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VOLUME 1, NUMBER 2       BACK TO VOLUMES

Missing in Action: Ida B. Wells, the NAACP, and the Historical Record
Paula Giddings

When Ida B. Wells-Barnett sat down at her long dining room table in 1928, three years before her death, to begin writing her autobiography, her place in history was hardly assured. She had led the nation's first anti-lynching campaign, she had co-founded the NAACP, and she had founded a black settlement house and the Negro Fellowship League in Chicago. Wells-Barnett had organized the only black women's suffrage club extant in Illinois when women became enfranchised there in 1913, and she had run for a senate seat in the state. She was also the instrumental force behind the first national black women's movement in the United States. Nevertheless, Wells-Barnett was fearful that her contributions would be lost within the folds of more heralded achievements.
In January of 1930, when Wells-Barnett and her oldest daughter, Ida B. Jr., attended a Negro History Week meeting in Chicago, her worst suspicions were confirmed. The group discussed a book by Carter G. Woodson, who had inaugurated Negro History Week and was known as the "Father of Negro History," in which her own anti-lynching efforts were not mentioned (Wells 1930). Compounding the oversight was the fact that the historian knew Wells. In 1915, the year he organized the Association for Study of Negro Life and History in Chicago, he spoke before the Negro Fellowship League (Chicago Defender 7 August 1915). The oversight was compounded by the fact that another founder of the Association, a Chicagoan named George Cleveland Hall, had been Wells-Barnett’s physician and had delivered at least one of her four children. If she was going to establish her place in history, she knew she had better chronicle her own life. Wells-Barnett was the first black woman political activist to write a full-length autobiography.
There are many reasons why the full breadth of Ida B. Wells-Barnett's impact on history has never been documented. None, however, is more crucial than her vexed relationship with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the leading civil rights organization of the twentieth century. Most chroniclers have focused on Wells-Barnett's difficult personality, her “need to dominate”, and her disputatious ways in explaining her tensions with the civil rights organization specifically and with nearly everyone else regardless of race, sex, or place on the political spectrum (see, e.g., Thompson 1990 and McMurray 1998). The personal observation about her is accurate but should not obscure the very real ideological differences that this uncompromising activist had with many individuals and groups. Her differences with the NAACP, in particular, which kept Wells-Barnett on the margins of mainstream African- American and women's history, were evident from the earliest years of that organization. Ironically, the formation of both the Negro Fellowship League, Wells- Barnett’s primary base of operations, and the NAACP had the same catalyst: the 1908 riot in Springfield, Illinois.

 

Women of Color and the Global Sex Trade: Transnational Feminist Perspectives
Kamala Kempadoo

This article explores the involvement of “Third World”/non-western women in prostitution and other forms of sex work, arguing for a feminist approach that can both capture the racialized gendered dimension of the contemporary sex trade and allow for a recognition of women of color’s sexual agency. It contests the older feminist framework that defines prostitution as violence to women, and sketches the contours of a feminism that is currently being produced by women of color to research and study the global sex trade.

 

Conference Report: The Color of Violence: Violence Against Women of Color
Andrea Smith

This brief overview of The Color of Violence: Violence Against Women of Color conference held at University of California—Santa Cruz on April 28-29, 2000, elucidates the need for a conference devoted exclusively to women of color and summarizes the most important themes of the conference, such as the relationship between the mainstream anti-violence movement and the larger structures of institutional violence that the former ignores, the prominent role that indigenous women played in the conference, the importance of developing a global consciousness and organizing strategy.

 

Review Essay: Global Feminisms and Food
Doris Witt

Over the past decade, food studies has emerged as one of the most vibrant domains of academic inquiry. This essay surveys several recent books relevant to the study of transnational feminism and food, while addressing some of the vexed undercurrents in the field that are related to the perception that food is beneath the purview of academia.

 

Dispersed Radiance: Women Scientists in C.V. Raman's Laboratory
Ahba Sur

"In this paper, I examine the intersection of gender and nationalism in the
making of India's women scientists through a collective biography of women
scientist's in C.V. Raman's laboratory. C. V. Raman was India's leading
physicist who won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1930. The entry of Lalitha
Chandrasekhar, Sunanda Bai, and Anna Mani into his laboratory in the 1930s
marked the hesitant acceptance of women in the higher echelons of science.
The lives and works of these women who are at once traditional and
modern--traditional in their demeanor, modern in their social outlook--reveal
the process of reconstitution of gender relations in India. My study
illustrates that while women's entry into such male-dominated fields as
physics was intitally facilitated by their adherence to a strict moral code,
their intellectual and aesthetic development served eventually to undermine
the ubiquitous moral regulation of women by the guardians of the Indian
socity. It also suggests that nationalist ideology coupled with insistent
(although marginal) voices demanding equity in education, although
instrumental in creating new opportunities for women in this pre-feminist
era , precluded the construction of a self-conscious and affirmative
'alternative identity' as *women* scientists."

