Black Feminist Thought and Black Liberation from the late 19th Century to the Contemporary Black Lives Matter Movement

"A woman's place is the struggle!"

Master's Thesis, 2017

76 Pages, Grade: 2.0



2.2.1 Anna Julia Cooper
2.2.2 Mary McLeod Bethune – Liberation through Education
2.2.3 Black Women’s Club Movement

3.2.1 Crossroads: Intersectionality – what does it mean?
3.3.1 Contextualizing the Hashtag #BlackLivesMatter
3.3.2 Whose Black Lives Matter and Why? Intersectional Leadership Model Transnational Black Lives Matter




There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single- issue lives.1

Black women in the US have alwaysplayed a crucial role in the struggle for freedom and recognition of human rights for the African-American population. Against all odds they have always been the ones who looked out for and took care of the community. Be it in their own family, in the churches or while organizing resistance attempts against a consistent racism and sexism within US-society.

The opening quote by Audre Lorde,aself-described “black,lesbian, mother, warrior, poet”,2 focuses on the fact that human beings do not have one singular feature which defines and impacts their way of life,interactions with or struggles against others. Heterogeneity is the keyword. Black women recognized and understood early on the importance of dealing with the intertwining of various aspects which all define their lives. Just to name a few of those aspects: being Black3 and female and poor and of little standard education and - maybe - queer - Many factors define one single person’s life and therefore it is of no avail to put the focus on one single issue, when fighting for social justice.Audre Lorde yet again puts it straight:

I am a Black Feminist. I mean I recognize that my power as well as my primary oppressionscomeasa resultofmyblacknessaswellas mywomaness,and therefore my struggles on both of these fronts are inseparable.4

Even if early Black women have not verbally labelled their activism as ‘feminist’, they have indeed always been led by a strong conviction in equal gender rights. Their activities and organizing, their development of theories that aimed to emancipate Black women from Black men’s sexism and from white women’s racism evident in non-inclusive feminist movements, were actually driven by a feminist mindset.

„Feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression.“5 Scholar activist bell hooks6 ’ early definition of feminism derived from her book Feminism is for everybody and is a clear and simple definition of feminism and what it stands against. This condensed definition is significant, because it outlines, how multilayered feminism should be conceived. In the so- called mainstream discourse the dominant notion is that feminism is only about anti-sexism and is mainly being articulated by white women/feminists. The experience they draw from and which they set as standard is from a middle class whiteheterosexualfemaleone.7 Viewsandexperiences thatdifferfromthis outlook are not taken into consideration. Hence Black women’s realities as well as multiple forms of oppressive dynamics were rather non-decisive factors in the forthcoming of the dominating discourse in feminist movements. This was the case in the late 19thand 20thcenturies and arguably still is to a certain degree in this century. Even though Black feminist thought has only been recognized in the dominant discourse of feminist theory during the 1970s, its roots run deeper.

Black women during and after the US enslavement period have always realized the dimensions and impacts of their struggle against racism and sexism within their lives as a common and connecting thread. Best known is Sojourner Truth’s speech ‘Ain’t I a woman’ at the Women's Rights Convention in 1851 where she was the only Black speaker and addressed the burden and injustices she faced in her life and simultaneously challenged the Conventions’ composition of only white women/men.8 Truth’s illiteracy and lack of formal education did not hold her back to utter this pivotal manifest of early Black female consciousness. Black female scholars ofthe 19thcentury, suchasAnnaJulia Cooper, Maria Stewart, Mary Church Terrell, went on to formulate and center on the importance of Black women, their status, place and struggles within US society as a whole and within the Black community in particular. Moreover Black women like Ida B. WellsorMaryMcLeod Bethune werepioneers inthedevelopment ofBlack feminism. Without those foundational works and thoughts subsequent Black feminists like Patricia Hill Collins, bell hooks, Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, the Combahee River Collective and many others would not have been able to nuance and expound the struggles and achievements of Black women nor to discuss Black women’s participation within and beyond the Black liberation struggle.

