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Want to Start a Revolution?

Radical Women in the Black Freedom Struggle

Dayo Gore, Jeanne Theoharis, Komozi Woodard

Publication Year: 2009

The story of the black freedom struggle in America has been overwhelmingly male-centric, starring leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and Huey Newton. With few exceptions, black women have been perceived as supporting actresses; as behind-the-scenes or peripheral activists, or rank and file party members. But what about Vicki Garvin, a Brooklyn-born activist who became a leader of the National Negro Labor Council and guide to Malcolm X on his travels through Africa? What about Shirley Chisholm, the first black Congresswoman?

From Rosa Parks and Esther Cooper Jackson, to Shirley Graham DuBois and Assata Shakur, a host of women demonstrated a lifelong commitment to radical change, embracing multiple roles to sustain the movement, founding numerous groups and mentoring younger activists. Helping to create the groundwork and continuity for the movement by operating as local organizers, international mobilizers, and charismatic leaders, the stories of the women profiled in Want to Start a Revolution? help shatter the pervasive and imbalanced image of women on the sidelines of the black freedom struggle.

Contributors: Margo Natalie Crawford, Prudence Cumberbatch, Johanna Fernández, Diane C. Fujino, Dayo F. Gore, Joshua Guild, Gerald Horne, Ericka Huggins, Angela D. LeBlanc-Ernest, Joy James, Erik McDuffie, Premilla Nadasen, Sherie M. Randolph, James Smethurst, Margaret Stevens, and Jeanne Theoharis.

Published by: NYU Press


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Title Page, Copyright

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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-ix

This book is dedicated to the women whose activism is the subject of this collection. Through all manner of economic, physical, and psychic repression, they continued to believe a different world was possible and worked tirelessly to make it so. ...

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pp. 1-24

Legend has it that when the notoriously charismatic Representative Adam Clayton Powell Jr. from Harlem heard that fellow organizer Vicki Garvin had joined the Communist Party, he went to the Party’s Harlem leadership to plead for Garvin’s return: “Can’t we share her?” ...

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1. “No Small Amount of Change Could Do”: Esther Cooper Jackson and the Making of a Black Left Feminist

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pp. 25-46

On April 18, 1942, a twenty-three-year-old African American woman named Esther Cooper delivered the opening address of the Fifth All-Southern Negro Youth Conference held on the campus of historically black Tuskegee Institute in Tuskegee, Alabama.1 An activist trailblazer, she ...

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2. What “the Cause” Needs Is a "Brainy and Energetic Woman”" A Study of Female Charismatic Leadership in Baltimore

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pp. 47-70

On November 20, 1936, Juanita Elizabeth Jackson and two members of the Birmingham, Alabama, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) “visited the Scottsboro youth in the Jefferson County jail.”1 Representing the NAACP, Jackson pledged to ...

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3. From Communist Politics to Black Power: The Visionary Politics and Transnational Solidarities of Victoria “Vicki” Ama Garvin

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pp. 71-94

As recounted in this collection’s introduction, when listing the key figures in Ghana’s expatriate community during the 1960s, writer Leslie Lacy referenced Vicki Garvin, a longtime labor activist and black radical, as one of the people to see “if you want to start a revolution.”1 While ...

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4. Shirley Graham Du Bois: Portrait of the Black Woman Artist as a Revolutionary

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pp. 95-114

Shirley Graham Du Bois pulled Malcolm X aside at a party in the Chinese embassy in Accra, Ghana, in 1964, only months after having met with him at Hotel Omar Khayyam in Cairo, Egypt.1 When she spotted him at the embassy, she “immediately . . . guided him to a corner ...

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5. “A Life History of Being Rebellious”: The Radicalism of Rosa Parks

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pp. 115-137

On October 30, 2005, Rosa Parks became the first woman and second African American to lie in state in the U.S. Capitol. Forty thousand Americans—including President and Mrs. Bush—came to pay their respects. Thousands more packed her seven-hour funeral celebration at ...

