the white people around me. My parents had inter-racial friendships."

"That combination of experiences put me on a path, and when I got older and knew I was attracted to other girls, that was another way of pushing against society. I don’t know that there’s an aha moment, just a series of life experiences. I was active in my church, a leader in my high school, always interested in doing things. As my consciousness became more aware, there was a pivotal time. I was working at a social service agency in Louisville that served women living below certain economic guidelines, and there were black and white women coming in for our services. I noticed that most of my clients didn’t have a car, but if someone did, it was almost always the white women, not the Black women, who had a car. I started exploring why that was, recognizing that there was something structural at work here, and it put me on more of a questioning path. I started going to meetings for the Kentucky Alliance Against Racism and Political Oppression, and I credit those Black and white civil rights leaders with schooling me there. I was growing then by leaps and bounds, and I met people who were involved in international solidarity around Central and South America, particularly El Salvador and Nicaragua. It was a period of expansion in terms of learning."

"When I first came to Womonwrites, race was an active conversation there as well. McMichael met Mab Segrest at Womonwrites, she met Minnie Bruce Pratt there as well. That was around the same time I started going to the Kentucky Alliance. I was interested in reaching out and growing and was fortunate enough to meet people—and sought out people--who helped me grow and develop and connect the dots. I think I was age 31 or 32 when all that started. It wasn't the first time I did any activism, but before that it was more women and lesbian focused. I had started a Woman’s Place, predominately white women doing women-oriented activities--cultural, celebratory, educational, and athletic events. Our goal was to actually get a building, and we ended up not doing that, but sponsoring a wide range of activities, and doing a newsletter."[2]

On feminist activism

Lesbian-Feminist Activism. We are defining “lesbian-feminist activism” broadly to include whatever kinds of cultural, political, social, etc., activism lesbians living in the South and identifying as feminist (or some other term like “feminist”) have done. Can you comment on how you feel about the description “lesbian-feminist activism” and whether it resonates for you?

"It’s a term that has resonated at different points in my life. It’s not all that I am. I am lesbian and I am feminist, and I am also other identifiers. It wouldn't be the only thing I would say about myself."

"My activism started with the gender piece, those feminist activities, but with a consciousness of race and class. Then it expanded to become broader. Some of the women’s spaces I was in were leaving out other kinds of women. I was in a women’s group in Kentucky in the mid-80s that was mixed race and had lesbian and straight women working together on a wide range of women’s issues. It was called the Alliance Against Women’s Oppression. We were doing things like connecting the money that went to the war in Nicaragua and El Salvador and hurt women and children there while taking money from women and children here in the U.S."[3]

LOM Gay and Lesbian Conference

The invitation list for a mid '80s Line of March gay and lesbian conference included these names;

On participation with SONG

"[In the 1990's,] I was working with the Alliance Against Women’s Oppression, had gone to Nicaragua as part of a national women’s delegation, and was doing work around women’s and children’s issues at home and abroad. It was a racially mixed group of lesbian and straight women who were doing annual international women’s day events in Louisville that were celebratory, educational, and also fundraisers for women’s and children’s programs at home and abroad. We also started a thing in Louisville called the Fairness Campaign, which was to try to get sexual orientation and gender identity added to Louisville civil rights law. It was a big effort that was part of transforming that Louisville community, situating lesbigaytrans concerns within broader race, class, gender, and sexuality issues. It was never just single issue identity focused. It was launched in a way that people were really making connections across issues. For example, if a white police officer shot and killed a black youth in Louisville, you’d get a call from your lesbigaytrans group to get out and be part of the community response to that. Or if the meatpacking workers went on strike, you’d get a call from your queer organization to go out and be part of that."

"[At the time of the 1993 Creating Change conference] I was in Cincinnati temporarily, having been laid off from my social services job, and was working for 3 months as interim director of Stonewall Cincinnati during an anti-gay initiative. There are two pieces that are an important part of the context of Mab’s plenary speech at Creating Change. First, the right wing had released a video called Gay Rights, Special Rights that said lesbigaytrans people were enemies of people of color. It was a racist video that also tried to appeal to people of color, and they mailed that video to Black churches all over the country."

"The second part of the context was that NAFTA was being debated in Congress at the time of Creating Change. On the Thursday before Creating Change began, there was also a pre-conference event, a day-long session on race, class, and gender where we talked about NAFTA (the Thursday pre-conference Institute was not connected to NAFTA in the planning of it). Some of the single-issue identity folks were saying in the halls, “Why are we talking about NAFTA at a gay conference?”