Nevertheless, it is vital first to examine how early Black feminist thoughts and activisms differed and generated during time. Secondly Black feminism needs to be acknowledged asanorganicbodyofthoughtwhichvariesdepending onthe context in which it is examined.And thirdly the works of Black feminist thinkers must beconceived as an integral part within the frameset of Black liberation struggle in the United States with an impact of those thoughts and actions across borders.

Even though there are various groundbreaking anthologies, books and a great deal of scholarly articles and papers that deal with Black feminist theory e.g. Patricia Hill Collins’ Black Feminist Thought, Beverly Guy-Sheftalls’ Words of Fire:AnAnthologyofAfricanAmericanFeministThought, AngelaDavis’ ‚Women, Race & Class’ or bell hooks’ Ain’t I a Woman etc., the tenor in mainstream academia when dealing with feminist theory and/or race is very repetitive and monotonous. Publications by even well renowned Black women activists and literates as mentioned above are barely being touched or suggested as reading material within classes/seminars.In this way Black feminist perspectives are disregarded in the mainstream discourse Especially the continuity of the entanglement between Black activism and Black feminist theory has rarely been discussed or taken into consideration when talking about Black feminist thought in the mainstream discourse.

This thesis wants to fill the gap and give an insight into the development, the continuity and hence the importance of Black feminist thought within the early andongoingBlackfreedomstruggle.Duetothecomplexity andindefinite spectrum of knowledge already produced, this paper aims at outlining a perspective that bridges the late 19th/ early 20th century thoughts and efforts of Black feminists with those of the 20th/21st century.

Within this context this paper seeks to analyze how Black feminist thought has influenced the Black freedom struggles in these two last centuries. Furthermore the continuities and/or differences which can be identified within these struggles, shall be taken into account. Finally it will be discussed, how Black feminism does manifest itself within this century’s Black Lives Matter movement. By focusing on the period of the late 19th and early 20th century, the second chapter shall emphasize the emergence of Black feminist ideas and thoughts that rooted in the aftermath of the period of enslavement and in an openly racist juridical system. Connecting the thoughts that were developed by various Black female intellectuals and demonstrating how they went hand in hand with contemporary Black liberation efforts is important as it shows, that Black feminist thought and activism have generally and always been interlaced.

By choosing the Black Lives Matter movement as the main case study, this paper means to illustrate the continuities that emerge, when analyzing how Black feminist thought is being perpetuated and filled with life. One of the tasks will be to point out the fact, that - now even more than ever - Black feminist thoughts are multi-layered and intersectional. This will especially be shown when analyzing the organizational structures of the #BlackLivesMatter movement in the US as well as its impact beyond those state lines.

The thought catalogue of scholar Patricia Hill Collins will be laid out pointedly inconnection with the writings of other important Blackfeminist scholars and activists like bell hooks, Kimberlé Crenshaw, Barbara Smith and Angela Davis. Each one of them elaborates on various aspects that constitute Black feministideas.Evenifsometimes theirviewsmaydiffer,theircommonality consists in the firm belief that Black feminism is constituted by the lived realities of Black women and must be thought of as intersectional by core. The articulate experience of Black American women is at the center of their theorizations. This needs to be highlighted because the voices of Black women have commonly been excluded from rhetorical scholarship, especially with regard to their lived experiences as a source of a theoretical and scholarly analysis.

I contend that Collins’ work, as well as those of the other selected scholars, do not relate to a distinct timeframe. They are rather all-encompassing accomplishments which can be related to different aspects, circumstances and events. That is yet one more reason, why they suit to set a theoretical framework for this thesis. Nevertheless, the acknowledgement of historical key figures of Black feminist thought and activism and their contributions to the ongoing Black feminist agenda is more than crucial.Onlybyrecognizing ideas, which had already been developed and used, is it possible to connect the past with the present. As Collins puts it:

Black women intellectuals have laid a vital analytical foundation for a distinctive standpointonself,community,andsocietyand,in doingso,createda multifaceted,African-Americanwomen’sintellectualtradition.9

Hence,onlybymakingtheworksandeffortsofBlackfemaleactivists and theorists of previous eras visible, a comprehensive theory about the importance of Black feminist thought for the Black Liberation struggle can be developed.

