Black Women Activist’s Networks, Postwar Travels, and Emerging Cold War Politics

Friday, January 8, 2016: 2:50 PM
Room 303 (Hilton Atlanta)
Dayo Gore, University of California, San Diego
Throughout the 20th century African American activists articulated a “global vision” of liberation that looked beyond national borders. The vibrancy of African Americans’ “global vision” was often sustained through travel and transnational political alliances. An intricate web of these alliances and connections provided key support and points of cohesion in the longstanding fight for black equality as activists sought a powerful public stage and points of leverage to push the U.S. government to fully honor its proclaimed commitments to racial equality. The travel and contributions of black women intellectuals and activists has been an underemphasized aspect of these longstanding politics. From the early stages of black nationalism and Ida B. Wells’ internationalizing of her anti-lynching crusade in the 1890s, to Vicki Garvin’s solidarity activism in Ghana and China, black women have been important figures in this transnational freedom struggle.

This paper will explore African American women’s leadership in the wave of women’s transnational activism that emerged following World War II both among left-leaning peace organizations such as the Women’s International Democratic Federation (WIDF) and labor organizations such as the AFL-CIO. The paper will specifically trace the activism and travel of seasoned activists Thelma Dale Perkins, who was active in the Southern Negro Youth Congress, briefly served as Executive Director of the National Negro Congress and worked with the WIDF and Maida Springer Kemp, a labor activist and member of the International Ladies Garment Worker Union, who was active in the AFL-CIO and would later lead its international organizing efforts in Africa. The paper examines both women’s visit to Europe in 1945 as representatives in two very different women’s contingents to witness the aftermath of World War II and their emergence as key participants in building transnational networks just as the Cold War was taking shape.