The Cambridge History of Black Women in the United States

Fashionable Black Women in Chicago, (Edwin Rosskam, Library of Congress)
General Editor: Karen Cook Bell, Ph.D

Volume Editors: Drs. Catherine Adams, Felicia Thomas, Nikki Taylor, Crystal Webster, Crystal Feimster, Hilary Green, Ashley Preston, Sheena Harris, Crystal Sanders, and Hettie V. Williams.

Advisory Board: Drs. Keisha N. Blain, Elsa Barkley Brown, Stephanie Y. Evans, Kali Gross, Cherise Jones-Branch, Alison Parker, and Barbara Savage.

Contributors are being solicited for the newly commissioned Cambridge History of Black Women in the United States. The Cambridge History of Black Women in the United States (CHBW) is a five-volume history that will appeal to students, lay readers, and specialists. These volumes will be a landmark opportunity to reflect seriously on the state of scholarship on Black women in the United States, as well as reshape our thinking about their impact on American society. We want to showcase the best work of recent years, as well as point the way forward for a new generation of scholars and readers.  We see this as a scholarly project that aims to lead the field, and to educate and engage a broad audience of non-professionals.

The CHBW will illuminate the individuals, organizations, social, political, and economic forces, and political movements that have shaped the experiences of Black women in the United States. This history, organized thematically and chronologically, will feature more than 100 well-researched articles, and take an intersectional approach to Black women’ history.  It will also examine the historiographical, methodological, and theoretical advances in Black women’s history today.

Recent histories have rightly emphasized that women and girls made up a higher proportion of captives in the Middle Passage than of other flows of population movement, coerced or voluntary.1 The importance of sexuality and reproduction in Black women’s lives during enslavement and after, Black women’s struggles in the workforce, their role as educators both within the academy and outside of the academy, as well as re-interpretations of the woman’s suffrage movement that center the activism of Black women will be illuminated in this series.

Moving beyond “contribution history” and the “oppressed group” model, the CHBW will include works that underscore the ways in which Black women wielded power, which they exercised through organizations, pressure tactics, petitioning, and the creation of mass movements for various social reforms. This approach has most recently been acclaimed in the work of Martha Jones’s Vanguard: How Black Women Broke Barriers, Won the Vote, and Insisted on Equality for All (2021).  Black women have been at the center of a two centuries-long women’s movement in which they battled both racism and sexism, becoming the nation’s original feminists and antiracists as Martha Jones has argued.

Historian Robin D. G. Kelley in his article, “‘But a Local Phase of a World Problem’: Black History’s Global Vision, 1883–1950,” states that “Black history in the U.S. was intrinsically a transnational and diasporic phenomenon that had its origin way back in the European slave trade.”2 The CHBW will also include works that examine Black women in various geographic locations across time and space and their transnational linkages with the Black diaspora. Scholarship on Black women’s internationalism, such as Keisha N. Blain’s Set the World on Fire: Black Nationalist Women and the Global Struggle for Freedom, has revealed the ways in which women worked in places such as Chicago, Harlem, and the Mississippi Delta to build alliances with people of color around the globe, agitating for the rights and liberation of Black people in the United States and across the African diaspora.

Black women’s political and feminist thought will also comprise the CHBW. The social, political, and organizational histories of Black women shape their representations, identities, and culturesand vice versa. In her work on the Tulsa Race Riots, Kimberly Ellis takes as her starting point the organizations and institutions that made Black Tulsa prosperous, but also a target for racist repression in the 1920s. Her use of Ida B. Wells-Barnett’s ideas on self-defense as promulgated in black communities is but one example of “her attention to the social, political, and organizational history of a community that relied in great part on the actions of Black women. Whether active political actors or the symbols that ignited racist violence, Black women were integral to history on many levels.”3

The CHBW will represent an important part of Black women’s history and adds to the discourse of how African American women organized in their communities, protested slavery and segregation, built institutions, and fought for equal access to the ballot. Black women have been in the forefront of movements to address iniquity, social oppression, and freedom for the Black community for centuries.

  • Volume One: Contexts (1500-1800) examines the period from 1500-1800. We seek submissions that examine Black women in the context of the making of the African diaspora, Black women’s resistance, gender and reproduction, religion, and Black women’s lives and labors.
  • Volume Two: Bondage and Resistance (1800-1860) focuses on the myriad experiences of free Black and enslaved women, the gendered dimensions of the domestic slave trade, marriage, family, religion, Black women’s resistance, Black girlhood, Black feminism, Black internationalism, and Black women’s labor.
  • Volume Three: Transformations (1860-1900) surveys the Civil War through the end of the nineteenth century focusing on the impact of the Civil War and emancipation on Black women, Black women’s leadership in the reparations movement, marriage, family, religion, Black women’s organizing, Black women and banking, Black women and the carceral state, and the ways in which Black women navigated and protested Jim Crow.
  • Volume Four: Lifting As We Climb (1900-1945) assesses the period from 1900-1945 focusing on the impact of Black women on women’s suffrage, education, migration, art, religion, literature, civil rights, their roles during World War I and World War II, Black women and the carceral state, and Black internationalism.
  • Volume Five: Social and Political Movements (1945-2020) interrogates the impact of Black women on the Civil Rights movement, the Black Power and Black Arts movement, literature, education, science, music, sports, religion, Black feminism, Black quotidian life, Black women’s queer history, reproductive justice, health and wellness, Black women and the carceral state, and Black women’s political activism during the twentieth and twenty-first century.
**Interested persons should submit an abstract and two page CV to the General Editor, Dr. Karen Cook Bell at with the subject line “Cambridge History of Black Women.”
  1. Diana Paton, “Gender History, Global History, and Atlantic Slavery: On Racial Capitalism and Social Reproduction,” vol. 127 no. 2, American Historical Review, (June 2022): 742.
  2. Robin D.G. Kelley, “But a Local Phase of a World Problem: Black History’s Global Vision, 1883-1950,”  vol. 86 no. 3, Journal of American History (Winter 1999): 1045-1077.
  3. Kimberly Springer, “Unexpected: Women, Histories, Sources,” Journal of Women’s History, vol. 16 no. 4 (Winter 2004): 32.
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Karen Cook Bell

Karen Cook Bell is the Wilson H. Elkins Endowed Professor of History at Bowie State University. She is the author of Claiming Freedom: Race, Kinship, and Land in Nineteenth Century Georgia (University of South Carolina Press, 2018); Running From Bondage: Enslaved Women and Their Remarkable Fight for Freedom in Revolutionary America (Cambridge University Press, 2021) and Southern Black Women and Their Struggle for Freedom during the Civil War and Reconstruction (Cambridge University Press, 2023). She is Founding Director of the BSU Du Bois Center for the Study of the Black Experience at Bowie State University. Follow her on Twitter at @kbphd08 and at the BSU Du Bois Cenetr @BSUDuBoisCenter

Comments on “The Cambridge History of Black Women in the United States

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    This is wonderful Karen! You’re big deal!

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      Thanks, Daryl!

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    Good Afternoon Dr. Bell,
    Is there a deadline for abstract submissions for this project? I am very interested.

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    Brilliant structure for a much needed series to examine the complex histories, culture, and thought of Black women.


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