In much of the history and historiography of the American Left, African American women have largely been invisible, lost in the cracks somewhere between the “Negro question” and the “woman question.” Most white and black male Communists, Socialists, and even New Leftists of the 1960s have tended to view African American struggles through the lenses of race, saving the category of gender (when it was applied) to white women. Not surprisingly, in most left-wing movements where African Americans as a whole and women of various ethnic groups have struggled to remain visible and find...
In much of the history and historiography of the American Left, African American women have largely been invisible, lost in the cracks somewhere between the “Negro question” and the “woman question.” Most white and black male Communists, Socialists, and even New Leftists of the 1960s have tended to view African American struggles through the lenses of race, saving the category of gender (when it was applied) to white women. Not surprisingly, in most left-wing movements where African Americans as a whole and women of various ethnic groups have struggled to remain visible and find an authoritative voice, black women radicals were probably the most invisible of all.Early SocialismFrom the rise of the U.S. branch of the First International Workingmen's Association in 1864 to the collapse of its successor—the Second International—in the aftermath of World War I, the U.S. Left did not take an interest in the specific struggles of African American women, nor did black women figure prominently in left-wing movements. The best-known black woman radical of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century was Lucy Parsons, although it was only later in her life that the fair-skinned Parsons even claimed her African heritage. Indeed, although she would eventually become an avid fighter for the rights of all women and actively protest racist attacks, during the height of her popularity she regarded issues of race and sex secondary to the class struggle. in the 1940s, when she was facing deportation. The book she holds is William Z. Foster's Pages from a Worker's Life, published in 1939. Foster was a union organizer and a leader of the American Communist Party. Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York Public LibraryBy the first two decades of the twentieth century, there was some limited Socialist activity among African American women in Harlem, and to a lesser degree in parts of the Midwest, especially in Oklahoma, where a large number of independent black towns were located. A handful of Harlem women, including housewives, schoolteachers, and full-time domestics, listened to street corner lectures by the black Socialists Hubert Harrison, A. Philip Randolph, Chandler Owen, and Frank Crosswaith, as well as by black women such as Anna Jones, Elizabeth Hendrickson, Helen Holman, and Grace P. Campbell. Holman and Campbell emerged as significant leaders in the Socialist Party. Campbell, a popular social worker who maintained a home for young single mothers, ran for the state assembly in New York on the Socialist ticket and garnered 25 percent of the Harlem vote. However, Holman and Campbell were exceptions; black women held no substantive leadership positions in the Socialist Party.The Socialist Party failed to attract many black working-class women or men to its ranks for several reasons. First, Socialists' official doctrine considered race and gender issues secondary to the class struggle. Second, leading black male Socialists, despite their support for women's suffrage, directed their attention to the condition of male industrial workers, the relationship between African Americans and the labor movement, and southern lynching. Third, white women Socialists showed little, if any, interest in the specific problems of black working women. Although the publication of August Bebel's Women under Socialism in 1879 had provided a theoretical framework with which white women within the Socialist Party could discuss the “woman question” in a Marxist context, there was no effort to examine the disproportionate numbers of African American women engaged in wage work, the racist character of the early birth control and suffrage movements, the ways in which race hinders the possibility of a radical sisterhood, or the dominant, racist views of black women's sexuality and the unequal treatment they received in courts of law in incidents of rape and other cases. Moreover, there was no serious attempt to challenge the tendency among many white Socialist women to employ black female domestic workers.African American women became slightly more visible with the founding of the African Blood Brotherhood (ABB) in 1918 by the West Indian migrant Cyril Briggs. Under Briggs's editorship, the ABB published a radical newspaper called the Crusader, in which Bertha De Basco edited a short-lived women's column. Leading black female activists in the ABB included Gertrude Hall and Grace Campbell, both of whom joined the Communist Party in 1924, after Brotherhood leaders decided to liquidate the ABB. Although we know little about the role black women played within the ABB, the public rhetoric of the Brotherhood couched the struggle in terms of black male redemption. A secret, underground organization of radical black nationalists, the ABB advocated armed defense against lynching, the right to vote in the South, the right to organize, equal rights for blacks, and the abolition of Jim Crow laws. While it is plausible that black women ABB members might have carved out autonomous spaces for themselves within the organization, much like Garveyite women had done within the Universal Negro Improvement Association, the ABB left little