"Out of that context of the Gay Rights, Special Rights video, and the NAFTA issue, some of us got together at Creating Change to talk about all this. Five of the Southerners On New Ground co-founders were there. Joan Garner was the only one missing, but was soon identified as someone to involve, and we had the first SONG planning meeting [after Creating Change], in January 1994, at her house in Atlanta. Another person who was not a SONG co-founder but was there at Creating Change and was really instrumental in the start of SONG, was Carla Wallace, from Louisville [part of Alliance Against Women’s Oppression and the Fairness Campaign]. All of us had done multi-issue work in our communities, and done that work as out lesbians, and had strong ties to wide movements—the women’s movement, anti-racism.

I knew Mandy Carter and Pat Hussain from Rhythmfest [FOOTNOTE: Mandy was one of four producers of this women’s music festival that lasted about 7 years in the Southern states in the 1990's. The other producers were Michelle Crone and Barbara Savage. I knew Suzanne Pharr through domestic violence work—we met when her first book came out, Homophobia a Weapon of Sexism (1988). I first met Mab Segrest at Womonwrites, and I had brought Mab to Louisville as a speaker in the mid-1980's when she was working with NCARRV. We use to tease and say that we were six women, three Black, three white, and the African Americans were Black, but the Black women were not African American, and the lesbians were dykes, but the dykes weren't lesbian."

"Having Creating Change in the South for the first time, having the first race, class, and gender institute, the things in the air around the right wing’s anti-gay activities, NAFTA being discussed at the time—all of that created opportunity to push the envelope about why we should be talking about something like NAFTA at a gay conference. Mab’s plenary [emphasizing NAFTA] really rocked, but we had begun the conversations already over that weekend. My memory is that the conversation that led to SONG came out of that race class and gender institute, the pre-conference to Creating Change. NGLTF had been doing institutes, but had never done an institute on race, class, and gender. As soon as SONG formed, we became the organizing body for NGLTF institutes on race, class, and gender."

"There was actually one conversation I had before Creating Change that connected to what became SONG. Labor Day weekend of 1993, I had gone to a Fight the Right summit that the NGLTF was doing, where Suzanne Pharr was on a panel with Barbara Smith, Suzanne Goldberg, and Scot Nakagawa. They were talking about the lesbigaytrans movement having a broader agenda beyond single identity focus around queerness. They also talked about the attacks on queer people and what we needed to do to stop that. Now we weren't talking about forming a regional organization then, but we were talking about the issues that led to it, and these conversations were happening among other people as well. Then Suzanne and I had a particular conversation at Creating Change that led us to thinking about what we could do regionally, as Black and white women who are connected to different movements."

"That moved very quickly. Creating Change was November ‘93, and Pat and I were on part-time SONG payroll [as co-directors] in January ’94. We had a very small budget in ’94, and we went full-time in ’95. In ’94, we had a meeting in early January at Joan’s house, and we set out some goals and activities. Part of that was to find out who was out there in the South who were interested in what we had to say. We were doing a lot of listening. We were going to different conferences where gays and lesbians were present and exploring things with people there. And we were finding that many people were really interested in talking with us and hearing what we were trying to do from vision-based organizing that was crossing these lines of difference and building a movement where people didn’t have to leave their identities at the door. We all saw coalitions and alliance-building as a way to liberation for all of us, that no one group was strong enough to get there on their own. We’re also not just one thing in our identities as lesbians. We’re also women, we’re working class, we’re people of color, we’re differently abled."

"Pat Hussain used to have a saying that “I’m no longer willing to choose between my skin, my ovaries, my wallet, and my partner Cherry. I’m all one person.” The tagline on our letterhead was “building alliances connecting race, class, gender, and sexual orientation.” This is not saying that those are all the same, but that we needed to build the kind of movement that would really recognize the connections, and within that how important it was to have a strong anti-racist movement, seeing that as really core. We had a beautiful set of assumptions that we communicated through a bookmark that stated our vision and goals."

"Pat and I did a lot of workshops and retreats where either by geography or identity, we would bring together lesbigaytrans organizers to talk about issues. We did a men’s retreat. We did one in North Carolina that pulled people from North and South Carolina and Virginia. We did another one in Florida. We did one with cultural organizers here at the Highlander Center. It was skills building in the sense of organizing and relationship building. It was very much in the model of people coming together to learn from each other, facilitating the conversations that created the space for people to get to know each other and through that see what they had in common for building a strong liberation movement that had room for all of us."

