The Shirley Chisholm Project

In an interview with Isaac Fitzgerald of Buzzfeed News, Dr. Zinga Fraser discussed the the various moral, personal and political considerations that Shirley Chisholm faced during her first days as a Congresswoman in January 1969.

Dr. Fraser points out that after running an “Unbought and Unbossed” campaign—and as the only Black woman in Congress at the time— Chisholm found herself in a challenging position, both as an independent leader and as an individual confronting the racism and sexism of her day. Accordingly, Dr. Fraser observes, Chisholm could not be  “sure about her alliances and the connections to her colleagues.”

With the the nation watching her as the first Black woman in Congress, and a political system that expected freshman legislators to simply follow orders, Fraser adds that it was also an “important time” for Chisholm “to represent her district.”

Among other things, Fraser discussed Chisholm’s legendary fight against what she called “the senility system”—a system that dictated only the most senior and well-connected politicians dictated who sat on Congressional committees. She also discussed the way that Chisholm innovated new ways to effect change for the marginalized in a static, elitist political system, as well the upcoming biopic on the Congresswoman’s life that stars Viola Davis. When asked to give advice on how what the Amazon production (and similar forthcoming projects) can do justice to Chisholm’s legacy, Fraser offered this:

It requires a significant amount of historical background and analysis.  We really hope that people stay true to Chisholm’s advocacy, the issues that she spoke about, to infuse that into who she was. And also have a nuanced understanding. She wasn’t just a boring congressional member—she was on fire, she loved dance, she was full of life.

Dr. Fraser’s analysis of Chisholm’s entry into Washington also serves as a reminder of the many challenges faced by the women of the incoming 116th Congress. Many of these leaders, including Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, have acknowledged Chisholm as the inspiration for their own groundbreaking campaigns.

Potential Topics

Venus Williams and the fight for equal pay

Claudia Jones and Left Politics

Black Women’s response to the Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill controversy

Barbara Smith and The Combahee River Collective

Audley Moore, Black Women’s Activism, and Nationalist Politics

Keisha Blain

“Audley “Queen Mother” Moore had fond memories of Marcus Garvey, the charismatic Black nationalist leader of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), the largest and most influential global Black nationalist movement of the twentieth century. Recounting a story in a 1973 interview with the Black Scholar, Moore vividly describes the first time she heard Garvey speak in New Orleans, Louisiana in 1920:

We heard that Garvey was coming to New Orleans, but the police would not allow him to speak. Garvey came and they arrested him. The people raised so much sand until they had to let him out the next night.

When local police officials tried to block Garvey from speaking during the second night, Moore describes a tense scene in which she and others pulled out guns in defense of Garvey’s right to speak. She explained it this way: “I had two guns-one in my bosom and one in my pocketbook . . . Everybody was told, and everybody knew they had to come armed. We wanted that freedom.” Standing with a crowd of Black supporters—all with guns in the air—Moore joined the chorus of voices shouting, “Speak, Garvey, speak!”1 Moore’s first encounter with Garvey that evening marked the beginning of her political journey into Black nationalist and radical politics.”

Angela Davis in the News

As you’re watching  Shola Lynch’s Free Angela Davis and All Political Prisoners, you should think about and consider recent discussions about other black women activists in the black freedom struggle, especially black women involved in leftist politics and the Community Party.

Below are two newspaper sources on Angela Davis from the 1970s:

Los Angeles police Tuesday said weapons similar to that description and belonging to Miss Davis and had been seized in a raid on a Black Panther Headquarters about two months ago.”

“Angela Davis Implicated in San Rafael Shootout” Los Angeles Sentinel, August 13, 1970

“Miss Davis, who had shown little emotion through the 12 weeks of the trial, broke into sobs after the last verdict had been read. ‘This is the happiest day of my life,’ she later exclaimed.”

Earl Caldwell, “Angela Davis Acquitted on All” New York Times, June 5, 1972, 1.




Writing History, Processing Primary Sources

Doing the Research Paper:

The evidentiary basis of a research papers is primary sources. While secondary sources are useful to provide historical context, as well as a sense of what other have written in the past,

historians are writers and primary sources research is the basis of their work. As I have discussed before, primary sources come in different forms, including archival sources (organization, persona, or government), oral histories, magazines, newspapers, poetry, music, and artifacts (clothing, architecture, etc . . . ).

While historians tell stories about the past, they’re using the stories to make an argument about the past. Historiography is useful here, because historians want to know what other historians have written about a given topic. While scholars might write about the same topic, they generally approach the topic differently and usually ask different questions. For example, historian Tiffany Gill likely read Noliwe Rook’s Hair Raising: Beauty, Culture, and African American Women. But after Dr. Gill read existing works, she began to ask a series of questions: did black beauticians play any role in the civil rights movement? If so, what roles? How do we explain the political efficacy of black beauticians?

Historians, like other disciplines, call these questions research questions. But after reading about these books, Dr. Gill began to do research in archives, newspapers, oral histories etc… and once she found relevant sources, she processed them. Processing primary sources includes not only readings and analyzing sources but also thinking about how you might use them in your work.

Throughout the semester, we’ve talked about different facets of this history of black women in the black freedom struggle. Doing, or shall I say, writing history is a different endeavor, but reading about history it can also help you to doing it.