To further various societal issues Black Women established a women’s club movement of their own during the late 1880s in response to the alienation they experienced from white women’s clubs, that had been created a little time before. By shedding a light on the involvement of Black female intellectuals within the Women’sClubMovement,variousdimensionsoftheirengagementbecome visible. This period can be discerned as an especially important one for Black Women in the USA, because it had not been long that the institution of slavery had been abolished and Jim Crow laws swiped the whole country. Slavery had nominally ended but did not bring freedom to the formerly enslaved ones. Black women had to face these atrocities as well as the bias based on gender. So being Black and a woman constituted peculiar, diverse and most complex living conditions.

There is a predominant claim that the Black Women’s Club Movement merely was a carry on of the white women’s club movement.10 Frances E. White and other scholars criticize the way Black (female) intellectuals adapted a certain behavior - framed under the umbrella term respectability politics11 - which they consider as derived from white people’s way of societal control of Black people’s behavior. Even though such an objection should not be contested completely, respectability politics should be thought out with more complexity. Brittney C.

Cooper’s take on this phenomenon within the framework of Black female intellectuality and Black feminist thought may give a lead. In her groundbreaking piece Beyond Respectability: The Intellectual Thought of Race Women12 she argues that “respectability politics cannot be understood solely as a form of class policing among Black women”13 and is hence to be analyzed with more entanglements. Early Black feminists, be it on a more academic level, were mostly engaged in raising an empowered Black (female) consciousness and in fighting for a liberated Black people as a whole. Women like Sojourner Truth, Anna Julia Cooper, Ida B. Wells, Mary McLeod Bethune and others challenged the status quo of their times by introducing some early Black feminist thought - which lay the foundation and certainly would develop with time passing. Taking into account the circumstances of them taking the “audacity” to speak out and the challenges they met on a daily basis, their attitudes and thoughts can be considered as feminist and need to be viewed as progressive.

The third chapter in this paper discusses one singular case study examining a 21st century phenomenon of Black feminist thought and practice: The Black Lives Matter movement, that was fired up in 2013 by its initiators Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi. If it was not for Black feminist(s) thought, today mainly upheld by, among others, queer Black women, this dimension of Black freedom struggle could not have emerged as intersectional and global as it turns out to be and is being lived at the moment. Especially the intersectional approach on various aspects of Black Lives and Black feminism helped to specify the need for urgent measures regarding policies and community work. As historian Marcia ChatelainputsitinanInterview,“BlackLivesMatterisfeministinits interrogation of state power and its critique of structural inequality.”14

Examining the #BlackLivesMatter movement is a challenging task, as it is an ongoing and evolving movement with great momentum. Any attempt to cover about everyaspect ofitmustfail,therearetoomanyandvariousandever changing interrelations with several other groups. So for practical reasons this paper will focus on the question how Black feminist thought comes to life and is the base of activities within this movement. Though, without putting it in its historical context, certain links and connections may not be understood. Therefore the paper will roughly outline the Civil Rights movements of the 1950s and 1960s and show the implications of Black feminist thought during those years. This lays the foundation ofananalysis ofthe development ofBlack feminist theories alongside dynamic activist expressions from previous eras to the 21st century.15 All this will lead to the current movement of Black Lives Matter. Examining their demands and their community and leadership organizing on a local and national level will show how Black Feminist thought has an effect on all those scales. As a last step the focus will shift from the USA to Europe -Germany in particular- in order to see how Black feminist theories and practices are being translated into this context and to subsequently follow the lines of connection of a global Black Liberation struggle.

The conclusion should elucidate, that no matter how different the periods, the contexts and the conditions of Black women’s active struggles and pronunciations may be, Black Feminist thought has always been and still is an integral part ofthe continuous struggles of emancipating and liberating Black Lives within the framework of the Black Freedom movements.


