Over the past seven days, I have posted the words of black women in America on my Instagram account: Harriet Jacobs, Ida B. Wells, Ella Baker, Fannie Lou Hamer, Ruth Turner Perot, Ericka Huggins, and Angela Davis. Their words stretch from 1861 to 2017. They represent the smallest fraction of black women in the US.
Black women have been writing and speaking out about their experience since colonial days.
Phillis Wheatley became the African American to publish a book of poems (1773). Read her poetry in The Poems of Phillis Wheatley.
Sojourner Truth spoke publicly in the 1850s about women’s rights when women speaking publicly was frowned upon by the patriarchal society. Read about Truth in the biography by Nell Irvin Painter, Sojourner Truth: A Life, A Symbol.
Harriet Tubman risked her life and helped 70(!) people escape from slavery. Then she served as a spy for the Union during the Civil War. She received a military pension as a widow but it was increased from $8 to $20 because of her contributions to the Union effort. Explore biographies of Tubman from the Cornell University Library Guide.
Ida B. Wells is the reason we know that lynchings targeted successful black men who were killed because that success threatened the racial hierarchy. For most of the lynchings she researched, there was no evidence to support accusations that these men had assaulted white women. Later, she also supported women’s suffrage but due to the color of skin was relegated literally to the back of the movement. Read her autobiography, The Crusade of Justice.
We know about Emmitt Till’s lynching because his mother kept his casket open, forcing Americans to confront the violence enacted on black bodies. Read about the Emmitt Till lynching in the book The Blood of Emmett Till.
The Montgomery Bus Boycott was organized by the Women’s Political Council, who called for this action following the arrest of Rosa Parks. Read about this work in The Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Women Who Started It.
SNCC (the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee) existed because Ella Baker told students to create their own organization rather than be a youth arm of the SCLC, which would have lessened their autonomy in the movement. Read about Ella Baker in Ella Baker & The Black Freedom Movement.
Fannie Lou Hamer spoke at the Democratic National Convention on Aug. 22, 1964. Her ability to disrupt the party was so well felt that LBJ preempted her testimony with an impromptu press conference. But people wanted to know what she said, why she was silenced. The major networks played her speech during the evening news, potentially giving it a much larger audience. Read more about Hamer in This Little Light of Mine: The Life of Fannie Lou Hamer.
Black Lives Matter was founded by Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi. Read Making All Black Lives Matter.
This is only a partial list.
Many of these women are not included in public school history textbooks. Their voices have been silenced.