documentation. By 1922 most of its leadership had joined the Communist Party of the United States (CPUSA), effectively liquidating the ABB within two years.Early CommunismInitially, the CPUSA's official position on the “Negro question” hardly differed from that of the Socialists', and throughout most of the 1920s the “woman question” was almost nonexistent. Before 1928, the party's discussion of women's problems centered primarily on their role as wage laborers, although the Communist platform included a list of demands unique to working mothers (maternity leave, nurseries, and feeding time at factories). By the onset of the Great Depression, the Communists, with some nudging from the Comintern, began to pay more attention to both the “Negro question” and the “woman question.” However, the party's position on black liberation after 1928—namely, its insistence on self-determination for African Americans in the southern black belt—essentially precluded a serious theoretical framework combining the “Negro” and “woman” questions. The party's advocacy of black self-determination conjured up masculine historical figures such as Toussaint-Louverture, Denmark Vesey, and Nat Turner, and writers such as Eugene Gordon and V. J. Jerome portrayed the movement as a struggle for “manhood.”While it never occurred to most leading Communists that there could be a “Negro woman question” distinct from other categories, the party's shift in the way it conceived of class struggle opened up at least a few free spaces in which African American working-class women could pursue their own agenda. Although the party's early forays into labor organizing via the Trade Union Unity League ignored the majority of African American women because they were concentrated in domestic work and agriculture, black women joined the Communist-led Unemployed Councils, neighborhood relief committees, and a variety of housewife organizations and auxiliaries. In cities such as Chicago, Birmingham, Los Angeles, Detroit, and especially Harlem, black working women participated in relief demonstrations, resisted eviction efforts, confronted condescending social workers, and fought utilities shutoffs. Working through a variety of Communist-led mass organizations, from the Housewives League and the International Labor Defense to the Hands-Off Ethiopia Campaign, the Harlem Communist Party produced a significant group of black women leaders, including Louise Thompson Patterson, Claudia Jones, Audley Moore, and Bonita Williams. African American women also participated in Communist-led strikes, the most famous of the period being the St. Louis nutpickers' strike of 1933, which involved at least twelve hundred black women.The Communist Party was not the only option for black women on the Left. The activist and future attorney Pauli Murray became active in the Communist opposition led by Jay Lovestone—a group of renegade Communists who split from the Communist International over their understanding of capitalism in the United States. In the late 1920s, the Lovestoneites believed that capitalism was more resilient in the United States than elsewhere and thus the country was not on the brink of revolution. Following her tutelage with the Lovestoneites, Murray ended up in the Socialist Party camp and led the SP-sponsored Workers Defense League's efforts to save Odell Waller (a black Virginia sharecropper who had killed his landlord in self-defense) from execution.For committed black women in the CPUSA, the Marxist education they received nurtured an incipient, though somewhat muted, feminist consciousness. The Communists not only encouraged working-class women's participation as activists but also offered black women an empowering language with which to define and critique gender oppression. On both a personal and collective level, black women activists appropriated from the party's tabloid, Working Woman, such phrases as “the woman question” and “male chauvinism” as weapons with which to negotiate relationships, the sexual division of labor, and their participation in the movement. It was out of such discussions and actions that black working-class women developed an incipient class-conscious black feminist or, more appropriately, “womanist” perspective.This unique form of militant class-conscious black “womanism” that emerged within the CP found its strongest voice in the South. The party gained its largest black female following in rural Alabama, where upward of five thousand women joined the Communist-led Share Croppers Union (SCU), the Young Communist League (YCL), or the Communist Party during the first half of the Depression decade. Founded in 1931 by African American tenant farmers and sharecroppers in Tallapoosa County, Alabama, the SCU attracted a substantial number of rural women, many of whom had been radicalized by the deterioration of the rural economy and its effects on their proscribed roles in the division of labor. Women were not only burdened with fieldwork and housework but were also responsible for providing meals for their families with whatever food was available. When planters cut back on food and cash advances, and New Deal agricultural policies resulted in mass evictions of thousands of tenant and sharecropper families, black families were threatened with starvation. The crisis prompted a group of black women SCU activists to form a “Committee of Action,” which marched down to the Tallapoosa County Civil Works Administration office in Camp Hill and won some of its demands for relief.The success and direction of the SCU depended to a large degree on women's participation. Women's social and cultural networks served as conduits for radical organization; women activists possessed indispensable organizing skills (they tended