By Kamille D. Whittaker
Anna Julia Cooper once wrote, “Only the Black Woman can say ‘when and where I enter, in the quiet, undisputed dignity of my womanhood, without violence and without suing or special patronage, then and there the whole … race enters with me.’” In this declaration, Cooper asserts that the forward movement of African Americans is unfathomable without black women. Cooper also advances in “A Voice from the South,” (1892) that black women are the gatekeepers of not only the black community, but modern American civilization.
Keisha N. Blain’s “Set the World on Fire” does a historian’s work of putting Black women’s political resistance in its rightful context, temporally and geographically as one of the first texts to examine how black nationalist women engaged in national and global politics from the early 20th century to the 1960s. Whereas historians of the era generally portray the period between the Garvey movement of the 1920s and the Black Power movement of the 1960s as an era of declining black political activism, Blain reframes the Great Depression, World War II, and the early Cold War as significant eras of black women’s political ferment.
And then, Fannie Lou Hamer, leader of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, said “I question America,” during her historic speech to the credentials committee of the Democratic National Convention about voter suppression and racist law enforcement violence — themes still making headlines again today.
The MFDP was organized in 1964 by African Americans in Mississippi with help from the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the Council of Federated Organizations. It was a strategic assertion, by Hamer, sought to challenge the legitimacy of what was then the segregationist Mississippi Democratic Party.
The long genealogy of political resistance frontlined by black women thankfully became a reference point when a notable uptick in Black women running for office since 2016 was reported in the mainstream media after analysis revealed the ways in which black women have long commandeered the electorate. Since, much-needed scaffolding and infrastructure — databases, funding, organizing, message development — have been formed to uphold what is now being called, ‘The Resistance.’ More women than ever are on track to run for Congress and higher public office in 2018. Compared to the numbers of candidates who had filed or were likely to run at this point in past cycles, this wave of candidates, particularly in the House, is massive, and largely driven by Democrats.
By the time Representative Maxine Waters declared she was “Reclaiming her time” during a heated exchange in July of 2017 between Waters of Los Angeles and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin during a House Financial Services Committee hearing, the swell in Black women running for office had already begun. The popular refrain was a viral cultural marker that embodied the mood of the times, and perhaps buoyed Black women again later in 2017 to steer the consequential election of Doug Jones, a democrat in Alabama who filled Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ Senate seat; and even more recently to convene in Atlanta during the Power Rising Summit which drew upwards of 1,000 attendees and political stakeholders — both running and supporting.
The goal of the event, organizers said, was helping African-American women leverage their political, economic and social power in order to move themselves, their communities and the nation forward.
“Black women own more than 1.5 million businesses. We are the largest users of social media and we know that we are cultural influencers,” said co-convener Rev. Leah Daughtry.
Other resources like the new site Black Women In Politics, launched soon after the Alabama special elections provide a national searchable database as a point of departure for further research.
Currently, there are 28 black women running for higher office in Georgia. Notably, the person running for the top ticket, Stacey Abrams, would be the nation’s first African-American female governor if she wins. In 2012, the consensus was that Georgia’s electoral numbers wouldn’t substantiate such a feat or even the current calculus. The time, however, may be now.