- Gendering Africana Studies:Insights from Anna Julia Cooper
In 1886, at the age of twenty-eight, Anna Julia Cooper stood before the black male clergy of the Protestant Episcopal Church and argued that the issues affecting black women and poor and working-class African Americans needed to be placed at the center of racial uplift efforts. The image of the young but resolute Cooper standing at the center of a male-dominated space, representing the needs and perspectives of black women and the working poor, creates an apt metaphor for illustrating the importance of Cooper's place in the development of Africana studies.1 In this address, published in A Voice from the South (1892) as "Womanhood: A Vital Element in the Regeneration and Progress of a Race," and throughout her career, Cooper located her scholarship and activism firmly within an Africana-centered paradigm.2 In doing so, however, she chose not to subordinate issues of gender to race or vice versa. Instead, Cooper viewed the issues of race, class and gender as inextricably linked. An analysis of Cooper's intellectual work and activism reveal an early Africana studies pioneer who put issues of race, class and gender at the center of racial uplift efforts.3 Her goal was to shift the priorities of the early Africana studies practitioners from concerns she viewed as primarily male-centered and elitist to the issues she believed had impact on the least-represented, most neglected members of the African American communities.
In "The Legacy of W. E. B. Du Bois for Contemporary Black Studies," James Stewart argues that to better understand the intellectual development of Africana studies, scholars must become more self-conscious about the development of the field. Stewart invites contemporary critics to recover the historical precedents established by early Africana studies pioneers such as Martin Delany, Carter G. Woodson, and Paul Robeson. While his own work focuses on Du Bois as an "exemplar" of an early black studies paradigm, Stewart calls for additional analyses of other important figures as a way to develop a much-needed comparative approach to the study of the historical development of Africana studies.
In this essay, the authors argue that establishing Cooper as one of the key figures in the early development of Africana studies allows us to recover a disciplinary history that exhibits at its foundation a diverse set of social and intellectual goals, objectives, and commitments. By first establishing Cooper as a forerunner, then by detailing the priorities she espoused, and finally by examining her theoretical orientation and methodological approach, the authors explore the continued implications of Cooper's work for the current field of Africana studies. In fact, Delores Aldridge identifies as the current "overriding issue" in Africana studies the question of whether or not "we [Africana women] need an Africana Studies movement separate from the general movement, or if Africana Studies will be able to incorporate the experiences of black women" (198). Examining Cooper within the frame of Africana studies responds to Aldridge's injunction by bringing attention to the role of black women in relation to the historical development of Africana studies, and forces us to ask how our understandings of the discipline change if we recognize Cooper as a foundational figure. Furthermore, and equally significant, an analysis of Cooper's role in the development of Africana studies allows us to evaluate how responsive the discipline has or has not been to the mandates that Cooper articulated over a century ago. Simply gaining a space for herself within the prevailing structure or discourse was never Cooper's goal. [End Page 35] It was not enough for her to secure a seat for herself at the table; she sought also to inspire those in educational, social or financial positions of privilege to use their advantages to support and propel systematic programs of social change. One of the hallmarks of Africana studies is the call for social responsibility and the production of knowledge that can facilitate social transformation (Karenga 13-14); Cooper's conjoining of scholarship and activism falls squarely within this tradition.
When Cooper addressed the black male clergy of the Protestant Episcopal Church...