When you are reading and processing primary sources, you’re able to learn about events, people, ideas, etc . . . but you’re also able to, through the act of processing the material, analyze and use that analysis of the sources in an essay or an I.S. to write different or new stories, but also to make an argument about the past.

For example, when we listen to this oral history interview from Dorie Ann Ladner and Joyce Ladner, we get a very different perspective of the March on Washington than Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

Know Barbara Smith: One of Our First Proud, Out Black Lesbians

“Know Barbara Smith: One of Our First Proud, Out Black Lesbians” by Janet Mock

Like many feminists, I met Barbara Smith on the page. I read the “Combahee River Collective Statement,” which she co-authored, in a women’s studies course. I did not take note of her name. I was not compelled to research her beyond the merits of the collective, a group of Black feminists and lesbians who gathered and organized in Boston in 1974. She did not call attention to herself; instead, she did the work, as part of a team. Her work speaks to that mission: to bring her sisters to the page and the work, by creating platforms, documents, and publications that would remain long after they had gone.

In her 72 years, Barbara not only cofounded the Combahee River Collective, she helped build a visible Black feminist movement during a period when one did not exist. “Virtually everything I have done has been in service of that mission,” Barbara says, from teaching one of the first courses on Black women writers in the United States in 1973, to building the field of Black women’s studies by asserting that there was and could be such a thing, and cofounding Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press in 1980, the first United States publisher for all women of color to reach a large national audience, which published the second edition of the beloved and groundbreaking anthology This Bridge Called My Back. “Arguably, the history of Black women’s organizing would be very different if none of these interventions had occurred,” she tells me.

The Mothers and Daughter’s of the Movement

In honor of Women’s History Month, Out dedicates its March issue to women and nonbinary femmes. For the first time in our 27 years of publishing, our entire magazine only features and is photographed by, styled by, and written by women and nonbinary femmes. Joining us as guest editor for this edition is the activist, author, and director Janet Mock.

In partnership with Out’s executive editor Raquel Willis, our cover story features Mickalene Thomas’ photographs of the Mothers and Daughters of the Movement: five Black queer and trans women carrying our liberation forward, each of them representative of vital work around race, sexuality, gender, class, and beyond. For the occasion, Mock selected our “Mothers,” Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, who rose up at Stonewall and is still fighting, and Barbara Smith, legendary Black lesbian feminist from the ‘60s to today. Joining them are our Daughters — Tourmaline, the artist best known for immortalizing and honoring the icon Marsha P. Johnson; Alicia Garza, the queer woman who coined the term Black Lives Matter; and Charlene Carruthers, who’s literally writing the book on modern, intersectional queer feminism.

Historical Writing

Historical Writing

Historical writing, like other disciplinary writing, comes in multiple forms—the historical narrative, historiographical essay, and, of course, theoretical/methodological essays/think pieces (Brown/Higginbotham).

The historical narrative, or for our course, the research paper, uses storytelling or narrative writing to make an argument about the past. Consequently, all of the evidence, analyses, and argumentation is manifested through and by the story. There are two approaches to historical narratives—those driven by the narrative itself, that is, plot, protagonist, etc . . . ,  the analytical/thematic approach, or a combination of the two.

Historian Ashley Farmer’s Ashley Farmer’s “In Search of the Black Women’s History_Archive” engages recent scholarship to speak to the ways that the “archive” is contested through power dynamics, reflecting both silences and over-representation of particular kinds of records.  Literary scholar, Saidiya Hartman also highlights this dynamic in her “An Unnamed Girl, a Speculative History. ”

An Unnamed Girl, A Speculative History

“It was not the kind of image I was looking for when I set out to tell the story of the social revolution and transformation of intimate life that unfolded in the black city-within-the-city. I had been searching for photographs unequivocal in their representation of what it meant to live free for the second and third generations born after the official end of slavery.”

“The official documents I found in my search produced someone else entirely. In them, I found delinquents, whores, average Negroes in actuarial tables, incorrigible children, and disorderly women. In the statistical chart, the social survey, and the slum photograph, she seemed so small, so insignificant. Everything else loomed large—the condition of the tenements, the perils of the ghetto, the moral dangers of the kitchenette, the risks presented by too many bodies forced into the cramped rooms of the lodging house.”

First Short Essay

Black Women in the Black Freedom Struggle

Please respond to ONE prompt. The responses must be written in essay form, at least 3 full and no more than 5 pages. The essay must be double spaced, 1” margins, and in 12 font (Times New Roman). Please use Chicago Manual of Style. Due February 14 by 4pm

  1. What does historian Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham mean by the “metalanguage of race”? Use her three-pronged conceptualization as an analytical tool to make sense of black women’s activism, including the different struggles against “Jane Crow” or “triple oppression” as represented in (no more than three articles/primary sources” the course readings.
  2. How did black women activists conceptualize “freedom” during the Great Depression and Cold War eras?Considering black women’s activism inside and outside protest and labor organizations, such as the Communist Party or the AFL-CIO, explain how and why Cold War era politics proffered both political opportunities and political constraints for black women activists.
  3. Considering Belinda Robnett’s and Charles Payne’s essays, and examining black women leaders in the black freedom struggle, apply the two scholars’ ideas of leadership, (micro)mobilization, and social change as a way to explain black women’s activism in the black freedom struggle (using no more than three articles/primary sources).