Feminist thought in general is not a new or contemporary phenomenon, it is rather the discourse around feminism that changes and adjusts depending on the situation. Therefore discussions on feminism and feminist inquiries did not only emerge in the 20th and 21st century, but much earlier. In the Declaration of Independence of 1776 it is written “all men are created equal”16. It has not been too long ago, that it was laid open, that this phrase literally pertained to only the male part of the population. And even within this restricted group it was clear that still not everybody was treated as equal. Skin color and property did play a huge role, as we will again see later. Around 72 years later, in the summer of 1848, a convention took place in Seneca Falls, New York, organized by (white) women interested in women’s rights as well as in the abolition of slavery. This Convention with 300 attendees – both women and men –is now considered the birth hour of the early women’s right movement in the US.17 The convention had been initiated by women who made it their life’s work to talk about women’s social, civil and religious situation.18 At the end of the Seneca Falls Convention, one third of theattendees signed the Declaration of Sentiments, crafted after the Declaration of Independence and emphasizing that men and women should be treated as equal in front of the law.

The organizers of the Seneca Falls Convention were all active members of the Abolitionist Movement. They came to realize that it did not suffice to support merely the rights of others, while their own rights were not fully in effect. Married women (within the reigning separatist legislation on race lines the term ‘woman’ would only apply to white, middle-class women) did not have the right to property, neither the one they brought into the marriage neither the one gained during their marriage, including money, they might have earned on their own. With regard to civic law women were non-existent.19 While white women were disadvantaged, Black women were completely disenfranchised, which molded their ways of daily struggles of mere survival. It needs to be remembered, that during the times of the Seneca Falls Convention the Black population still suffered under enslavement, even if their status might state, that they were ‘freed’. Their daily work was not limited to the cottonfield, (female) slaves also worked as house maids, nurses, nannies, midwives and/or cooks. As Angela Davis points out:

She was expected to perform the natural tasks of caring for the home and men and the children, all of whom may not necessarily be naturally hers. Moreover, she was also expected to carry out the tasks assigned to her by her slave master, most of which benefited her in no way at all.20

Here, Davis refers to the fact that Black women had to endure sexualized abuses, especially rape, from their white masters. Those rapes served to keep the system of enslavement inplaceinvariousways.Rapeservedtosatisfytheirmaster’s lewdness and sexual phantasies, thus physically subordinating Black women’s bodies (and minds) to their will and to their whims; at the same time the children born out of these enforced unions were born into the status of enslavement and thus added up to the increasing enslaved work population in a plantation household. Girls born into these circumstances would face the same cycle of sexual assaults as their mothers and foremothers.21

Additionally, they were mostly married against their will with male slaves mainly for reproduction purposes. Even though it was a vicious circle that most Black (female) slaves were trapped in, it did not mean that they simply put up with what was happening to them. Black women tried as much as possible to resist or to take agency over their bodies. When working in their slave master’s house they oftentimes spit into the food to release some of the obedient tension, or they might poison their master or even his whole family in order to flee the household.22 Moreover, after being impregnated, Black female slaves might try to induce abortions, or they used birth control methods or they feigned sickness associated with pregnancy and menstruation in order to avoid forced hard labor.23 These various ways of resisting a system that was meant to erase any form of self- consciousness and self-reliance, show how - in more or less subtle ways - Black enslaved women developed a sense of self-consciousness within the narrow limits of their circumstances of survival. These conscious acts of resistance can in retrospect be considered as early feats of Black feminist thought and action. In addition, it can be stated that all types of resistance were a challenge to the status quo and the institution of slavery. As Angela Davis states “[...] the black woman had to prove herself as a warrior against oppression.” and “[...] without consciously rebelliousblackwomen,thethemeofresistancecouldnothavebecomeso thoroughly intertwined inthefabricofdailyexistence.”24 Eventhoughthose individual ways of resisting experiences of suffering cannot be generalized, their mentioningissubstantialwhendemonstrating how,underprecarious circumstances, enslaved womencultivated asenseofselfandfoundwaysto oppose and tackle oppression that manifested itself in different forms.

