Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Want to Start a Revolution?

Want to Start a Revolution?: Radical Women in the Black Freedom Struggle

Dayo F. Gore
Jeanne Theoharis
Komozi Woodard
Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 370
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Want to Start a Revolution?
    Book Description:

    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 Fernandez, 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.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-3312-7
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
    DFG, JT and KW
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-24)
    Dayo F. Gore, Jeanne Theoharis and Komozi Woodard

    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?”Garvin—a master strategist whose political career spanned more than a half century of leadership—seized the political stage in the 1930s working alongside Powell in the pioneering Harlem Boycott Movement. Vicki Garvin’s epic trajectory in the black freedom struggle reveals the distinct but hidden contours of the black radical tradition. Her activism took her from public school...

  5. 1 “No Small Amount of Change Could Do”: Esther Cooper Jackson and the Making of a Black Left Feminist
    (pp. 25-46)
    Erik S. McDuffie

    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 was the newly elected executive secretary of the gathering’s sponsoring organization: the Birmingham, Alabama-based Southern Negro Youth Congress (SNYC), a pioneering, World War II era civil rights group with links to the Communist Party, USA (CPUSA).² Opening her speech by emphasizing black southern youth’s importance “to the resolute prosecution of the war for a speedy victory,” she called for a “Double...

  6. 2 What “the Cause” Needs Is a “Brainy and Energetic Woman”: A Study of Female Charismatic Leadership in Baltimore
    (pp. 47-70)
    Prudence Cumberbatch

    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 the nine young men that the group would continue to fight for their freedom. The photograph of the meeting in the January 1937 issue of theCrisisshowed Jackson shaking the hand of Clarence Norris, one of the imprisoned men. That handshake between Juanita Jackson, a petite University of Pennsylvania–educated middle-class black woman, and Norris, a poor rural black male accused...

  7. 3 From Communist Politics to Black Power: The Visionary Politics and Transnational Solidarities of Victoria “Vicki” Ama Garvin
    (pp. 71-94)
    Dayo F. Gore

    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 several recent studies on Black Power politics have acknowledged Vicki Garvin’s activism and transnational travels, she is often mentioned only as a representative figure, a “radical trade unionist,” or a “survivor of Mc-Carthyism,” with little attention given to the specific details of her life and political contributions.² Yet Vicki Garvin played a leading role...

  8. 4 Shirley Graham Du Bois: Portrait of the Black Woman Artist as a Revolutionary
    (pp. 95-114)
    Gerald Horne and Margaret Stevens

    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 where they sat” and talked for “nearly an hour.” Afterward, she declared proudly, “This man is brilliant. I am taking him for my son. He must meet Kwame [Nkrumah]. They have too much in common not to meet.”² She personally saw to it that they did.

    In Ghana during...

  9. 5 “A Life History of Being Rebellious”: The Radicalism of Rosa Parks
    (pp. 115-137)
    Jeanne Theoharis

    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 the Greater Grace Temple of Detroit and waited outside to see a horsedrawn carriage carry Mrs. Parks’s coffin to the cemetery.² Yet what is commonly known—and much of what was widely eulogized—about Parks is a troubling distortion of what actually makes her fitting for such a national tribute. Remembered as “quiet,” “humble,” “soft-spoken,” and “never...

  10. 6 Framing the Panther: Assata Shakur and Black Female Agency
    (pp. 138-160)
    Joy James

    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 common perceptions of women revolutionaries. The same is not true for femaleness in perceptions of male revolutionaries.

    One can easily imagine antiracist revolutionary struggle against the state without (black) women clearly in the picture, but to imagine revolution against state violence in the absence of (black) men often draws a blank. Men appear independent of women...

  11. 7 Revolutionary Women, Revolutionary Education: The Black Panther Party’s Oakland Community School
    (pp. 161-184)
    Ericka Huggins and Angela D. LeBlanc-Ernest

    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 took action against police brutality, hunger, inadequate education, poor health, and unemployment in black and poor communities. Community education, specifically education for young people, was central to its vision. The BPP’s original Ten Point Platform and Program emphasized providing an education that, among other things, taught African American and poor people about their true history in the United States (see point...

  12. 8 Must Revolution Be a Family Affair? Revisiting The Black Woman
    (pp. 185-204)
    Margo Natalie Crawford

    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 on the need to connect manhood and blackness. Their emphasis on black male power often convinced them that the liberation of black men would lead to the liberation of all black people. The black struggle, in this point of view, could not afford to be divided; a black women’s movement would allow the dominant power structure to continue to...

  13. 9 Retraining the Heartworks: Women in Atlanta’s Black Arts Movement
    (pp. 205-222)
    James Smethurst

    Toni Cade Bambara wrote her novelThe 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-today life in Georgia.¹ The novel meditates on the twinned Black Arts and Black Power movements of the 1960s and 1970s from the perspective of an insider and an activist, reflecting on the shortcomings of those movements, especially for black women, as well as their great contributions to social liberation. The novel, then,...

  14. 10 “Women’s Liberation or . . . Black Liberation, You’re Fighting the Same Enemies”: Florynce Kennedy, Black Power, and Feminism
    (pp. 223-247)
    Sherie M. Randolph

    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 country.¹ When reporting on the emergence of the women’s movement, the media covered her early membership in the National Organization for Women (NOW), her leadership of countless guerrilla theater protests, and her work as a lawyer helping to repeal New York’s restrictive abortion laws.² Indeed, Black feminist Jane Galvin-Lewis and white feminists Gloria Steinem and Ti-Grace Atkinson...

  15. 11 To Make That Someday Come: Shirley Chisholm’s Radical Politics of Possibility
    (pp. 248-270)
    Joshua Guild

    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 newsweeklyJetwondered whether America was finally ready for a black president. If the answer was in the affirmative, the magazine asked its readers, who should it be? An overwhelming 98 percent of readers responding to the magazine’s national poll replied that they supported the idea of a black candidate running for president in the upcoming election. Of the prominent figures offered up as potential contenders,...

  16. 12 Denise Oliver and the Young Lords Party: Stretching the Political Boundaries of Struggle
    (pp. 271-293)
    Johanna Fernández

    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 acknowledgedAfrican Americanradicals of the sixties. As an African American, Oliver’s prominent membership in a Puerto Rican organization captured the imagination of her contemporaries because it bespoke of the political dynamism and open racial and ethnic consciousness in the Young Lords. (Approximately 30 percent of the YLP was composed of African American and non–Puerto Rican Latinos.)...

  17. 13 Grassroots Leadership and Afro-Asian Solidarities: Yuri Kochiyama’s Humanizing Radicalism
    (pp. 294-316)
    Diane C. Fujino

    Lifemagazine’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 is symbolic of the erasure of Asian American activism. That the woman in the photo is Yuri Kochiyama, one of the most prominent Asian American activists, though obscure to all but certain activist and Asian American circles, speaks to the continuing invisibility of Asian American struggles. Asian American participation disrupts two conventional narratives about Black...

  18. 14 “We Do Whatever Becomes Necessary”: Johnnie Tillmon, Welfare Rights, and Black Power
    (pp. 317-338)
    Premilla Nadasen

    Welfare rights leader Johnnie Tillmon relayed this story to Brian Lanker, photographer and author ofI 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 for herself and her refusal to passively accept racial slurs are characteristic of the racial consciousness and assertiveness that Black Power instilled in many African Americans during the postwar era.

    Yet, even more important than Tillmon’s obvious racial pride and practice of self-defense was her commitment to autonomy and self-determination for poor women. She and...

  19. About the Contributors
    (pp. 339-342)
  20. Index
    (pp. 343-353)