Day 11 - 28 Love Letters to Black Women
This Black History Month, I am sharing 28 stories of Black women who shaped me and showed me the way towards liberation. Because Black women are often not cited for their ideas, I thought this would be one way to give flowers to those who influenced me.
On Day 11, I would like to celebrate activist, organizer, educator, and author Barbara Smith, who was one of the founders of the Combahee River Collective, one of the most influential organizations focused on Black Feminist thought.
Barbara Smith grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, and began getting involved in civil rights and social justice work in her teens. After college, she became involved in the Black nationalist and Women’s movements but was frustrated by the lack of inclusion in both movements for her full identity as a Black, lesbian woman.
After forming a chapter of the National Black Feminist Organization in Boston, Barbara and other organizational leaders decided to break from the national organization, and formed the Combahee River Collective, named after the raid that Harriet Tubman led during the Civil War that freed approximately 750 enslaved people. In its early years, the Collective focused on consciousness raising about multiple social issues and developing deep relationships with a network of Black women.
In 1977, The Combahee River Collective issued a statement written by Barbara Smith, Denita Frazier, and Barbara’s twin sister, Beverly Smith. The statement aimed to capture the ideas and philosophy of the collective based on conversations about their political philosophy and strategy to seek justice in the world. The statement explored how the systems of oppression of racism, sexism, classism, and heteronormativity intersected and interlocked. This interconnection among these systems, the Collective argued, meant that you must address these issues as a whole. They also believed that focusing the work on Black women was one way to address these multiple systems at once, stating, “If Black women were free, it would mean that everyone else would have to be free since our freedom would necessitate the destruction of all the systems of oppression.” (https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/combahee-river-collective-statement-1977/)
At the urging of Audre Lorde, Barbara Smith founded the Kitchen Table Women of Color Press to publish some of the most important books in the movement. Smith would go on to hold political office and remains an activist working towards justice in multiple areas to this day. She is truly an example of what it means to live a life in alignment with values and solidarity. (https://www.blackwomenradicals.com/blog-feed/where-would-black-feminism-be-today-if-it-wasnt-for-barbara-smith)
Photo credit: MAKERS, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Image Description: Barbara Smith is sitting in front of windows. She is wearing a blue shirt, earrings, and a necklace with blue and purple beads.