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6. Framing the Panther: Assata Shakur and Black Female Agency

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pp. 148-170

How we imagine a revolutionary is shaped by our ideas concerning gender, sex, and race, not just ideology.1 How we imagine transformative black political leadership is very much influenced by how we think of gender and agency. The absence or presence of maleness shapes ...

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7. Revolutionary Women,Revolutionary Education The Black Panther Party’s Oakland Community School

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pp. 161-194

The Black Panther Party (BPP), a grassroots organization founded in Oakland, California, in 1966, by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale, grew from the needs of local African American and poor communities. Throughout its sixteen-year history, the organization addressed and ...

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8. Must Revolution Be a Family Affair?: Revisiting The Black Woman

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pp. 185-204

Black men, during the 1960s and 1970s black freedom struggles, were very aware of intersectionality, that which Kimberlé Crenshaw defines as the “need to account for multiple grounds of identity when considering how the social world is constructed.”2 Indeed, they insisted ...

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9. Retraining the Heartworks: Women in Atlanta’s Black Arts Movement

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pp. 205-222

Toni Cade Bambara wrote her novel The Salt Eaters (1980) during her time in Atlanta when she was a member of the Spelman College faculty and a community political and cultural activist. In fact, the novel began as entries in Bambara’s journal, literally rooting it in her day-to-day ...

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10. “Women’s Liberation or . . . Black Liberation,You’re Fighting the Same Enemies”: Florynce Kennedy, Black Power, and Feminism

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pp. 223-257

Several decades after the political upheavals of the sixties, very few people recognize the name of the Black feminist lawyer and activist Florynce “Flo” Kennedy (1916–2000). However, during the late 1960s and 1970s, Kennedy was the most well-known Black feminist in the ...

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11. To Make That Someday Come: Shirley Chisholm’s Radical Politics of Possibility

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pp. 258-280

In the summer of 1971, with a pivotal national election looming on the horizon, an embattled Republican in the White House, and the nation mired in a costly and deeply unpopular war, the black newsweekly Jet wondered whether America was finally ready for a black president. If the answer ...

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12. Denise Oliver and the Young Lords Party: Stretching the Political Boundaries of Struggle

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pp. 271-293

Revered in movement circles for her political acuity and leadership in the Young Lords Party (YLP)—the Puerto Rican organization that consciously fashioned itself after the Black Panther Party—Denise Oliver is at once one of the most locally influential and least acknowledged ...

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13. Grassroots Leadership and Afro-Asian Solidarities: Yuri Kochiyama’s Humanizing Radicalism

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pp. 294-316

Life magazine’s coverage of the assassination of Malcolm X bore a striking photograph of the slain Black leader lying prone, his head resting gently on the lap of a middle-aged Asian woman.1 The visibility of Malcolm’s gigantic impact juxtaposed with the invisibility of this woman ...

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14. “We Do Whatever Becomes Necessary”: Johnnie Tillmon, Welfare Rights,and Black Power

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pp. 317-338

Welfare rights leader Johnnie Tillmon relayed this story to Brian Lanker, photographer and author of I Dream a World: Portraits of Black Women Who Changed America, about an incident that occurred at the height of her political activity in 1973. Tillmon’s decision to stand up ...

About the Contributors

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pp. 339-341


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pp. 343-353

E-ISBN-13: 9780814733127
E-ISBN-10: 0814733123
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814783139
Print-ISBN-10: 0814783139

Page Count: 368
Publication Year: 2009

OCLC Number: 549601952
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Want to Start a Revolution?

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Feminism -- United States -- History -- 20th century
  • Communism -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • United States -- Race relations -- History -- 20th century
  • Civil rights movements -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • African Americans -- Civil rights -- History -- 20th century.
  • African American women political activists -- History -- 20th century.
  • Women radicals -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • African American women civil rights workers -- History -- 20th century.
  • African American radicals -- History -- 20th century.
  • Black power -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
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