Yet,notonlyBlackpeople foughtagainst theso-called Peculiar Institution25 of slavery, i.e. Black people’s enslavement in the US. White abolitionistsofallgenders,especiallyintheNorth,organizedinorder to overthrow an economically political system which they unmasked as dehumanizing to humanity asawhole. Inpolitical assemblies, abolitionists put the issueof slavery on their daily agendas.26 However, the motivation of white abolitionists was not particularly the ending of anti-Black racism as such. They were rather guided by mainly religious sentiments that obliged them to view the enslavement of people (not particularly Black people) as non-conforming with God’s will. In addition, Black fellows in the abolitionist struggle were rarely viewed as equal fellow activists by their white counterparts. This becomes particularly obvious in light of the fact that Black abolitionists’ contributions to discussions were not mentioned in written records, and, essentially, they were not allowed to have any say in “general business”.27 Other forms of obvious racist structures included the seating arrangements in some organizations that sought to ensure the preservation of “God-given” hierarchical structures.28 Yet, understanding that social equality for Black people was not the motivation of white abolitionist efforts is essential. It demonstrates that the maintenance of a supremacist society based on notions of race was predominant, hierarchies in these racialized relations stayed pretty clear - white people’s status was to be deemed higher than anyone else's. Hence the humanization of Black folks within the abolitionist fight was not mandatory.

In the post-bellum years, in January 1865 the 13th amendment to the US constitution precipitated at first the abolishment of slavery, and hundreds of thousands of enslaved people were set free. As the following decades showed,the freedom Black people thus gained had never been carefree. The 14th amendment, which was introduced in January 1868,granted citizenship to all persons "born or naturalized in the United States", including former slaves, and provided all citizens with “equal protection under the laws”, extending the provisions of the Bill of Rights to the states. With the introduction of the 15th amendment in 1870, as Black men were granted the right to vote, a women’s suffrage movement started, which spanned from 1890 to 1920. Black women, who were disadvantaged and excluded from the general suffrage movement of only white women, started to organize themselves in different ways to reach inclusion and participation.29 Efforts to join white suffragists in their struggle for the right to vote, were not as successful as they sought. Black women’s right to vote was of little concern to white suffragists, who rather tried to undermine enfranchisement efforts of Black men. The importance of Black women organizing themselves cannot be overrated. Voter’s leaguesandclubswereformedthat“reflectedtheirfeministconcerns”30 and created a path towards a truly liberating notion of what it could positively mean to be woman and Black.


Sojourner Truth, a woman born around 1797 in New York into slavery, lived through the abyss of oppression exerted by the Peculiar Institution, knew what she would talk about when shelater let herself be heard in every liberating context possible. She was born and named Isabella (slaves being given no family name) and at the age of 9 was separated from her parents by being sold. Growing up and being stripped of her own will through enslavement she had to put up with several masters who saw themselves as owners of her as a property and who (mis-)used her for hard labor and physical and sexual abuse.31 She saw her true love on another plantation being tortured for their forbidden feelings and was soon after forced by her slave master, who may have assaulted and impregnated her, to marry an older slaveofthesamehousehold. Sheborefivechildren.32 Isabellaworkedhard keeping her part of the deal, that she might be set free after having worked her share. When her master would not stick to his promise she fled in 1826 to a Quaker household, which then helped her raise the ransom sum her former slave master demanded. Some time after she went to court to claim the return of her 5 year old son who had been illegally sold to a slave master in Alabama, whereas in New York the emancipation of slaves had just begun. She gained his freedom and could reunite with him and was therefore the first Black woman, who won a lawsuit againstawhitemanwithinasettingofwhite-dominatedinstitutions.33

In 1843 she changed her name, out of a divine afflatus, into Sojourner Truth and began to work as an itinerant evangelist.34 On her journeys she met affluent abolitionists-such as Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison- and especially got in touch with female abolitionists.35 Within the Abolitionist movement, female groups started to develop, of which the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society and the Female Anti-Slavery Society of Fall River were the mostprominent .36 In1850Truthhadherautobiography“TheNarrativeof Sojourner Truth. A Northern Slave” privately published. Due to her illiteracy she had dictated the text to her friend Oliver Gilbert. Truth sold the book at occasions when she addressed a broader audience and talked about the abolition of slavery and about women’s rights.37 She has been the one of a few ex-slaves who stayed active for over three decades as a public speaker and evolved as a symbol for strong, Black women.38

Her most renowned speech held at the first annual convention of the Women’s Rights Movement in Akron, Ohio, in 1851, later named “Ain’t I a Woman?”, marks a turning point in the history of the struggle for Black women’s rights and was mainly held in front of a white audience. But, at the convention in Akron, Truth faced antagonism on two levels as Nell Irvin Painter points out:

