A CALL TO NEGRO WOMEN: A (Little-Known) Black Feminist Manifesto
with an introduction by Mariame Kaba and an essay by Ashley Farmer
‘A Call to Negro Women’: A (Little-Known) Black Feminist Manifesto Compilation and introduction copyright © 2019 by Mariame Kaba For more information, contact Mariame Kaba, email@example.com For text-to-speech compatible version of the Call to Negro Women (1951), please visit https://tinyurl.com/call2negrowomen-text For the original scanned copy, please visit https://tinyurl.com/call2negrowomen Cover and interior design by Jordan N. DeLoach Typefaces used are Gil Sans, Antonio, Andale Mono, and Bebas
Introduction by Mariame Kaba
6 - 11 Black Women March on Washington: The Sojourners for Truth and Justice and Black Womenâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Lives Matter by Ashley Farmer
12 - 19 A Call to Negro Women (1951) originally published by Sojourners for Truth and Justice
INTRODUCTION by Mariame Kaba
There’s a scene in Keith Gilyard’s recent biography of communist organizer Louise Thompson Patterson where she’s pacing in her apartment in 1951 while actress and activist Beah Richards (nearly 20 years her junior) is furiously writing down the words of what would become ‘A Call to Negro Women.’ The call launched a short-lived but very consequential organization called Sojourners for Truth and Justice (SJT). I appreciate that scene because it feels familiar to anyone who has been involved in generative organizing. ‘A Call to Negro Women’ is a manifesto addressing the repression that a group of radical Black women were experiencing post-World War II. The manifesto invoked the legacies of Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth. It invited “dear Negro sisters everywhere in the United States” to convene in Washington D.C. on September 29 through October 1, 1951 for a “sojourn for truth and justice.”
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02 / 19 | Mariame Kaba
More than 132 Black women from 15 states responded to the call and descended on Washington, D.C.
FREDERICK DOUGLASS HOUSE, WASHINGTON, D.C., 1951
The conveners of the “sojourn for truth and
Goode Robeson, writer and intellectual Alice
justice” were concerned about many issues
Childress and many others. Claudia Jones,
including racial terrorism (lynching, police
the influential communist writer and
violence, wrongful convictions, etc.) along
intellectual, had hoped to attend but was
with ending the Korean war, colonialism,
under house arrest and sent her support
South African apartheid, poverty and more.
Less than two weeks after the manifesto
The gathering and the subsequent
was made public, more than 132 Black
organization was a who’s who of radical
women from 15 states responded to the call
Black women artists, activists, organizers,
and descended upon Washington D.C. for
and intellectuals. None of these women
their first national gathering. Members of
would have labeled herself ‘a feminist’ but
what would come to be called the
the ideas that they espoused and their
Sojourners for Truth and Justice included
activities were definitely feminist.
California-based newspaper publisher Charlotta Bass, artist and intellectual
In D.C. in front of Frederick Douglass’s home
Shirley Graham Du Bois, organizer Dorothy
where participants were on a tour, 21-year
Hunton, activist and intellectual Eslanda
old Lorraine Hansberry read from the
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manifesto as a way of explaining the aims of the gathering:
We, the Negro Women of this LAND,
“We claim that this government cannot honestly, convincingly and sincerely spend billions, send troops and draft treaties for the peace and freedom of other nations while it never has and does not now protect the lives and liberties of 15,000,000 of its own Negro citizens. Only when our government abolishes the lynch justice of Mississippi, when it publicly declares there shall be no more Ciceros or Peekskills, only when it moves to enforce with its might the 13th and 15th Amendments to the United States Constitution, then and only then can it speak as a free nation for a free world. And to this end, we, the Negro Women of this our land, must and now dedicate our every effort.”
must and now dedicate our EVERY effort.
Few people are aware of this historic gathering and of the Sojourners for Truth and Justice more generally. Yet this proto-feminist group paved the way for later theorizing by Black feminists of the 1960s and 70s. In fact, historian Erik McDuffie contends that STJ “advanced positions on race, class, and gender that were in many respects far ahead of the Community Party, civil rights groups, and women’s clubs.” We have much to learn from their organizing and other contributions.
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people who came before us have been wrestling with issues like state violence, war, international solidarity and more for decades.
For years after I learned about the
This short publication ‘A Call to Negro
Sojourners for Truth and Justice, I was
Women’: A (Little-Known) Black Feminist
interested in reading the actual text of ‘A
Manifesto includes the full text of ‘A Call
Call to Negro Women’. It was not published
to Negro Women’ and also a short essay by
in its entirety anywhere. I finally got around
historian Ashley Farmer who generously gave
to accessing the document last year when a
her permission to reprint it from the
friend located a copy in a University archive.
wonderful online blog Black Perspectives.
I decided then that it would be important
Dr. Farmer offers context about the work of
and relevant to share the manifesto more
Sojourners for Truth and Justice and makes
broadly with others especially with younger
connections to current organizing to make
people of color who are currently insisting
that organizing be more intersectional and radical. I hope that it serves as a reminder
I hope that this pamphlet will provoke
that people who came before us have been
discussion and inspire more learning about
wrestling with issues like state violence,
the legacies and contributions of radical
war, international solidarity and more for
Black women. Because I am a big believer in
decades. They didn’t have things figured out
the values of pamphleteering, it will be the
and neither do we. There’s some comfort in
first of three short publications focused on
this because these issues are entrenched
radical Black women in the U.S. that I hope
to develop in 2019.