 

Transgressive Women and Transracial Mothers: White Women and Critical Race Theory
France Winddance Twine

Drawing upon the racial consciousness biographies of sixty-five white birth
mothers of African-descent children in England this article asks "What
maternal dilemmas do white transracial mothers share with black mothers of
African-descent children?" This article employs critical race theory to
examine several forms of punishment that challenge the reproductive liberty
of white women who refuse to sever their ties to children who may be socially
recognized as black or mixed-race. The struggles that white mothers who are
considered racial transgressors illuminate dilemmas that they may share with
black mothers and other mothers of color. This article seeks to expand and
internationalize the theoretical insights of critical race theorists in the
United States by applying the concept of "reproductive" liberty to the
situation of white transracial mothers in Britain. This article argues that
critical race feminists in the United States, particularly black feminists,
offer theoretical tools that provide a rare lens on the struggles of
transracial and transracial mothers.

 

The Interstitial Politics of Black Feminist Organizations
Kimberley Springer

Black feminists’ voices and visions fell between the cracks of the civil rights and women’s movements, so they created formal organizations to speak on their behalf. Within five organizations---the Third World Women’s Alliance (1968-79), the National Black Feminist Organization (1973-75), the National Alliance of Black Feminists (1976-80), the Combahee River Collective (1975-80), and Black Women Organized for Action (1973-1980)---several thousand Black women activists explicitly claimed feminism and defined a collective identity based on their race, gender, class, and sexual orientation claims. As one activist I interviewed remarked, Black feminists conducted their politics “in the cracks.”(Burnham 1998).
Politics in the cracks, or, hereafter, “interstitial politics,” conveyed two meanings for Black feminists and their organizations. First, as activist Linda Burnham noted, Black feminists, not unlike activists in other social movements, fit their activism into their schedules whenever possible, serving as full-time unpaid staff for their organizations. Second, Black feminists developed a collective identity and basis for organizing that reflected the intersecting characteristics that make up black womanhood. Black feminists were the first activists to theorize and act upon the intersections of race, gender, and class.
While Black feminists crafted their collective identity and their organizations from the fissures that developed within the civil rights and women’s movement, that description and analysis was obscured in the Black and women’s liberation scholarly literature. Research on Black feminist organizations can contribute a crucial, previously ignored chapter to the historiography of the civil rights and women’s movements. These
organizations, with their roots firmly entrenched in the civil rights movement, provide a crucial link to the burgeoning women’s movement. Black women, as leaders in civil rights movement organizations such as the Southern Christian Leadership Council (SCLC), the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE), the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), played a pivotal role in demonstrating the leadership capabilities of Black women, as well as in speaking about the burden of oppression under which they functioned. Research on Black women civil rights leaders flourished in the 1990s, laying the foundation for examining the continuity of Black women’s activism through slavery, suffrage, the women’s club movement, and labor movements (see Barnett 1991, Davis 1981, Giddings 1984, Gay-Sheftall 1995, and Robnett 1997). African American history, in the process of unearthing a wealth of information about the leadership role of Black women in the civil rights movement, makes little notice of the Black feminist activism sparked by this leadership. As this research on their organizations shows, Black feminists learned valuable skills and ideological beliefs from the civil rights movement and incorporated these resources into women’s movement activism. They based their analyses and actions on the work of their activist foremothers, but also took that work a step further by adamantly laying claim to gender as a salient point of Black women’s identity.
Similar to the gaps in civil rights movement historiography, women’s movement histories lack in-depth descriptions and analyses of Black feminist organizations that contributed to the expansion of the movement’s goals and objectives. Past studies of the women’s movement document Black women civil rights leaders who served as role models for white feminist activists, but they neglect to mention how in practical and ideological ways, Black women mentored Black feminist activists (see Carden 1974, Davis 1991, Echols 1989, and Freeman 1977). Additionally, Black feminist activists, through their theorizing and organizations, broadened the scope of the women’s movement by challenging Eurocentric and classist interpretations of women’s issues. The literature on the women’s movement and Black feminist activism cursorily acknowledges the existence of select Black feminist organizations---most often, the Combahee River Collective and the National Black Feminist Organization---but mainly as a reaction to racism in the women’s movement (see, e.g. Buecheler 1990, Davis 1991, Echols 1989, Giddings 1984, and hooks 1981).
However, recent scholarship in Black women’s studies and sociology is turning its attention to Black feminist organizations as a parallel development to the predominately white women’s movement, rather than merely a reaction to racism (see Guy-Sheftall 1995: Introduction, Roth 1999, and White 1999). By recasting Black feminist organizing in this light, we gain a sharper picture of the development of Black feminist theorizing on the matrix of domination, as well as a better understanding of how Black feminists articulated their agenda in concrete action.
For the discussion, I used archival data (including organizational newsletters, calendars of events, position papers, correspondence, and minutes of meetings) and, from 1995 to 1998, conducted twenty-three oral history interviews with Black feminist activists. These tape recorded interviews, lasting from forty-five minutes to two hours, covered the activists’ personal and political histories, organizational structure of their groups, group objectives, significant events, ideological disputes, coalition work, organizational accomplishments, and factors of decline.
The organizations included in my sample all explicitly incorporated the feminist label into their organizational vision, statements of purpose, slogans, or recruitment materials. The first organization, the Third World Women’s Alliance, emerged from the civil rights movement in 1968, accompanying the turn of some integrationist civil rights organizations toward Black Nationalism and masculinist rhetoric. As the window of opportunity for integrationist efforts began to close, the opportunity for feminist activism widened.