Before Dawn: Black Feminist Political Organizing in the South, 1965–95

Sunday, January 5, 2020: 10:50 AM
Gramercy East (New York Hilton)
Jonathan Bailey, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
On the front page of heralded feminist publication, Women: Journal of Liberation, political activist, feminist, civil rights activist, Nkenge Toure’s all-encompassing activism provided readers with a compelling example of the interconnections between Black Power and second-wave feminism. In 1972, Toure reflected increasing numbers of black women in the South who simultaneously incorporated feminist and Black Power ethos with their political activism. Born Anita Stroud on March 5, 1951, Toure’s activism throughout several decades took shape in the radical black-feminist movement that spanned from Baltimore to Florida. This movement facilitated social spaces, such as the Ultimate Woman Group, allowing black feminists (straight and queer) to regularly congregate on political organizing, consciousness-raising sessions, and social gatherings affirming their socio-political identities. This small but impactful community of black lesbian-feminists, produced leaders who were on the vanguard of feminism, gay rights, civil rights, and AIDS activism in mainly Southern urban cities throughout the 1970s-1990s. This paper will not only highlight the political and social significance of figures such as Nkenge Toure, it will also discuss several locally-based black feminist’s whose leadership spanned from nationally recognized Black Panther Party to lesser known groups such as the Black Voice. It provides a nuanced understanding of identity-based social movements in the late twentieth century. Black feminists in the 1970s-1990s challenged and influenced assumed masculinist ethos of the black freedom struggle and the predominately white gay rights and second-wave feminist movement. Stuck in discursive cracks between African-American social history and women, gender & sexuality, Black feminists’ political activism in the South comprised a plurality of visions for social change whose influence continues. The visibility of black-led feminist activism echoes some of the lingering contentious issues that continue to dominate American culture and politics. Their marginalized status that was based on their gender and race influenced their radical approach.