to have higher rates of literacy); and women's religious and social organizations were prototypes for the women's auxiliaries. Frequently called “Sewing Clubs,” the women's auxiliaries exercised considerable power within the union. Although they met separately to divert the suspicions of local authorities and divide childcare responsibilities, the Sewing Clubs provided forums for women to discuss conditions and formulate strategy. Black women also emerged as leaders: nineteen-year-old Eula Gray assumed leadership of the union for nearly a year after it had been driven underground in 1931. Although she was replaced by a black male comrade in 1932, she continued her union work and led the Young Communist League in Alabama, serving as a delegate to the party's Eighth National Convention in April of 1934.Ironically, the party's shift to Popular Front politics after 1935—a period known for emphasizing the “woman question”—spelled disaster for rural Alabama women. The Central Committee disbanded the SCU in 1937 and divided its twelve thousand members between the all-white Alabama Farmers' Union and an AFL-led farm laborers union, the latter becoming a section of the United Cannery, Agricultural, Packing, and Allied Workers of America, which was a Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) affiliate. Although the old SCU kept most of its locals intact, it now had to conform to the standards of the Farmers' Union or the CIO. The social movement reflecting women's concerns gave way to simple trade unionism, and women's critical role as decision makers was replaced by unfamiliar, white male bureaucracies.SNYC and CRC ActivismJust as the SCU collapsed, the Southern Negro Youth Congress (SNYC) emerged as an important site for the elaboration of a class-conscious black womanist perspective. Founded in 1937, the Communist-led SNYC attracted a number of black women activists, many of whom were young middle-class intellectuals who came of age in the South during the New Deal era. Although SNYC chapters were located throughout the South, its organizational centers were located in Richmond, Atlanta, New Orleans, and Birmingham—the latter serving as the SNYC's national headquarters from 1939 until its demise in 1948.From the time of its founding, the SNYC's Communist and non-Communist leadership adopted a program that proved more radical than most other civil rights organizations of the period. Despite its rather traditional slogan of “Freedom, Equality and Opportunity,” the SNYC's program emphasized the right to vote, job security, the right of black workers to organize, and general improvement in the health, education, and welfare of black citizens. The Youth Congress also opposed regional wage differentials, police brutality, and segregation in public spaces. And although socialism was rarely mentioned in SNYC literature, it remained a point of discussion within Congress circles throughout its eleven-year history.Women also held more substantial leadership positions in the SNYC than any other non–gender specific civil rights organization of the day. The most important national leaders in the SNYC were Communist women such as Esther Cooper, who rose to the position of executive secretary during the war; Augusta Jackson, editor of the SNYC newspaper Cavalcade; and executive board members Grace Tillman, Dorothy Burnham, and Thelma Dale. Ethel Lee Goodman, CP member and former organizer of relief workers in Birmingham, assumed leadership of SNYC's Rural Committees, whose members consisted of many former SCU members. Non-Communist women also held critical leadership roles; the most prominent being Bertha Boozer, the primary strength in the Atlanta chapter who attempted to organize black domestic workers, assisted a strike of garbage collectors, and led a boycott of department stores that refused to hire African Americans. Mildred McAdory led a group of five SNYC activists to protest segregation on public transportation in Fairfield (a suburb of Birmingham), for which she was beaten and arrested. Sallye Davis, a young schoolteacher in Birmingham whose daughter, Angela, would become the most celebrated black Communist in history, was also a vital force in the Birmingham SNYC local.The Youth Congress was founded at an auspicious time with respect to the Communist position on the “woman question.” During the Popular Front (1935–1939), party leadership encouraged more debate on women's oppression and its publications placed greater emphasis on women's rights and the sexual division of labor in working-class households. These issues were brought to the forefront within the party by Communists such as Margaret Cowl, director of the CPUSA Women's Commission during the period, and Mary Inman, whose influential book In Woman's Defense (1939) still stands out as a pioneering effort to wed Marxism and feminism. The newfound importance of the “woman question” during the Popular Front prompted challenges to traditional gender relations within the party as well as Communist-led organizations. Men were criticized more frequently for male chauvinism and efforts to recruit and involve women were more pronounced. Within the Youth Congress, in particular, some black women and men strove to eradicate sexist relations in their personal life; black Communist couples who led the SNYC during the 1940s recalled sharing household duties and childcare.It is possible that the prominent roles black women played in leadership positions partly account for the SNYC's tendency to focus its legal defense activities on cases involving black women. This marked a substantial shift in left-wing legal defense work on behalf of African Americans, which had grown out of the Communists' defense of black men falsely accused of rape (for