Inspired by the writings of Booker T. Washington, Jamaican-born Marcus Garvey became the most prominent Black Nationalist in the United States. He championed the Back-to-Africa movement, advocated for Black-owned businesses—he founded the Black Star Line, a transnational shipping company—and founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). Thousands of UNIA chapters formed all across the world. In 1921, Garvey recorded a message in a New York studio explaining the object of the UNIA, which can be understood as separatism, an effort to create an African American community in Africa - free from whites.
Marcus Garvey was born in Jamaica in 1887 and became one of the most influential and well-known political activists in the early 20th Century. In 1910, he left Jamaica for England and later the United States. He continued to call all three countries home over the course of his life. Garvey is widely credited with being the leading voice for Panafricanism. His ideology emphasized pride, empowerment, and economic prosperity for Black communities, and is so widely studied and documented it came to be known as Garveyism. His speeches and writing encouraged people of African descent around the world to see themselves as part of a united community that could forge solidarity for economic and political alliances, as well as cultural and religious development. For example, the shared identity of Black people around the world was an essential mobilizing factor in the global movement to end South African Apartheid in the 1990s.
Two political frameworks that are important for understanding Garveyism and Black Studies are Black Power and Black Nationalism. Black Power is a movement and political belief system that emphasizes building Black-serving institutions and leaders. The term Black Power was coined by Stokely Carmichael during a speech after being arrested for the 27th time in 1966. Black Nationalism is an ideology emphasizing pride in being Black, economic self-sufficiency, and Black separatism.
Panafricanism became the foundation for the idea of Blackness and Black identity, which brings together the experience of people of African heritage. This includes African people, African immigrants, and communities with origins on the African continent that have been enslaved, trafficked, and settled in various parts of the world, especially in the United States, the Caribbean, Europe, and Latin America. Marcus Garvey’s legacy lives on in the political and social changes that he inspired, and he is celebrated as the first National Hero of Jamaica. Figure 184.108.40.206.1 shows a mural of Marcus Garvey in Oakland, California, sporting a military officer’s outfit in a prideful, royal purple hue. This representation reflects Garvey’s ongoing significance as an inspiration for militant, radical advocacy on behalf of Black people. At the end of Garvey’s life in 1940, racial segregation was still legally enforced throughout the United States. It took many other activists and scholars to bring about the wide-scale changes that Garvey called for in his work.
Origins of the Civil Rights Movement
The Nation of Islam and Malcolm X
The Civil Rights Movement (1960's)
Black feminism has a long history, even if not named as such. Since slavery, Black women have fought for their human rights and dignity. Sojourner Truth and Ida B. Wells were two women who fought for intersectional frameworks long before Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term. Sojourner Truth was an enslaved woman who was famously known for her “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech, where she compares the treatment by men of her as a Black woman compared to the treatment of men towards white women. Intersectionality, especially as discussed below, is central to understanding Black women’s experiences and struggles. Not only is intersectionality important in identifying compounding and intersecting oppressions, but many Black women support the idea that intersectionality is the key to understanding power dynamics in everything from relations between people to impacts within larger institutions.
In the 1960s and 1970s, Black women found themselves marginalized amidst the movements for Black power and liberation. The Combahee River Collective was a group of women, including prominent Black lesbians, who articulated demands for recognition and power within the Black community. These demands included inclusion for sexual orientation and gender with race. Black feminists, or what many call womanists to distinguish themselves from white feminists, galvanized along with other women of color movements. For more about Combahee see Chapter 8, section 8.2 on "Women and Trans Women of Color of 1960s - 80s Liberation Movements." Black women were prominent figures in the Black Panther Party, for example, but still experienced gendered oppression even within the Party. Angela Davis wrote Women, Race, and Class to show the intersections between gender, race, and class. She writes, “Racism and sexism frequently converge—and the condition of white women workers is often tied to the oppressive predicament of women of color. Thus the wages received by white women domestics have always been fixed by the racist criteria to calculate the wages of Black women servants.” (Davis, 1983, p. 94). For more about this see Chapter 11, section 11.4 on the Domestic Workers labor movement.
