Centering African American and Caribbean Women’s Activism and Travels within Global Freedom Struggles, 1940–90

AHA Session 115
Friday, January 8, 2016: 2:30 PM-4:30 PM
Room 303 (Hilton Atlanta, Third Floor)
Barbara D. Savage, University of Pennsylvania

Session Abstract

This session centers African American and Caribbean women’s activism and travels within global freedom struggles of the twentieth century. In recent years there has been a growth of research that traces the global dimensions of freedom struggles against racism, imperialism, and sexism and links decolonization in Africa, Asia, and Latin America with the African American and British civil rights movements. Within much of this research, however, the experiences of black women remain marginalised. This session redresses the omission of black women and broadens the lens of global freedom struggles. Nico Slate’s paper examines the ways in which Pauli Murray borrowed the strategy of satyagraha used by Mahatma Gandhi to protest segregation on public transport in Virginia in 1940. Exposing this episode of Murray’s activism, Slate also widens the parameters of the civil rights movement by exploring how it overlapped with Indian independence and gay and transgender struggles as Murray was posing as a man at the time of the incident. Dayo Gore’s paper continues in a similar vein to Slate’s but examines the global vision of the African American freedom struggle by focusing on black women’s leadership in the transnational group the Women’s International Democratic Federation and labor organization AFL-CIO. Gore focuses attention on the work and the European travels of Thelma Dale Perkins and Maida Springer Kemp in 1945. Gore’s paper illuminates the emerging cold war politics that would come to shape the activism of these women. Continuing with the focus on the post war era, Imaobong Umoren’s paper adds the French Caribbean to the extant discussion by exploring the Martiniquan Paulette Nardal. This paper argues that departmentalization allowed Nardal more room to express herself as a race woman and global citizen through her involvement in the middle class organisation the Women’s Assembly, its journal La Femme dans la Cité, her travel to New York and work at the United Nations. This presentation also addresses questions surrounding how travel re-shaped Nardal’s ideas about citizenship. Sandy Placido’s paper explores another Caribbean woman, Ana Livia Cordero from Puerto Rico. The physician Cordero is an overlooked figure who played a critical role in the Puerto Rican liberation movement. The paper closely interrogates Cordero’s gender and racial identification as a white presenting woman who promoted Puerto Rico’s black past. As the wife of African American activist Julian Mayfield, Cordero was an important figure in Cuban political circles and in the black American expatriate community in independent Ghana. Placido’s paper adds another dimension to the study of global freedom struggles by uniting the fields of African, U.S and Latin American history through Cordero’s travels.

This panel highlights the diversity of emerging scholarship on Caribbean and African American women in global history. Presenters combine the fields of Indian, Caribbean, U.S., European, and Latin American history, analysing these scholarly intersections through a gendered and racialized lens. Barbara Savage is the chair and commentator of the panel. Savage’s past and current research on black women intellectuals will add depth and fruitful insight to the ensuing significant discussion.

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