example, the Scottsboro case and the Willie Peterson case). During and after the war, the SNYC's most important cases were its defense of Nora Wilson, a black Alabama domestic worker convicted of assaulting her boss with intent to kill, and Recy Taylor, a young black woman who had been kidnapped and raped by six white men in Abbeville, Alabama.The Youth Congress's emphasis on legal justice for black women also had an impact on the actions of the Civil Rights Congress (CRC), a left-wing legal defense organization founded in 1946, just two years before the SNYC's demise. One of CRC's better-known campaigns centered on Rosa Lee Ingram, a black Georgia tenant farmer and widowed mother of twelve who, along with two of her sons, was convicted and sentenced for the murder of a neighboring white tenant farmer, John Stratford. Stratford, who initiated the altercation on Ingram's property in November 1947, assaulted Rosa Lee with the butt of a rifle and, by some accounts, sexually harassed her. Her son intervened, wrested the gun from Stratford, and struck a blow to his head that proved to be fatal. Throughout the country, African Americans, white liberals, and radicals rallied in defense of Rosa Lee Ingram and her sons, angered especially by the speedy and unconstitutional trial which resulted in their conviction, the racist application of the death sentence in a clear-cut case of self-defense, and the conviction of all three defendants when the responsibility of Stratford's death lay with only one of Rosa Lee's sons. Black women, in particular, viewed the case as proof that the courts did not recognize their right to defend themselves against physical assault or sexual violence. The case spurred the creation of a number of radical women's organizations linked to the CRC campaign, founded primarily by black women who had some association with the Communist Party. One of the most important organizations was the Sojourners for Truth and Justice. Launched by Louise Thompson Patterson and Beulah Richardson (an actress and poet known later as Bea Richards), the Sojourners attracted most of the leading radical black women intellectuals and activists, including the California Eagle's editor Charlotta Bass, Dorothy Hunton, Shirley Graham Du Bois, Alice Childress, and Rosalie McGee (the wife of Willie McGee, who was on death row in Mississippi on false charges of raping a white woman).Post–World War II ActivismDespite these breakthroughs in Communist-led movements during and after World War II, African American women and issues affecting them still remained the most invisible component of party work. In 1949, for example, the black CP leader Claudia Jones published a scathing critique titled “An End to the Neglect of the Problems of Negro Women!” in the party's theoretical journal, Political Affairs. Indeed, Jones's essay stands out as one of the clearest articulations of a class-conscious womanist perspective emerging out of the Communist Party. She insisted that black women's struggles should be foremost on the Communists' agenda because black women were the most exploited segment of the American working class. Not only did black women earn less than all men and white women, she argued, but postwar economic restructuring had the effect of forcing large numbers of black women into domestic work for white families. She railed against left-wing labor organizers for refusing to organize domestic workers and noted with disgust that “many progressives, and even some Communists, are still guilty of exploiting Negro domestic workers.” Jones was especially critical of the casual, allegedly unconscious racist and sexist remarks directed at black women within the party, and demanded that African American women hold more substantial leadership positions. The latter demand was crucial to Jones's argument, for she suggested that black women's position in the hierarchies of race, gender, and class uniquely situated them to push the party in the most progressive direction.Nevertheless, just as in the early 1930s, radical black working-class women found free spaces within certain left-wing trade unions in which to resist multiple forms of oppression. For example, the Food, Tobacco, Agricultural, and Allied Workers (FTA), especially Local 22 rooted in R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company in Winston-Salem, was one of the most important unions in the postwar period. Led by a number of militant black women closely associated with the Communist Party, including Miranda Smith, Velma Hopkins, Theodosia Simpkins, and Viola Brown, FTA's Local 22 waged strikes, resisted sexual harassment at the workplace, taught worker education classes, set up a library stocked with volumes on African American history and Marxist literature, registered black voters, refused to sign anti-Communist affidavits required by the Taft-Hartley Act after the war, and supported the Progressive Party's presidential candidate in 1948, Henry Wallace. As a radical union in the age of the cold war, FTA was eventually expelled from the CIO in 1950.Another important union in the postwar era was Local 1199 of the Drug, Hospital, and Health Care Employees Union in New York City. While FTA's Local 22 grew out of a predominantly black female work environment, New York's Local 1199 was initially made up of white male pharmacists, clerks, soda men, and black porters and retail hospital workers in Harlem. Founded in the 1930s by Jewish Communists active in the CPUSA Trade Union Unity League, its composition changed dramatically by the late 1950s when a left-wing breakaway group within the union began organizing black and Latino hospital service workers and waged a partially successful strike in 1959. Although the union eventually abandoned its