"Pat and I always facilitated retreats together, also a lot of the training. But we found that class was one of the things we needed to lift up and bring into the conversation more, and we also did some of those workshops separately. One of the things we did was hire an economist from Bucknell University, Teresa Amott (FOOTNOTE: Ammot was later chair of Economics at Bucknell, and in 2011 became President of Knox College), who had been an adviser to one of Jesse Jackson’s presidential campaigns. She taught us basic economics and helped us develop a participatory and popular education workshop on the economy that made it accessible to people.

We did that workshop a lot in North Carolina because of the Senate race where an African American man took on Jesse Helms [FOOTNOTE: Harvey Gantt ran against Helms in 1990 and 1996]. As a 501c3, SONG couldn't work on the election, but we could work on education around the issues. The economy workshop showed the connection between the conservative social agenda and the conservative economic agenda. Some people will say they are liberal socially, but conservative economically. Our premise was that one conservative agenda drives the other. There was a lot of scapegoating going on at that time, deregulation in the environment and in business practices, the gutting of the social safety net. So we offered a workshop that got people talking about these issues, and we offered it all over North Carolina and other Southern states, always hosted by a local organization. We split up to cover more ground."[4]

SONG supporters

Mab Segrest, April 18, 2017.


This photo is from my 60th birthday party at Steph's house in Atlanta with SONG cofounders including Cherry and the then-current directors Paulina and Caitlin. Joan Garner is on the right in vibrant red and my then-new love Annie Ellman on the sofa. I have been honored and blessed to be friends over the years with these brave and wonderful people. Joan we already miss you so much. — with Pat Hussain, Paulina Helm-Hernandez, Mandy Carter, Suzanne Pharr, Mab Segrest, Annie Ellman, Caitlin Elly Breedlove, Stephanie Guilloud, Pamela Jean McMichael and Cherry Hussain.

SONG Founders

Southerners On New Ground (SONG) was founded after the 1992 LGBTQ Creating Change conference. Three Black lesbians and three white lesbians – Pat Hussain, Joan Garner, Mandy Carter, along with Suzanne Pharr, Pam McMichael, and Mab Segrest​ – all organizers who had been working in the South, were seeing the widening divide between white LGBTQ people and LGBTQ people of color and the issues that were being talked about and prioritized. They realized that there was a real need in the region, and throughout the movement nationally to broaden and connect struggles for racial, economic, and gender justice that combatted the Right Wing strategy of dividing us (as LGBTQ people) from each other along the fault lines of race, class and culture. So, they started SONG and we have been working to answer the question of how to advance a multi-racial, racial justice agenda over the entire lifespan of our organization.[5]


Pam McMichael first became associated with Highlander as a long-time activist and organizer in Louisville, Kentucky. For decades now, her organizing and cultural work have focused on connecting people and issues across difficult divides, with particular focus on helping build a strong racially just movement. She has co-founded local, state and regional organizations with this core strategy, including Southerners On New Ground, where she served as co-director for 8 years. She was a national fellow with a Rockefeller Foundation leadership project to address the growing crisis in U.S. democracy, and her extensive nonprofit management experience includes social change and social service organizations. [6]

In 2014 Pam McMichael, was Director, Highlander Research and Education Center.[7]

Hardisty connection

Pam McMichael first met Jean Hardisty in the early 1990s when she was a founding co-director of Southerners On New Ground.

Without food or water, I think I could have listened to her talk about the right wing for five straight days. SONG was a new organization then, founded by Black and white southern lesbians doing vision based organizing to thwart the dangerous divisive tactics of the right. Jean was a stalwart supporter of SONG and a great resource.

In 2005, McMichael became the director of Highlander Research and Education Center, and Jean was a member of the Board of Directors that hired her.

The right wing still likes to kick up its heels sometimes in its physical harassment of Highlander and we were getting some of that then as backlash to Highlander’s immigration work among other things. As with my tenure at SONG, Jean was a great friend and wise counsel.

Her board involvement was a big commitment physically for her to travel to Highlander twice a year for six years.

One of the people to serve on Highlander’s board with Jean is a woman from North Carolina named Jereann King. At Jereann’s first board meeting, she brought quilting to work on during the meeting. She was not piecing a quilt, she had the full quilt top done with batting and the bottom and was hand quilting. Jean was captivated by it, mesmerized by it, loved it, and wanted one. So Jereann made her one, giving it to her at Jean’s last Highlander board meeting.

