2017 in Review: Top Posts on Black Women’s History

Women of the Black Panther Party in Oakland in the late 1960s (pbs.org)

In 2017, Black Perspectives, the blog of the African American Intellectual History Society (AAIHS), featured a wide variety of pieces, including articles that capture the range and diversity of Black women’s history. As the year closes, the editors at Black Perspectives have chosen to provide our readers with this list of the most popular pieces on the blog in order to celebrate this accomplishment. We also want to take this opportunity to thank our contributors and our readers. We plan to feature more exciting pieces on Black women’s history in 2018 and encourage you to submit a guest post on the topic.


The Invisible Threads of Gender, Race, and Slavery” by Sasha Turner

Any attempt to remember the enslavement of African peoples is incomplete without considering women’s experiences in slavery and the transatlantic slave trade. In addition to dominating as field workers and sometimes outnumbering men on slaving ships departing the coasts of West and West Central Africa, enslaved women’s reproductive capacity shaped the economic parameters and racial logic of Black bondage. As one UN General Assembly member further cautioned, modern-day slavery, a multifaceted system that entraps over 40 million people, disproportionately affects women and children. Our attempts to address the legacies and new forms of slavery will therefore fall short if race is not considered in conversation with gender alongside significant variables like class and age. These must be understood as simultaneously operating and intersecting aspects of oppression and exploitation that are often invisible and structural.”

The Long History of Black Women’s Exclusion in Historic Marches in Washington” by Ashley D. Farmer

The upcoming women’s march is largely a response to the recent election, contentious in no small part due to the fact that white women tipped the scales in favor of Trump. The WMW has the potential to be a unifying event if organizers and participants fully recognize that calls for solidarity often ring hollow for black women and that many black women see the recent election as the latest iteration of white feminists’ betrayal. Balanced representation is an important step in the right direction, but it must be followed up by concrete efforts to hear and address the concerns of all women. After all, true representation requires more than simply a prominent seat on the stage.”

On Transnational Black Feminism” by Keisha N. Blain

If a transnational perspective underscores that white supremacy had no borders then it also underscores that black women’s resistance had no borders either. In the United States, Honduras, Great Britain, Jamaica, and in every corner of the globe, black women activists and intellectuals never ceased in their efforts to advance women’s rights, civil rights, and human rights. For these women, these goals were not only significant but deeply intertwined.”

Black Motherhood and the Limits of Empathy” by Sasha Turner

From concerns and grief felt over an ill child or a child’s death, to cultural and social forces that dictate appropriate ways mothers should respond to what happens to their children, mothers have certain broad experiences and mandates in common. Black and white mothers lose their children but the circumstances of Black children’s death are not the same and neither are the expectations on what maternal grief should look like.”

On Louise Little, the Mother of Malcolm X: An Interview with Erik S. McDuffie by Keisha N. Blain

Louise Little was a brilliant and dynamic woman, not some “crazy” or apolitical figure as she is often portrayed in the scholarship about Malcolm X. She was a committed Garveyite grassroots activist. She spoke multiple languages—English French, Patois. She taught her children the French alphabet. She insisted that her children read newspapers such as the Negro World, the official periodical of the UNIA, and newspapers from Grenada. What most intrigued me was her resilience. She was institutionalized at the Kalamazoo Mental Hospital from 1939 through 1963. But, she lived almost 30 more years after her family got her out of that hospital. Her time in that hospital can be viewed as a form of incarceration because the state targeted her because she was proud, she was independent, she owned her own land, and she refused to bow down to white supremacy and patriarchy.”

Women, Gender, and Party Politics in the Black Panther Party” by Ashley Farmer

As readers learn about the evolution of the Party in Oakland, they also discover how Panther women contributed to each stage of its development. Interweaving interviews and underutilized archival resources, Spencer documents how women were drawn to the Party at different moments and for different reasons….[Robyn] Spencer’s fusion of new and familiar voices illustrates how women saw the Party as a welcoming space that represented their ideologies and politics. It also indicates that they were key to the Party’s history, simultaneously shaping and being shaped by the growing organization.”

Remembering Black Women in St. Louis’s Pruitt-Igoe Housing Projects” by Candace Borders

Through oral history interviews with women who grew up in the housing project, I caught a glimpse into the lives of their mothers. For these women, Pruitt-Igoe was not a failure, nor were they its victims. The women I interviewed lived in the intersection of poverty, segregation, and state surveillance. Yet, through the physical remapping of Pruitt-Igoe and what I call an ethic of empowerment, they constructed lives of meaning, joy, and possibility.”