ties to the CP, it retained a left-wing political culture, struggled against racial and gender inequality at the workplace and beyond, opposed the Vietnam War, actively supported the civil rights movement, and pledged solidarity with democratic movements in Central America and South Africa solidarity committees. Local 1199 was also the first union to support Jesse Jackson's presidential candidacy in 1988.In the aftermath of the Communist Party's decline in the 1950s, due largely to postwar repression and general disillusionment with the Soviet Union after Stalin's crimes were revealed in 1956, there were few Marxist organizations in which African American women figured prominently. Nevertheless, a handful of radical black female intellectuals, artists, and organizers continued to work relatively autonomously. Among this group were Esther Cooper Jackson, a former SNYC activist and cofounder of Freedomways magazine; Elizabeth Catlett, one of the most important visual artists of the postwar period; and the extraordinary poet and playwright Lorraine Hansberry. Hansberry had been a supporter of left-wing causes ever since she was a teenager. She protested the House Un-American Activities Committee's hearings, studied at the CP's Jefferson School of Social Science, and joined the editorial staff of Paul Robeson's short-lived magazine Freedom, which carried articles by several radical black women involved in Sojourners for Truth and Justice. She eventually married Robert Nemiroff, who was then director of the left-wing Camp Unity in upstate New York. In addition to writing, she participated in a number of progressive political campaigns until her untimely death in 1965.Civil Rights OrganizationsFinally, left-leaning African American women also participated in, and at times influenced, mainstream civil rights organizations. The former Communist Mae Mallory, for instance, provided critical support for Robert Williams during his armed self-defense campaign in Monroe, North Carolina, in 1957. Marvel Cooke, a former CRC activist, continued to offer her talents to various civil rights movements during the 1960s. Perhaps the most powerful radical female voice within both the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) was that of Ella Baker, whose experience with left-wing politics began in Harlem during the 1930s. By example she prompted a number of young militants in SNCC to pay closer attention to the struggles of the poor and working-class, to challenge male chauvinism within the movement, and to erect a fully democratic organization where decisions are made collectively and in the context of struggle.Although the activities of radical black women in particular, and Communist-led movements in general, had the potential of inspiring the new generation of militants in the 1960s and 1970s, the lessons of the past were largely (though not entirely) lost to black New Leftists. In an age when the metaphors for black liberation were increasingly masculinized and black movement leaders insisted on privileging race over class and gender oppression, even the most Marxist of the black nationalist movements of the time—the Black Panther Party (BPP)— initially ignored or belittled the “woman question.” Yet, in spite of these adverse circumstances, when it was possible, radical black women sustained the tradition of carving out free spaces within existing male-dominated organizations in order to articulate a class-conscious womanist perspective and to challenge the multiple forms of exploitation black working-class women and men faced daily. Whether it was the Panther's free breakfast and educational programs or various black nationalist organizations such as the Congress of Afrikan People, African American women radicals devised strategies that, in varying degrees, challenged capitalism, racism, and patriarchy. And in some instances, African American women radicals rose to positions of prominence and, sometimes by sheer example, contributed toward developing a militant, class-conscious black feminist perspective. The most important figures in this respect include Kathleen Cleaver, Erica Huggins, and Assata Shakur (formerly JoAnne Chesimard) of the Black Panther Party and the Communist leader Angela Davis.Black Womanist OrganizationsOn the other hand, when it was not possible to build progressive class-conscious womanist movements within radical nationalist organizations, a number of leading black women activists collectively organized autonomous black feminist organizations. Between 1966 and 1970, black women formed several autonomous organizations, including the Black Women's Liberation Committee of SNCC and its offspring, the Third World Women's Alliance; the Harlem-based Black Women Enraged; and the Oakland-based Black Women Organizing for Action. One group based in Mount Vernon, New York, led by Patricia Haden, Donna Middleton, and a radical social worker named Pat Robinson, put forward the argument that a revolutionary black movement without an understanding of class struggle is worthless, and a class movement without a consideration of gender and sexuality is equally worthless. In 1973, they, along with many anonymous black community people, published a remarkable little book, Lessons from the Damned, which offered an analysis of the forces arrayed against the black poor—especially poor women. In a section titled “The Revolt of Poor Black Women,” they write eloquently of how their own families contribute to the exploitation of black women and youth. They insisted that revolution must take place on three levels: overthrowing capitalism, eliminating male supremacy, and transforming the self. Suspicious of cultural nationalist injunctions to return to “African traditions,” these women insisted