Date of Award

2018

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

Africana Studies

First Advisor

Herman Beavers

Abstract

This dissertation, “The Sisterhood: Black Women, Black Feminism, and the Women’s Liberation Movement” traces the development of second-wave Black feminism as an intellectual and activist tradition in the United States during the 1970s and 1980s. Drawing on published and unpublished literary and academic works and extensive archival materials including personal correspondence, I argue that a cohort of Black women novelists, poets, critics, and academics used their work and social networks to build a distinct Black feminist movement while simultaneously imagining and producing new possibilities for political and personal relationships with individual white women and the larger feminist movement.

This dissertation contributes to ongoing discussions in the fields of Black women’s intellectual history, Black feminism, and women’s studies in three ways: This dissertation contributes to these ongoing conversations in three ways: (1) by enlarging what has become a limited genealogy of second-wave Black feminist to include lesser-known and under-studied groups and women; (2) by illuminating the connections between the creative and political work Black feminists do including how Black feminists’ creative work (e.g. poetry and fiction) is a crucial form of theorizing the development of a Black feminist tradition; and (3) by explaining how Black feminists were consistently in dialogue with white feminists pressuring them to expand the mainstream feminist political platform to be more inclusive and attentive to women of color’s concerns.

This dissertation is a recuperative project but also an effort to examine the robust, multi-layered contributions of Black women outside of mainstream second-wave feminist and Black Nationalist organizations. Tracing the circuits Black feminists navigated in their activist and intellectual work helps us to better understand the contemporary moment and to critically appraise contemporary, popular invocations of Black feminism as descendants of a historically specific movement and moment of Black feminist creativity and activism.

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