“’Thinking Black’ Against the Carceral State: Angela Davis and Prisoner Defense Campaigns” by Dan Berger

For [Angela] Davis and other prison abolitionists in the early 1970s, “thinking Black” against the carceral state was an expansive claim. “Thinking Black” meant understanding the linked fates of oppressed and marginalized people. It was an invitation for everyone, including the all-white jury deciding her fate, to affirm their own humanity against institutions that degrade and destroy. ‘We are not interested in race and gender (and class and sexuality and disability) per se, by themselves,’ Davis explained in a 2009 talk, ‘but primarily as they have been acknowledged as conditions for hierarchies of power, so that we can transform them into intertwined vectors of struggle for freedom.’”

Candomblé, Afro-Brazilian Women, and African Religiosity in Brazil” by Jaimee A. Swift

Africana women—in particular, Afro-Brazilian women—who practice African indigenous religiosity both historically and contemporarily play a pivotal role in Black women’s political mobilization in Brazil. By embracing Candomblé—a Pan-African spiritual subset of Ifá—Black Brazilian women who practice African religious customs are not only asserting their socio-political agency, but more importantly, they are promoting an intersectional stance that focuses on their race, gender, and the social injustices that impact their livelihoods.”

Zora Neale Hurston’s Radical Black Love” by Ayesha Hardison and Randal Maurice Jelks

One of the gifts that Hurston’s novel offers to this generation is the charge that we not forget that black love exists despite how fragile it may appear to be. In fact, many feel and share love exactly for that reason. Hurston’s masterful storytelling charges all of us, eighty years later, to give thoughtful consideration about the state of our loved ones and the ways in which we show them our love. We can hear Hurston’s call coming off the airwaves in R&B, blues ballads, and hip hop rhymes. We can see it displayed in television shows and films; we can feel it emanating from pulpits and mosques as well as within the corridors of academic inquiry. In spite of our perilous times, black love prevails.”

Black Women, Police Violence, and Mental Illness” by Celeste Henery

Familiar stereotypes of black women such as ‘the angry black woman’ or ‘welfare queen’ cast black women as possessing deviant values and dispositions. The stereotype of crazy compounds these by rendering black women vulnerable to labels of mental and emotional deviance or ‘craziness.’ Magnified by black skin, their bodies and actions are suspect of irrational states of mind: their movements unpredictable and threatening, their laughter possibly a sign of madness, their dissent or anger, aggressive. The idea of crazy reduces black women’s presence to perceptions of being socially destructive, and thus unworthy of protection or societal compassion.”

Remembering Afro-German Intellectual May Ayim” by Tiffany Florvil

May Ayim was not unlike other Black diasporic women such as Claudia Jones or the Nardal sisters, producing materials that shaped diasporic culture and politics and that promoted Black intellectualism and internationalism. She integrated diverse styles, such as the Blues, that reflected her wide-ranging interests in and ties to the transnational Black diaspora….She also used her writing to negotiate her Black Germanness and to write herself into German society and the Black diaspora.”

Black Women, Agency, and the Civil War” by Karen Cook Bell

Black women faced formidable obstacles during the Civil War. Yet, they fashioned a distinct world view grounded in liberation politics that aided them as they negotiated their new lives during and after the Civil War. They confronted the power structures with the tools available to them and resisted policies that proscribed their freedom. In order to assess the agency of black women during the Civil War, historians must rethink important questions of the Civil War era: how did black women live their daily lives? How did they view themselves and their role in the black community? What did they believe and what was their worldview? What liberation strategies did they embrace and why?”

Zora Neale Hurston, Diaspora, and the Memory of Hurricanes” by Janell Hobson

In revisiting Hurston, who devoted her anthropological and literary works to making legible the Black Diaspora and to validating its cultural expressions, linguistics, and aesthetics, her interests remained as mobile as the hurricane winds, and as committed to tracing the tracks of our Diasporic footsteps. She simply conjured a proto-feminist tale in the process of remembering an unforgettable storm.”

The Future is Black and Female: Afrofuturism and Comic Books by Grace Gipson

Afrofuturism is not simply a tool of representation, but also a technique that incorporates the medium of comic books to re-craft and build a history and identity through the African diasporic women’s narratives. According to Deirdre Lynn Hollman, ‘Afrofuturism is black survival. It is an affirmative aesthetic and philosophic position that questions how will we survive in the future, not if we will. It asks what do we need to know, how do we need to adapt, what knowledge do we need to take with us, what new ways of being do we need to create, and how do we retain our ancestral memory.’ Because of this affirmation and call for ‘black survival,’ the Black women and girls portrayed in these comic book narratives resist ‘the danger of a single story’ while incorporating Afrofuturism, thus offering refreshing, creative, and complicated experiences.”

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