that revolution is supposed to usher in a new beginning; it is driven by the power of a freed imagination, not the dead weight of the past.The National Black Feminist Organization (NBFO) founded in 1973 represented the most visible national organizing effort during this period. The NBFO provided a forum to challenge racist and gender oppression but tended to ignore the specific struggles of poor and working-class women and limited their discussions to the problems of heterosexual women. Within a year, the left-wing of the NBFO abandoned the movement and sought to build something more radical and inclusive. In 1974, a group of radical black feminists in Boston who had broken with the NBFO formed the Combahee River Collective. The women who formed the collective came from different movements in the Boston area, including the Committee to End Sterilization Abuse and the campaign to free Ella Ellison—a black woman inmate who, like Joan Little in North Carolina, was convicted of murder for killing a prison guard in self-defense. Nearly all the women had worked together to bring attention to a series of unsolved murders of black women in Boston.In 1977, three members of the collective—Barbara Smith, Beverly Smith, and Demita Frazier—issued “A Black Feminist Statement.” It was the clearest articulation of black socialist feminism ever produced. The authors understood the racial and sexual dimensions of domination, arguing that the history of white men raping black women was “a weapon of political repression.” At the same time, they rejected the idea that all men are oppressors by virtue of biology and broke with lesbian separatists who advocated a politics based on sexuality. In their view, such an analysis “completely denies any but the sexual sources of women's oppression, negating the facts of class and race.” And while they did not see black men as enemies and called for broad solidarity to fight racism, they did acknowledge patriarchy within black communities as an evil in need of eradication. Black people as a whole, they argued, cannot be truly free as long as black women are subordinate to black men. As socialists, the collective believed that a nonracist, nonsexist society could not be created under capitalism, but at the same time they did not believe socialism was enough to dismantle the structures of racial, gender, and sexual domination. Their vision was manifest in their political practice. Combahee members saw connections between class, race, and gender issues and worked in support of “Third World women” workers, challenging healthcare facilities that provided inadequate or unequal care, and organizing around welfare or day care issues. And like Ella Baker before them, they knew that the very process of struggle, in a democratic organization, invariably produces new tactics, new strategies, and new analyses. “We believe in collective process and a nonhierarchical distribution of power within our own group and in our vision of a revolutionary society. We are committed to a continual examination of our politics as they develop through criticism and self-criticism as an essential aspect of our practice.”By the 1980s there really was no single, identifiable black socialist-feminist movement to speak of. While groups like the Combahee River Collective ceased to exist, radical black women worked within an endless number of left-wing groups, welfare rights campaigns, regional organizations such as the Southern Organizing Committee for Economic Justice, the predominantly white feminist movements, militant trade unions, as well as a variety of Marxist and left-leaning black nationalist organizations ranging from the Republic of New Africa, the African People's Party, the Patrice Lumumba Coalition, the All-African People's Revolutionary Party, and the National Black Independent Political Party (whose steering committee included the former Harlem Communist Audley “Queen Mother” Moore). Radical black women such as Angela Davis and Charlene Mitchell played major leadership roles in the Communist Party, and later the Committees of Correspondence, throughout the 1980s, 1990s, and into the new millennium. More recently, black women such as Barbara Ransby and Frances Beal have played a key role in the Black Radical Congress (BRC), a national umbrella organization founded in 1997. The Feminist Caucus within the BRC continues to be one of the most vibrant and active sections of the Congress.Although black women continue to participate in a variety of different movements and articulate a wide range of radical positions, both within and outside the U.S. Left, today's black women radicals share with their predecessors a commitment to simultaneously challenging racism, capitalism, and patriarchy, and to rendering visible the unique struggles of African American working-class women. They continue to insist that to fight for black women's freedom is to fight for freedom for humanity. The most recent and perhaps clearest articulation of this vision comes from the “Statement of Purpose” (available online) issued in June 2000 by the BRC's Feminist Caucus:We recognize that if we eliminate just imperialism and capitalist exploitation, we will not be free; if we only eliminate white supremacy, we will not be free; if we eliminate only patriarchy and heterosexism, we will not be free. Our vision is to forge a radical Black feminist movement which battles on each of these fronts simultaneously. We unite with our sisters across the globe who are fighting to eliminate the same systems of oppression. A radical Black feminist vision challenges us to root out injustices at every level and in every crevice of our lives, communities, organizations and societies.
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