10 Black Feminists/Womanists Everyone Should Know

It is Women’s History Month and what better way to celebrate than to showcase the lives of our own beautiful, dynamic, bold, Black female activists. Each step of the way these women have transformed society—striking national and international blows against socio-political and economic systems that would have otherwise shut our voices out! Holding fast to their unwavering principles they have uniquely molded new forms of consciousness-raising narratives that continue to transform thousands of individuals daily.

Pauli Murray
“Pauli Murray was a champion for civil and human rights who grew up in Durham, NC. Her insights and vision continue to resonate powerfully in our times. As a historian, attorney, activist, scholar, educator, feminist, poet, same-gender-loving woman, and Episcopal priest she worked throughout her life to address injustice, to give voice to the unheard, to educate, and to promote reconciliation between races and economic classes. Murray's first book, States' Laws on Race and Color, was published in 1951, and became an invaluable reference for civil rights lawyers.”

Audre Lorde
“A self-styled “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet,”…dedicated both her life and her creative talent to confronting and addressing the injustices of racism, sexism, and homophobia. Concerned with modern society's tendency to categorize groups of people, Lorde fought the marginalization of such categories as "lesbian" and "black woman,"… empowering her readers to react to the prejudice in their own lives. Both her activism and her published work speak to the importance of struggle for liberation among oppressed peoples and of organizing in coalition across differences of race, gender, sexual orientation, class, age and ability. Her works include:I Am Your Sister: Collected and Unpublished Writings of Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches (Crossing Press Feminist Series), The Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power, Woman Poet—The East, Zami: A New Spelling of My Name

Frances Beal
“Frances M. Beal was born in Binghamton, N.Y to a Jewish mother and an African American father. Both influenced her early years with a sense of struggling against both racism and anti-Semitism. As a result, Beal spent her life as an activist, mostly by organizing, writing and speaking about the issue of rights for Black women and racial justice as a whole. When the Moynihan Report was published (1965) positing that the main problem afflicting the Black community was the Black matriarchy - a view that tried to push Black women into a second class role - Beal became a founding member of the SNCC Black Women's Liberation Committee, which evolved into the TWWA. Beal became a national figure upon publication of her most seminal work: Double Jeopardy: To Be Black & Female, which posed the intersection of race, class and gender as the theoretical and political framework for understanding Black women's condition and the path to struggle for Black women's liberation.”

bell hooks
“An intellectual and a scholar, bell hooks is devoted to critical consciousness and awareness of oneself and society. Born in Hopkinsville, Kentucky, bell hooks, nee Gloria Watkins, has been critically conscious since childhood. Always passionate and intent on calling individuals to recognize and change the negative repercussions of what she terms the "white supremist capitalist patriarchy" that structures this society, hooks [used] [h]er love of English [and] rage toward the white supremist capitalist patriarchy to write her first book, Ain't I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism, when she was 19 years old. hooks urges an end to the degradation and exploitation of black women, arguing that this is an integral step in alleviating white supremacy.” Source

Julianne Malveaux
“Julianne Malveaux is a respected economist and writer who is known as an authority on politics, economics, gender, race, national affairs, and the workplace. As a scholar, Malveaux has researched and taught economics, public policy, and African-American studies at several of the premier universities in the United States, including University of California at Berkeley. She has appeared frequently on television, hosted her own radio show and her syndicated column has appeared in some 20 newspapers across the United States since 1990. A self-described "poet/writer/economist," Malveaux's academic training may be in economics, but she has explored some of contemporary American culture's most complex issues in her writings [including], Black Women In The Labor Force (MIT Press Classics), [coauthor], and coeditor of Slipping through the Cracks: The Status of Black Women.”

Toni Cade Bambara
“Toni Cade Bambara, born Miltona Mirkin Cade, was a writer, activist, feminist, and filmmaker. Within the highly charged political atmosphere of the civil rights and women's movements, Bambara edited and published an anthology of non-fiction, fiction, and poetry, entitled The Black Woman: An Anthology. An important product of the Black Arts Movement, The Black Woman was the first major feminist anthology featuring work by Nikki Giovanni, Audre Lorde, Alice Walker, Paule Marshall, and others. The genesis of the anthology, Bambara says, ‘grew out of impatience with the lack of writing for African-American women by African-American women.’ Throughout Bambara's life she enjoyed using her art of writing and teaching, to convey social and political messages about the welfare of the African-American community and of African-American women especially.”

Beverley Guy-Sheftall
“Academic administrator and black women's studies professor, Beverly Guy-Sheftall, was born on June 1, 1946 in Memphis, Tennessee to Walter and Ernestine Varnado-Guy. Reared by her mother, who supported her three daughters by teaching math and later, working as an accountant, Guy-Sheftall was taught to work hard on her studies and to prepare for an independent, productive adulthood (Guy-Sheftall graduated with honors from Manassas High School in 1962, at the age of sixteen). In 1971, [as] an English professor [at Spelman College,] [s]he decided to help broaden the Women’s Studies Movement to include issues pertinent to African Americans [by] editing books of literature by African American women and publishing articles about black feminism. [She later went on to] co-edited Sturdy Black Bridges: Visions of Black Women in Literature, the first anthology of African American women’s writings.”

Bonnie Thornton Dill
“Bonnie Thornton Dill is dean of the College of Arts and Humanities and professor of Women’s Studies. A pioneering scholar studying the intersections of race, class and gender in the U.S. with an emphasis on African American women, work and families, Thornton Dill’s scholarship has been reprinted in numerous collections and edited volumes. [Having] established herself as an internationally recognized researcher, scholar, administrator, teacher, and social justice advocate, Thornton Dill has explored the ways in which economic opportunity, class position, race and gender combined to influence the life choices and chances of women of color in U.S. society. Her recent publications include an edited collection of essays on intersectionality with Ruth Zambrana entitled, Emerging Intersections: Race, Class, and Gender in Theory, Policy, and Practice.
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Patricia Hill Collins
“Perhaps best known for [her] award-winning [book], Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment , Patricia Hill Collins outlined American Black feminism expressed in music, fiction, poetry, and oral history. Collins draws on black women's experiences and voices to explain concepts that have been obscured institutionally, philosophically, and ideologically.

Alice Walker
“Alice Walker has become one of the best-known and most highly respected writers in the U.S. Active in the 1960s Civil Rights Movement in the South, she used her own and others' experiences as material for her searing examination of politics and black-white relations in her novel Meridian. Perhaps her most famous work is The Color Purple, brought to the attention of mainstream America through the film adaptation by Steven Spielberg. Walker has produced half a dozen novels, two collections of short stories, numerous volumes of poetry, and books of essays. Though she has attained fame and recognition in many countries, Walker has not lost her sense of rootedness in the South or her sense of indebtedness to her mother for showing her what the life of an artist entailed. Writing of this central experience in her famous essay, “In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens, [is where she coined the term ‘womanist’]. [It was] a reaction to the realization that “feminism” does not encompass the perspectives of Black women. Womanism does not need to be prefaced by the word “Black”, the word automatically concerns black women
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Alice J. Rollins is an aspiring freelance writer and blogger who holds an M.A. in Women’s and Gender Studies from DePaul University.  Her areas of interest include African American women’s spirituality, feminist/womanist pedagogy and politics of migration. 

She is currently based in Chicago, IL. Email her at: alice@forharriet.com

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