Here we explore the achievements of black women throughout history. The stories of three historical figures illuminates the strength and determination within their political activism, and reflects an unrelenting dedication to social justice and liberation for the black community. Also in this section are book recommendations by black female authors, whose writing have shaped both fiction and non-fiction genres in the last sixty years.
- Jones' was committed to highlighting the unique oppression experienced by Black women. The ideas in her 1948 essay, “An End to the Neglect of the Problems of the Negro Woman!”, formed the foundational basis of intersectional feminism.
- Following her arrival from New York in 1955, Jones worked closely with members of London's Afro-Caribbean community to create the UK's first Black newspaper: the West Indian Gazette.
- In response to the brutality of the 1958 Notting Hill Riots, initiated by Oswald Mosley’s White Defence League, Jones used the opportunity to regroup the community through a celebration of their culture and heritage. Dubbed the 'mother of Notting Hill Carnival', Jones reminds us of the historical roots of the Carnival, the celebrations of which have become increasingly gentrified and appropriated over the last decade.
- Jones' strength, pride and work remain a legacy as a force for change and instrumental role in liberating Britain’s Black community lives on eternally.
- Daisy and her husband,Christopher Bates, set up the Arkansas state press, a weekly African American newspaper. In 1952, Bates became the president of the Arkansas chapter of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People) and the couple used the newspaper to champion the ongoing civil rights movement.
- Following the landmark ruling of Brown vs. Board of Education, which found school segregation to be unconstitutional, Bates played a pivotal role in enlisting nine african American students (known as the little rock 9) attend the all-white central high school in little rock.
- The desegregation was fraught with fierce opposition, with President Eisenhower sending the national guard to ensure the students' safety. Bates offered her continual support throughout the desegregation process, despite both herself and family receiving harassment and death threats.
- After the publication of her autobiography, 'The long shadow of little rock' in 1962, Bates maintained her involvement in various community organisations. her contributions to the civil rights movement were invaluable.
Marsha P Johnson:
- Moving to Greenwich City in 1966, Marsha became well known in the diverse gay community for Her iconic appearance of flowing dresses, high heels, wigs and bright accessories. She was photographed by Andy Warhol in his 1975 Polaroid series, ‘Ladies and Gentlemen’.
- Marsha was among the first drag queens to frequent Greenwich Village’s Stonewall Inn. She was a central figure in the Stonewall uprising, a series of demonstrations that began on 28 June 1969 in retaliation against violent police raids. The event is widely regarded as a historic milestone in the battle for LGBTQIA+ rights in the US.
- In 1972, Marsha and her friend Syliva Riveria (a Latina American gay liberation and transgender rights activist) Launched the STAR (Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries) house, a shelter and safe space for gay and trans young people who found themselves lacking security and safety elsewhere. She became renowned as the 'mayor of christopher street' and continued to champion the gay liberation movement in her work as an aids acitivist.
- Marsha's Body was found in the Hudson River in 1992. Although ruled as a suicide, Transgender activists Mariah Lopez and Victoria Cruz have been among those who fought to get the New York police department to reopen the case as a possible homicide. The unsolved case remains tragically relevant today, when trans women – particularly Black trans women – are still disproportionately affected by acts of violence.
- I Know Why Caged Birds Sing - Maya Angelou (1969)
- Angelou is an acclaimed American poet, author and activist. She also worked closely with Dr Martin Luther King and Malcolm X and served as a professor at Wake Forest University.
- Written in 1969, Angelou presents her autobiography through a beautifully written piece of literature to explore subjects such as identity, rape, racism and literacy. I Know Why Caged Birds Sing tells the story of Maya, a younger version of Angelou, and her experience of growing up in a male-dominated society. Maya has been called a ‘symbolic character for every black girl growing up in America’. The book was nominated for a National Book Award in 1970 and has been used in educational settings throughout secondary schools to universities.
- The Colour Purple - Alice Walker (1985)
- Walker is a feminist and vocal advocate for human rights, and she has earned critical and popular acclaim as a major American novelist and intellectual.
- The Colour Purple follows the lives of Celie and Nettie, two African American sisters living in early twentieth-century rural Georgia who were separated as girls. The story is told through a series of letters spanning twenty years, and Walker’s writing has been highly praised for narrating the lives of women through their pain and struggle, companionship and growth, resilience and bravery.
- Heart By Race - Beverley Bryan, Stella Dadzie and Suzanne Scafe (1985)
- Described as “testimony to the collective experience of black women in Britain”, Heart By Race reclaims and records black women’s place in British history, documenting their day-to-day struggles, their experiences of education, work and health care, and the personal and political struggles they have waged to preserve a sense of identity and community.
- Watch an interview with Stella Dadzie, one of the authors, on Black Feminism
- These are some of my personal favourites but other recommendations can be found.