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The Interstitial Politics ofBlack Feminist Organizations KIMBERLY SPRINGER The sociopolitical conditions and social movements ofthelate 1960s gave rise to an unprecedented growth in Black feminist consciousness that is reflected in contemporary feminist theorizing. Anthologies such as The Black Woman and Homeairls: A Black Feminist Anthology gave voice to Black feminists' alienation from the sexism, racism, and classism found in the civil rights movement, the women's movement, social policy, and popular culture (see Bambara 1970 and Smith 1983). However, we know little about the formal organizations resulting from the rise in Black feminist consciousness. Politics in the Cracks Black feminists' voices and visions fell between the cracks of the civil rights and women's movements, so they created formal organizations to speak on their behalf. Within five organizations—the Third World Women's Alliance (1968-79), the National Black Feminist Organization (1973-75), the National Alliance of Black Feminists (1976-80), the Combahee River Collective (1975-80), and Black Women Organized for Action (1973-80)—several thousand Black women activists explicitly claimed feminism and defined a collective identity based on their race, gender, class, and sexual orientation. As one activist I interviewed remarked, Black feminists conducted their politics "in the cracks." (Burnham 1998). Politics in the cracks, or, hereafter, "interstitial politics," conveyed two meanings for Black feminists and their organizations. First, as activist [Meridians:jeminism, race, transnationalism 2001, vol. 1, no. 2, pp. 155-91]©2001 by Wesleyan University Press. All rights reserved. 155 Linda Burnham noted, Black feminists, not unlike activists in other social movements, fit their activism into their schedules whenever possible, serving as full-time unpaid staff for their organizations. Second, Black feminists developed a collective identity and basis for organizing that reflected the intersecting characteristics thatmake up blackwomanhood. Black feminists were the first activists to theorize and act upon the intersections ofrace, gender, and class. While Black feminists crafted their collective identity and their organizations from the fissures that developed within the civil rights and women's movement, that description and analysis was obscured in the Black and women's liberation scholarly literature. Research on Black feminist organizations can contribute a crucial, previously ignored chapter to the historiography of the civil rights and women's movements. These organizations, with their roots firmly entrenched in the civil rights movement, provide a crucial link to the burgeoningwomen's movement. Black women, as leaders in civil rights movement organizations such as the Southern Christian Leadership Council (sclc), the Congress on Racial Equality (core), the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (naacp), and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (sncc), played a pivotal role in demonstrating the leadership capabilities ofBlack women, as well as in speaking about the burden of oppression underwhich they functioned. Research on Blackwomen civil rights leaders flourished in the iggos, laying the foundation for examining the continuity ofBlack women's activism through slavery, suffrage, the women's club movement, and labor movements (see Barnett 1991; Davis 1981; Giddings 1984; Guy-Sheftall 1995; Robnett 1997). African American history, in the process ofunearthing a wealth ofinformation about the leadership role ofBlack women in the civil rights movement, makes little notice ofthe Black feminist activism sparked by this leadership . As this research on their organizations shows, Black feminists learned valuable skills and ideological beliefs from the civil rights movement and incorporated these resources into women's movement activism. They based their analyses and actions on the work of their activist foremothers, but also took that work a step further by adamantly laying claim to gender as a salient point ofBlack women's identity. Similar to the gaps in civil rights movement historiography, women's movement histories lack in-depth descriptions and analyses of Black feminist organizations that contributed to the expansion of the 156 KIMBERLY SPRINGER movement's goals and objectives. Past studies ofthewomen's movement documentBlackwomen civil rights leaders who served as role models for white feminist activists, but they neglect to mention how in practical and ideological ways, Black women mentored Black feminist activists (see Carden 1974; Davis iggi; Echols 198g; Freeman 1977). Additionally, Black feministactivists, through theirtheorizingand organizations, broadened the scope ofthewomen's movementbychallengingEurocentric and classist interpretations ofwomen's issues. The literature on the women...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1547-8424
Print ISSN
1536-6936
Pages
pp. 155-191
Launched on MUSE
2011-03-30
Open Access
No
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