While some white males were opposed to Truth’s ‘gender,’ some white female participants feared that Truth’s inclusion into the convention would minimize the focus on gender by bringing the race question forward.39

bell hooks also reveals the hostility Truth faced from white female activists. A group of women “who deemed it unfitting that a black woman should speak on a public platform in their presence screamed: ‘Don’t let her speak!’”.40 According to Frances Gage, the president of the convention, on the second day several male ministers showed up and argued that women should not have the same rights as men. The ministers’ reasoning was as follows: women are weak, men are intellectually superior to women, Jesus was a man, and the first mother sinned.41

However, Sojourner Truth rose up and (amidst protests from some of the women who feared she would talk about abolition) delivered her short, masterful speech – invoking tenets of Christianity and using her strong, imposing presence to debunk the ministers’ arguments. Pointing to her well-muscled arms and referring to the hard work she had performed as a slave, she allegedly challenged, “And ain’t I a woman?” As to the argument that Jesus was a man, she responded: “Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him.42 ” By all accounts, as Truth spoke, the crowd in the church rose and wildly applauded:

That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain't I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughedand planted,and gatheredinto barns, and no man could head me! And ain't I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man - when I could get it - and bear the lash as well! And ain't I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother's grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain't I a woman?Thentheytalkaboutthisthingin thehead;what'sthistheycallit? [member of audience whispers, "intellect"] That's it, honey. What's that got to do with women's rights or negroes' rights? If my cup won't hold but a pint, and yours holds a quart, wouldn'tyou be mean not to let me have my little half measure full?43

„‘Look at me. Look at my arm’“, Truth cries out and forces the mainly white audience to look at her and her physical strength resulting from the forced and hard labor. With her outcry: “I have plowed, and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me – and ain’t I a woman?” she demands to be equalized and compared to men, which white women of those times could not even strive for because of their status. “‘Nobody eber helps me into carriages, or ober mud- puddles, or gives me any best place. […] And ar’n’t I a woman?’“Sojourner Truth hints to the fact that Black women were treated differently than white women. The idea of Black women being helped into a carriage and therefore being treated in a respectable mannerand with courtesy as exerted among white people was not one even deemed feasibletowards Black women. In a way their social womanhood was being denied. By saying: ”‘I have borne thirteen chilern and seen em mos’ all sold off into slavery, and when I cried out with a mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard – and ar’n’t I a woman?’“, she takes into consideration the experience of enslaved mothers being denied and detained from living their motherhood. Neither did they have the possibility nor the right to care for their children while they were obliged to care for their slavemasters’ children. The depth of this outcry shows how Sojourner Truth recognized the extent of utterly unjust treatment of Black women and mothers. She gave specific examples of how Black women were perceived as inferior to white women and recognized that the system of enslavement had the aim of depriving Black female slaves of their femininity. The humiliating degradation offemalesexualitywasnotnecessarily thefocusofTruth’sspeech,butit expressed adistorted imageofwomeninseveralaspects.Truthnevertheless insistedonthepreservation ofherfemininity andmoreso,questionedthe prevailing image society had of women. She insisted that female slaves, despite the exploitation and humiliation of their bodies and their femininity, were women with all feminine qualities. Sojourner Truth exemplifies the early on struggle of Black women during slavery and beyond to assert themselves in a world where they were neither respected as human beings let alone as women.

An additional vital factor to assess is offered by Josie Brown-Rose. She pinpoints the theory how Black manhood is a key factor in silencing women’s concerns within the Black Liberation struggle of the early twentieth century. According toher, advocates ofthe restoration ofBlack manhood argued that slavery – and the related deprivation of Black manhood – constituted the most crucial tool in the systematic suppression of the Black man by the white man.44 Several groups that were active within the Black liberation struggle thus placed a particular emphasis on the reconstruction of Black manhood as a decisive factor for the advancement of the Black population:

At the turn of the century,Booker T. WashingtonandW.E.B.DuBoiswere centralfigureswithintheAfricanAmericancommunity.In theliterarypieces written by both leaders, much emphasis is placed on retrieving, developing, and pushing forward African American manhood.45

But as the author stated, “this emphasis on uplifting the race through a reassertion of black manhood limit[ed] the roles that women could play in race uplift, literary movements,andday-to-dayliving46 ”.HencetheemphasisonearlyBlack feminists’ impact like Anna Julia Cooper and her fellows is crucial.