Gloria T. Hull, Patricia Bell Scott, and Barbara Smith co-edited All the Women are White, All the Blacks are Men, But Some of Us Are Brave and published in 1982. Speaking of Black Womenʻs Studies, Hull and Smith (1982) write, “Only a feminist, pro-woman perspective that acknowledges the reality of sexual oppression in the lives of Black women, as well as the oppression of race and class, will make Black women’s studies the transformer of consciousness it needs to be” (p. xxi). They are calling to center Black women’s oppression in women’s studies and feminism in general due to the multiple marginalization and multiple oppression of Black women.
Audre Lorde (1984 then 2000) wrote, “In a society where good is defined in terms of profit rather than in terms of human need, there must always be some group of people who, through systematized oppression, can be made to feel surplus, to occupy the place of the dehumanized inferior. Within this society, that group is made up of Black and Third World people, working-class people, older people, and women” (p. 114). I begin with this quotation because she starts her essay on “Age, Race, Class, and Sex: Women Redefining Difference” with this quotation and it emphasizes difference. This is about who is seen as different and therefore treated as less than. In her writing, Lorde especially discusses Black women, and generally that we treat difference in one of three ways: “ignore it, and if that is not possible, copy it if we think it is dominant, or destroy it if we think it is subordinate” (p. 115). Understanding the power of difference is perhaps our key to liberation, including for Black women.
bell hooks wrote Feminism is for Everybody and stipulated that if one isn’t putting equity at the forefront and considering race/gender/class disparities as central to the cause of feminism then one isn’t really for feminism. She points out, “...we could only become sisters in struggle by confronting the ways women – through sex, class, and race – dominated and exploited other women, and created a political platform that would address these differences” (hooks, 2000, p. 3). She further discusses how embracing white supremacy within the feminist movement is not feminism (p. 4), how turning our back on working-class women supports the patriarchy and is not feminism (p. 5), and even being anti-abortion is not feminism (p. 6). In this way, she warns that “lifestyle feminism” removes “politics” and attempts to claim it as feminism for all.
Black womanism is a particular term that some use to separate Black feminists from white feminists. This article "A Brief History of Civil Rights in the United States: The Womanist Movement" shows a little about the history, images, and a video about Black womanism.
This section comes from 3.5: Cultural and Political Representation shared under a CC BY-NC 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Mario Alberto Viveros Espinoza-Kulick & Teresa Hodges (ASCCC Open Educational Resources Initiative (OERI)) .
Black Power Movement
Alicia Garza (2014) writes,
I created #BlackLivesMatter with Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi, two of my sisters, as a call to action for Black people after 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was posthumously placed on trial for his own murder and the killer, George Zimmerman, was not held accountable for the crime he committed. It was a response to the anti-Black racism that permeates our society and also, unfortunately, our movements (Garza, 2014).
Black Lives Matter is intentional about focusing on Black lives as they are disregarded and made inferior. Garza further emphasizes that BLM is a movement founded by queer Black women and that there is purpose in that. She writes,
African American Policy Forum
“Founded in 1996, The African American Policy Forum (AAPF) is an innovative think tank that connects academics, activists and policy-makers to promote efforts to dismantle structural inequality” (AAPF). They center intersectionality while advocating for marginalized identities. Kimberlé Crenshaw, the critical legal scholar who coined the word “intersectionality”, co-founded the forum and serves as Executive Director alongside co-founder Dr. Luke Charles Harris who serves as Deputy Director. #SayHerName draws attention to Black girls and women who are victims of police violence, specifically from “racist police violence.” They highlight how Black girls and women are also impacted and not just Black men. #TruthBeTold is a campaign to bring banned books to the public and also galvanize Black voters for what was the 2022 midterm elections. There are more initiatives.
Black Girls Code
Black Girls Code is an organization that was founded to help promote equity in STEM, especially amongst Black girls and girls of color. They provide workshops that help teach girls how to code or do computer programming through fun, accessible, and culturally relevant pedagogies. From learning coding through Black joy, creating art, through video games, and more, Black Girls Code is a popular company in the tech world that has chapters and partnerships throughout the country.