Black Women and Internationalism in the 20th Century

AHA Session 11
Coordinating Council for Women in History 1
Berkshire Conference of Women Historians 1
African American Intellectual History Society 1
Thursday, January 4, 2018: 1:30 PM-3:00 PM
Columbia 8 (Washington Hilton, Terrace Level)
Erik S. McDuffie, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Session Abstract

Building on a rich body of scholarship on black women’s national and transnational activism, this panel explores how black women have led and shaped movements for social change during the long black freedom struggle. It engages the works of Gerald Horne, Barbara Ransby, Ula Taylor, Erik S. McDuffie and others by centering black women’s transnational activism and showing how these women worked to forge networks with activists across the globe during the twentieth century. At a time when black women had little formal political power in the United States, they advocated the ideals of independence and citizenship and challenged white supremacy at home and abroad. Against the backdrop of key historical developments including World War I, the Great Depression, World War II and the modern Civil Rights Movement, black women in the United States participated in global conversations on citizenship, human rights, and political participation. They carved out spaces for themselves in a transnational political arena.

This panel highlights the diverse ideas and political activities of several black women including Mary Church Terrell, Muriel Snowden, Dona Richards, and Fannie Lou Hamer, whose transnational activism remains largely unexplored. The panel demonstrates how these women, from various economic backgrounds and in different geographical locations, all shared a global racial consciousness, which served as a basis to their activism. The panel explores how race, gender, economic background, and national identity modulate the ways in which these women developed that global consciousness, and how their experiences translated on a personal, community, national, and international level. It seeks to complicate our understanding of the role of black women as actors in the international political arena. By employing a variety of research methodologies, the three papers foreground black women’s voices and reveal the importance of women in shaping black internationalist movements and discourses in the United States and beyond.

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