As it turns out, Jean and Jereann, white northern-based and black southerner, became co-chairs of a board staff committee that shepherded Highlander’s year long strategic planning process. That involved even more travel to Highlander for special sessions and more commitment of time beyond travel. I was thankful to get to work closely with her on that strategic planning, and as was her way, leading that process with grace and insight and humor and directness and vision.[8]

Henry Wallace Brigade

The 20 plus member Henry Wallace Brigade (named after late Louisville Kentucky activist Henry F. Wallace) traveled from Louisville Kentucky to Cuba December 2006/January 2007. Pam McMichael was member.

Kentucky Social Forum


Steve Pavey August 2, 2009; with Fredando Farmer Fredo Jackson, Christi H. Ketchum, Stephanie Guilloud, Tashia Bradley, Monica Hernandez, Pam McMichael, Doanta Davis, Andrew Kang Bartlett, Fran Tobin, Angelyn Rudd, Mary Brydon-Miller, Rochelle Arms, Chris Hartman, Erin Michelle Howard, Erica Smiley, Tanya Bernice Turner, Shannon Garth-Rhodes, Carol Kraemer, Shameka Parrish-Wright, Khalilah Veneable Collins, Christy Pardew, Esteban Bartlett, Josh Jennings, Jardana Peacock, Carla Wallace, Dave Newton, Gabriela Alcalde, Janet Jenkins Tucker, David Lott, Kay Tillow, Jackie Floyd, David Horvath, David O'Brien Suetholz, Ellen Braune and Judi Jennings.

Fairness Campaign

Oct. 26, 2011 Rep. John Yarmuth rose in the House to praise the Fairness Campaign.

Mr. YARMUTH. Mr. Speaker, I rise today to honor Louisville's Fairness Campaign--Kentucky's oldest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender civil rights organization. This month the Fairness Campaign is celebrating 20 years of fighting against discrimination, inspiring hope, and protecting our citizens.
Thanks to Fairness, in 1999 Louisville became one of the first cities to prohibit housing and employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Now Fairness is working tirelessly to secure these protections for all Kentuckians. Because of Fairness, more Kentuckians are seeing that the lines once drawn between us because of sexual orientation and gender identity are only imaginary, and they're realizing that hate has no place in our Commonwealth.
That's a message that needs to be heard not just from Pikeville to Paducah, but from coast to coast. I urge my colleagues to join me in congratulating the Fairness Campaign on two decades of service. It's truly thrilling how much progress they have made.
I would also like to individually honor the 10 brave Louisvillians who co-founded the Fairness Campaign in 1991 to seek equal protections for all citizens under the law: Jim Adams, Eric Graninger, Lisa Gunterman, Ken Herndon, Jane Hope, Pam McMichael, Susan Remmers, Jeff Rodgers, Thom Snyder, and Carla Wallace.

Meeting on Community Organizing

A "Meeting on Community Organizing, Civic Participation & Racial Justice" - organized by the Philanthropic Initiative for Racial Equity December 2011, Washington, DC.


Kentucky Alliance

Cynthia McKinney addressed the 12th Annual Unity Dinner sponsored by the Kentucky Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, November 21, 2009 at Mastersons on Third Street, Louisville Kentucky.

The event recognized former Kentucky State Senator, Georgia Davis Powers, the first African-American in the state legislature, with the Anne Braden Lifetime Achievement Award.

Honorees were;

"The 99% Spring"

Individuals and organizations supporting The 99% Spring, as of April 20, 2012, included Pam McMichael - Highlander Research and Education Center.[11]

"Towards Collective Liberation" followers


Melanie Cervantes, follow · March 11, 2013;

From author Chris Crass: " When I first imagined a poster promoting my new book, Towards Collective Liberation: anti-racist organizing, feminist praxis,and movement building strategy, the images that came to mind were the people in Melanie Cervantes’ “We are the 99%” posters, coming together to build the multiracial, feminist, working class-based movement for collective liberation that we need. M... See More — with Carla F. Wallace, Mari Mujica, Steve Williams, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, Ingrid Chapman, Dawn Haney, James Haslam, Cindy Wiesner, Marquez Rhyne, Jayanni Elizabeth, Malachi Garza, Miguel CarItu, Chris Crass, Carl Patrick, Abbey Lolcano, Maria Poblet, Kate Cardona, Z. Lula Haukeness, Lydia Pelot-Hobbs, Elandria Williams, Harsha Walia, Marc Mascarenhas-Swan, Jason Lydon, Jardana Peacock, Chris Dixon, Gabriel Haaland, Betty-Jeanne Ruters-Ward, Mel Baiser, Nisha Anand, Mimi Thi Nguyen, Becki Winchel, T. Gonzales, Rahula S. Janowski, Dani Burlison, Harjit Singh Gill, Leah Jo Carnine, Karly Safar, Emily Han Zimmerman, Alicia Garza, Sistufara W. Muhammad, Pamela Jean McMichael, Caitlin Elly Breedlove, Kate Kanelstein, Mei-ying Williams, James Tracy, Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson, Shannon Garth-Rhodes and Cindy Jeanne.