2.2.1 Anna Julia Cooper

One is neither born an intellectual nor does one become one by earning a degree. Rather, doing intellectual work of the sort envisioned by Black feminism requires a processofself-consciousstruggleonbehalfofAfricanAmericanwomen, regardless of the social location where that work occurs.47

As already mentioned in the introduction, Black female scholars of the 19th century, like Anna Julia Cooper, Ida B. Wells or Mary Church Terrell, deepened the conversation on Black women within US society and the Black community and centered the importance of the advancement and acknowledgement of Black women. In a time when the prevailing image of Black women was that of a servant, more and more Black women made an effort to seek out education and ways to createadifferentimage.They werekeenonclaimingeconomic, socialand political equality through established institutions, while striving forsuccessin education and professions apart from household and field.48 A higher number of Black women finished their school education with a college degree or higher that would enhance their living and working conditions. Intellectuality in the mindset of white society was something that was rather inherently bound to white mostly male people or – exceptionally – to Black men. But some Black women rose to fight sexism and racism simultaneously, striving for a better world and opportunities if not for themselves, then at least for their daughters and granddaughters. One of the early Black women who openly spoke about the injustices and disadvantages of the Black population and the need for Black women to be empowered was Anna Julia Cooper. Her often-cited quotation

Only the BLACK WOMAN can say “when and where I enter, in the quiet,undisputed dignity of my womanhood, without violence and without suing or special patronage, then and there the whole…race enters with me.49

serves as exemplary introduction to historian Paula Giddings’ acclaimed anthology “The impact of Black Women on Sex and Race in America”. It also summarizes in which way Black female intellectuals, or in particular Anna Julia Cooper, felt they were destined to lead forward their community.


* quote is by Assata Shakur, a Black Liberation Activist and political expatriate

1 Lorde, Audre. “Learning from the 60s”. S ister Outsider: Essays & Speeches by Audre Lorde. Berkeley: Crossing Press. 2007. p. 138.

2 See Poetry Foundation

3 You will find the term"Black“ written in capital letters following the practice as thus emphasizes its cultural and political connotations of struggle.

4 Lorde, Audre. “I Am Your Sister: Black Women organizing across sexuaities” in: I am Your S ister : Collected and Unpublished Writings of Audre Lorde. New York: Oxford University Press. 2011. p. 58.

5 See hooks, bell.”Feminism Is for Everybody Passionate Politics” London: Pluto, 2000.

6 bell hooks has chosen this pen name to honor her mother and maternal grandmother. She also chose to write her pen name in small type, as not to divert the attention to the importance of the message she conveys .

7 Collins, Patricia Hill. “Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment.”,Routledge, 2000, p. 22.

8 Giddings, Paula. “When and Where I Enter: the Impact of Black Women on Race and Sex in America.” New York: Bantam Books, 1984, p. 54.

9 See Collins, Patricia Hill. “Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment.” New York: Routledge, 2000. p. 2 f.

10 See White, Frances. E. “Dark Continent of Our Bodies: Black Feminism and the Politics of Respectability.” Philadelphia: Temple University Press. 2001.

11 “Respectability politics” are rules for marginalized people to follow in order to “earn” respect in mainstream culture. (see Johnson, Maisha Z. 5 Ways 'Respectability Politics' Blame Black Women for Their Own Oppression. 2015)

12 See Cooper, Brittney C. “Beyond Respectability the Intellectual Thought of Race Women.” Urbana, IL: U of Illinois, 2017.

13 see Cooper in: Kendi, Ibram X. “Beyond Respectability: A New Book on Black Female Public Intellectuals.” African American Intellectual History Society. 2017.

