“Africa Waits for Her Daughters No More”: The “Efficient Womanhood” of Ethel Trew Dunalp and the Diasporic Women Poets of the UNIA

Thursday, January 7, 2016: 1:40 PM
Imperial Ballroom A (Atlanta Marriott Marquis)
Natanya Duncan, Lehigh University
Largely over looked by scholars of The Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) that was founded by Amy Ashwood and Marcus Garvey in 1914, are the individual women and men who comprised the world’s largest black organization for social justice to ever exist. Their absence from the historiography on civil rights, the long freedom struggle, social justice movements and discourses on the struggle for gender equality is often excused as being the result of a lack of availability of primary source materials or other tangible evidences of their contributions. While the records of the organization’s worldwide branches are scattered, there is one source that remains mostly intact, its Negro World newspaper.
Although labeled by many historians as merely “Marcus Garvey’s propaganda machine” the Negro World provides key insights and first hand accounts of women’s activism in and beyond the organization. The articulation of a form of activism that transcended respectability politics, trampled on the concepts of proto-feminism and
baulked at assertions of Black Nationalism as male and hierarchical, became blueprinted on its pages. One example of this can be found in the poems of female Garveyites published in the Negro World. In this paper, I argue, through the use of the poetry of Ethel Trew Dunlap and other UNIA women poets from 1919 to 1940, the articulation and “diasporic back-chat” that fostered the UNIA’s answer to discourses on equality and freedom that ignored women of varying socio-economic backgrounds and geographic locations is found. Their poetry furthered the ‘efficient womanhood’ brand of activism that used negotiation and direct public confrontation as benchmarks for gaining a larger voice in both private and public circles.
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