North Star Fund 35th Gala

In 2014, at Chelsea Piers, North Star Fund held its annual Community Gala. This 35th Anniversary Community Gala was a spectacular celebration of North Star Fund and the achievements of our diverse community of philanthropic and grassroots activists and organizers. The event raised $870,000, which broke every previous record.

Notable guests included Mayor Bill de Blasio and First Lady Chirlane McCray, Katherine Acey, Nisha Atre, Martha Baker, Andrea Batista Schlesinger, Jay Beckner, Ingrid Benedict, Bill Bragin, Peter Brest, Art Chen, Bobby Cohen, Joe Conason, Larry Condon, Anne Delaney, Maddy deLone, Deni Frand, Elizabeth Gilmore, Elspeth Gilmore, Mark Green, Gary Hattem, Pierre Hauser, Michael Hirschhorn, Sarah Kovner and Victor Kovner, Dal LaMagna, Josh Mailman, Christine Marinoni, Christina McInerney, Pam McMichael, Ruth Messinger, Cynthia Nixon, Shola Olatoye, Ana Oliveira, Erica Payne, Lisa Philp, Mark Reed, Rinku Sen, Tani Takagi, Elizabeth Wagley, Michael Waldman, Maggie Williams, Barbara Winslow, and Kyung Yoon.[12]

Carl Braden Memorial Center Board

As of 2014 the board of the Carl Braden Memorial Center included;[13]

Move to Amend South! Regional Convergence

Friday, December 14, 2012, Unitarian Universalist Fellowship Gainesville , FL;

Move to Amend is holding seven regional gatherings across the United States in 2012. These events will bring you together with Move to Amend activists and supporters from throughout your region of the country. Let’s amplify and multiply the power of all that great local organizing by building deeper organizational connections.

Session 1: Friday, December 14, 6:30 PM – 8:30 PM (Laying the Foundation)

The State of the Global & US Democracy Movement

SURJ Founders

The first National leaders of Showing Up for Racial Justice, were Sam Hamlin, Dara Silverman, Pam McMichael and Carla Wallace.[15]

SURJ Leadership team

The Leadership Team (LT) is the programmatic and decision-making body of SURJ. This team is responsible for making decisions about the ongoing development, broad programmatic vision and fiscal oversight of SURJ.

Showing Up for Racial Justice leadership team, as of 2015;[16]

Stepping down

In December 2016, the Board of Directors and staff were pleased to announce that Ash-Lee Henderson and Rev. Allyn Maxfield-Steele will serve as Highlander Research and Education Center’s Co-Executive Directors.

“The selection of Ash-Lee and Allyn demonstrates Highlander’s commitment to supporting the next generation of organizational leaders critical to our movements,” said Interim Board Chair Meizhu Lui. “We feel that they are the right ones to guide us through political terrain where visionary, righteous, courageous, class-conscious, multiracial, and multi-gender leadership is desperately needed.”

Following Pam McMichael’s decision to transition out of the ED role after twelve years of dedicated and remarkable service, Highlander established a Transition Team of three board members and two staff to guide the ED search process. Ash-Lee received encouragement from movement friends and mentors to apply for the position, after which she invited Allyn to apply with her as co-directors.

Their proposal captured the imagination of the Transition Team and was well received by both board and staff. As sitting board members, Ash and Allyn recused themselves from all parts of the selection process following their application. At the November Board meeting, they underwent an extensive interview process with the Board and staff. As of this week, Ash and Allyn have begun the transition process alongside outgoing Executive Director Pam McMichael and staff, and they will assume full-time responsibilities in February 2017.[17]

Fight Back for Human Rights

Carla Wallace January 15, 2018:


Good to be here at Saint Williams Catholic Church with Richard Becker, Pam McMichael and other listening to Emcee Shameka Parrish-Wright lead us in a call to honor the Fight Back for Human Rights. — with Richard Becker.

Shameka supporters

Shameka L. Parrish-Wright for JCPS District 4 October 28 2019·


With Lutisha Samaya Buckner, Carla F. Wallace, Tia Kurtisnger-Edison, Shameka L. Parrish-Wright and Pamela Jean McMichael.