14 See Chatelain, Marcia. Women and Black Lives Matter: An Interview with Marcia Chatelain. 2015

15 See Lebron, Christopher J. “The Making of Black Lives Matter: A Brief History of an Idea.” Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2017. p. 67-96

16 See Continental Congress Broadside Collection (library of Congress), United States., Mary Katherine Goddard, and United States. "In Congress, July 4, 1776. The Unanimous Declaration of the Thirteen United States of America."The Library of Congress. Mary Katharine Goddard, n.d. 1777.

17 See Mani, Bonnie G. “Women, Power, and Political Change.” Plymouth: Lexington Books. 2006, p. 91.

18 See Anthony, Susan B. “History of Woman Suffrage. 1848-1861.” Vol. I, New York: Rochester, N.Y. 1889.

19 See Mani. 2006. p. 63.

20 Davis, Angela Y. “The Black Woman's Role in the Community of Slaves” Somerville, MA: New England Free. 1971.

21 See Hallam, Jennifer. “The Slave Experience: Men, Women & Gender.” Public Broadcasting Service. 2004

22 See Myers, Amrita Chakrabarti. ““Sisters in Arms”: Slave Women's Resistance to Slavery in the United States.” Past Imperfect 5. 2008. p. 141–174.

23 Ibid.

24 See Davis. 1971. p. 2–14.

25 See Merriam Webster:

26 McKivigan, John R. Abolitionism and American Religion. New York: Garland, 1999. p.159

27 See Bogin, Ruth, and Yellin, Jean Fagan. “Introduction.” The Abolitionist Sisterhood:Women's Political Culture in Antebellum America. Ed. Jean Fagan Yellin and John C. van Horne. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1994. p. 1-20

28 See Swerdlow, Amy. “Abolition’s Conservative Sister: The Ladies’ New York City Anti-Slavery Societies, 1834-1840.” The Abolitionist Sisterhood: Women's Political Culture in Antebellum America. Ed. Jean Fagan Yellin and John C. Van Horne. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1994. p. 32

29 See Giddings, Paula. “When and Where I Enter: The Impact of Black Women on Race and Sex in America.” William Morrow. 1984. p. 65

30 Ibid. p. 71

31 See Painter, Nell Irvin. “Sojourner Truth: a Life, a Symbol.” New York: Norton, 1996. p. 13–14.

32 See Ibid.,p.17

33 See Hannam, June et. al. “International Encyclopedia of Women's Suffrage.” Santa Barbara: ABC Clio. 2000. p. 295.

34 See Painter, 1996. p. 218

35 See Hannam et al. 2000. p. 295

36 See Bogin and Yellin. 1994. p. 37

37 See Painter, 1996, p. 218

38 See Ibid., p.4

39 See Brown-Rose, Josie. “Black Feminism.” Writing African American Women. an Encyclopedia of Literature by and about Women of Color. Ed. Elizabeth Ann Beaulieu. Westport: Greenwood Press. 2006. p. 67

40 See hooks, bell. “Ain't I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism.” Boston: South End Press. 1981. p. 159

41 See Painter. 1996. p. 170 f.

42 See Truth, Sojourner. "Sojourner Truth: "Ain't I a Woman?"" Women's Convention. Ohio, Akron. Dec. 1851. Fordham. 2017.

43 See Idib.

44 Brown-Rose, 2006

45 See Brown-Rose, Josie. 2006. p. 68.

46 See Ibid.p. 68

47 Collins, 2000. p. 15

48 See Giddings. 1984. p. 75.

49 Cooper, Anna J. “Voice From the South: By a Black Woman of the South.” Xenio, Ohio: Aldine Printing House, 1892. p.31.

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Black Feminist Thought and Black Liberation from the late 19th Century to the Contemporary Black Lives Matter Movement
"A woman's place is the struggle!"
University of Frankfurt (Main)  (IEAS)
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black feminism, african american, feminism, american history, gender, black lives matter, black liberation, angela davis, assata shakur, kimberle crenshaw, bell hooks, afrogerman, civil rights movement, 19th century, american culture, intersectionality
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Christelle Ngnoubamdjum (Author), 2017, Black Feminist Thought and Black Liberation from the late 19th Century to the Contemporary Black Lives Matter Movement, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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