During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Americans struggled to define democracy, fought to end slavery, attempted to assert their statehood on a global stage, and wrestled with the meanings of citizenship. As the nation debated what it meant to live freely, African-American women experienced the epitome of unfreedom; nevertheless, they articulated advanced theoretical interpretations of freedom, racial injustice, and women’s rights. Historians, Africana theorists, and feminist scholars have rightly framed nineteenth- and twentieth-century black women as key actors in the ongoing struggle against white supremacy. Yet, as they emphasize black women’s roles as doers, they often neglect their roles as thinkers. I study nineteenth- and twentieth-century black women’s political thought in order to reveal how they have debated and given meaning to concepts including liberty, equality, and power. My research aims to historicize black women thinkers in order to illuminate how they advanced political movements, shaped modern institutions, and defined the American national identity. Collectively, my projects foster a fuller understanding of the range of actors and ideologies that have shaped black political thought, furthered black liberation, and promoted women’s rights.
(Re)defining Radicalism: The Rise of Black Feminism and the Politics of Respectability, 1831-1895
book manuscript in progress
“(Re)defining Radicalism: The Rise of Black Feminism and the Politics of Respectability, 1831-1895,” argues that nineteenth-century black feminists were progenitors of black radical thought because they advocated for black citizenship and self-determination. It further contends that certain black women actively subverted and negotiated the politics of respectability, or middle-class expectations of women’s proper behavior, in order to offer innovative arguments for black and women’s rights. By contesting the politics of respectability, black women offered new possibilities for black people’s autonomy and freedom.
"(Re)defining Radicalism" employs the speeches, published work, and personal correspondence of Sojourner Truth, Maria Stewart, Mary Ann Shadd Cary, Frances Harper, Ida B. Wells, and Anna Julia Cooper in order to describe how their individual contributions promoted the construction of a shared, early black feminist tradition. Some women, like Truth, rejected traditional notions of women’s propriety, which demonstrates that early black feminists were not uniform in their interpretations of the value of respectability. Others, like Cooper, emphasized black women’s respectability in order to argue for their education and political participation. In recognizing the subversive power of black women’s engagements with the politics of respectability, it will be possible to redefine radicalism and recover the centrality of nineteenth-century African American women to the formation of black radical thought in the United States.
Black Male Feminism and the Evolution of Du Boisian Thought, 1903-1920
Forthcoming article, Palimpsest: A journal of women, gender, and the black international (Expected 2020)
W. E. B. Du Bois consistently offered visionary analyses of racism in the United States. Yet, his early claims are largely applicable to black men alone, as is demonstrated by his 1903 The Souls of Black Folk. Seventeen years later, “The Damnation of Women,” a chapter from Du Bois’s 1920 Darkwater: Voices from Within the Veil, exemplifies his ability to use intersectional approaches to discuss black women’s oppression. This article illustrates how Du Bois’s relationship to black feminism evolved from 1903 to 1920. First, it argues that his writings from the early 1900s largely focused on black women’s representation and their social marginalization, while his work from the late 1910s onward also critiqued the structural elements of black women’s oppression, particularly their economic exploitation and lack of political rights. Second, the article contends that black women’s writing and activism at the turn of the twentieth century radicalized Du Bois and catalyzed the shift in his political thought. It concludes that black women’s political activity at the turn of the twentieth century motivated Du Bois to embrace an incipient form of black male feminism.
Black Women and Africana Abolitionism
Book Chapter, The Routledge Companion to Black Women’s Social and Cultural Histories: across the diaspora, from ancient times to present, edited by Janell Hobson (Routledge, expected 2021)
This chapter explores how Black women participated in a process that I term “Africana abolitionism.” I define Africana abolitionism as a shared set of practices that African-diasporic people deployed to dismantle systems of slavery throughout North America, the Caribbean, and Latin America. Africana abolitionism sought to eradicate not simply regional systems of slavery, but racialized epistemologies that justified the enslavement of African-descended peoples. Africana abolitionism bridges the particular and the universal by offering a framework for understanding how localized abolitionist movements facilitated global emancipation.
“Black Women and Africana Abolitionism” first describes how Africana abolitionism can enrich the study of abolitionist movements by interrogating two central questions: How might we understand abolitionism differently if we decenter colonizers and the roles that European nations played in undoing slavery? How might we understand abolitionism differently if we frame the movement’s internationalism not in relation to colonial powers, but in relation to Black people’s shared visions for and approaches to freedom? Next, it highlights Black women’s participation in two arenas of Africana abolitionism: slave revolts and the Black press. To conclude, it describes how framing local and national struggles against slavery as Africana abolitionism can allow us to reevaluate the roots of Black transnationalism.
“Leave that Slave-Cursed Republic”: Mary Ann Shadd Cary and Black Feminist Nationalism, 1852-1870
ARTICLE under review, “black editorship in the early atlantic world” special issue of atlantic studies: global currents
This paper argues that Mary Ann Shadd Cary crafted the theory and practice of Black feminist nationalism by merging editorship with public writing. Drawing on articles published in the Provincial Freeman, Shadd Cary’s 1852 pamphlet “A Plea for Emigration,” and additional articles written by Shadd Cary, it traces her stances on integration, emigration, labor, and women’s rights. The union between Shadd Cary’s resistance strategies – editing and writing – illustrates how Black editorship in the early Atlantic world created opportunities for editors to not simply disseminate, but produce knowledge. This paper locates Shadd Cary not only as an editor, but as a radical thinker whose work was foundational to Black nationalist and Black feminist thought in the United States. It affirms that editing was an inherently political practice that allowed Black activists to fashion themselves as both editors and intellectuals.