If you have any questions about this current publication, which is designed by Jordan N. DeLoach, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Feel free to print copies and distribute the pamphlet in your communities. I would only ask that you not sell copies but make them freely available to anyone who is interested (if you donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t have access to free photocopying, itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s OK to charge for the cost of making copies but not as a way to make profit). To learn more about the Sojourners for Truth and Justice, I recommend two excellent books:
Radicalism at the Crossroads: African American Women Activists
Sojourning for Freedom: Black Women, American Communism,
in the Cold War by Dayo Gore (New York University Press, 2011)
and the Making of Black Left Feminism by Erik S. McDuffie (Duke University Press, 2011)
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Black Women March on Washington |
Black Women March on Washington: The Sojourners for Truth and Justice and Black Women's Lives Matter by Ashley Farmer
Before the 1963 March on Washington, a group of African American women stormed the gates of the capital demanding that the state, society, and public servants acknowledge black women’s humanity and suffering. In the fall of 1951, the Sojourners for Truth and Justice, issued “A Call to Negro Women” for African American women to descend on Washington D.C. to “demand of the President, the Justice Department, and the Congress the absolute immediate and unconditional redress of
grievances.”1 The Sojourners planned to meet with the President, the Secretary of State, the Justice Department and the Attorney General.2
Their march proved productive. Participants met with the Attorney General and representatives from the Department of Justice and the War Department. The delegation also held a silent vigil on the White House lawn to protest President Truman’s refusal to meet
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08 / 19 | Ashley Farmer
with them. By the close of their journey,
A primary goal of the Sojourners’ agenda was
participants proclaimed that their Washington
to highlight the ways in which African
protest was “the most inspiring experience
American women were victims of racist
in their lives, and that [the Sojourners] must
violence but also how they experienced
not lose momentum in the movement but
this violence as wives, sisters, and mothers.
must fan out to every corner of the country to
They offered support for the families of the
arouse Negro women of the United States.”
Harriet and Harry Moore, leaders of the
The Sojourners membership roll read like a
Florida NAACP, murdered in their home on
Who’s Who of black women activists. Members
Christmas Day, 1951. In their press release,
included well-known Communist Party leaders
the group claimed that Moore murders,
like Louise Thompson Patterson, Claudia Jones,
members reminded America that, “Black
Audley Moore, and Esther Cooper Jackson.
women the world over know far too well the
Burgeoning playwrights and authors like
tearless grief of Mrs. Rosa Moore, whose 71
Lorraine Hansberry and Alice Childress were
years of sacrifice gave to the world a fighting
members of the group. Shirley Dubois, wife of
son of the Negro People, Harry T. Moore.”
W.E.B. Du Bois, and Mary Church Terrell also
The group also identified with the anguish of
joined the delegation.
Harriet’s mother, who, “sat by the
A primary goal of the Sojourners’ agenda was to highlight the ways in which African American women were victims of racist violence but also how they experienced this violence as wives, sisters, and mothers.
Black Women March on Washington |
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bedside of her dying daughter,” an action
The Sojourners practiced what is now called
they claimed, “pierced the side of every
intersectionality—a politics based on the
Negro mother.” Members argued that the
interrelationship between race, class, gender,
Moore tragedy was an example of black
and sexual oppression. They refused to
women’s daily experiences with violence and
marginalize issues of rape and sexual assault
injustice.3 They also rallied around
in black liberation struggles or engage in
high-profile cases like that of Rosa Lee Ingram,
the victim blaming and shaming that African
a Georgia sharecropper sentenced to death
American women too often experience. Many
for killing her white landlord who attempted
of the Sojourners were part of multiple
to sexually assault her. For the Sojourners,
progressive and radical groups, but they found
the arrest of Rosa Lee Ingram was a profound
that an organization dedicated to African
example of the governments’ unwillingness to
American women’s concerns was critical for
protect black women’s “lives and liberties.”4
advancing the freedom of all people.
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BLACK WOMEN MATTER Their Sojourn to Washington D.C. offers an
of oppression, which could not be achieved
opportunity to rethink activist icons, radical
without a public reckoning with the effect of
leadership, and organizing strategies. While
racial violence on African American women.
we remember King’s dream and demands
Like today, the Sojourners lived in a world
of the federal government, the Sojourners’
where campaigns against racist violence
activism, which laid the groundwork, goes
often centered around black male bodies,
largely unrecognized. The public often
lives, and experiences. And, like today, they
heralds major movements and marches as
were at the vanguard of protests that
a new or never before seen moment in
asserted that black lives matter. We would
activism. These moments almost always
do well to follow their model that shows us
have a historical precedent. And this
that we can’t remake the police force
precedent is often set by women.
without addressing the effects of racial violence on African American women and
Their agenda decried the complicity of the
that African American women were and
state in racist violence against black women.
remain at the forefront of advocating for
Their goal was the elimination of all forms
Black Women March on Washington |
“The Sojourners for Truth and Justice,” Folder 17, Box 4, Louise Thompson Patterson Papers, Manuscripts, Archives, and Rare Book Library, Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. “Letter from B. Richardson to the President September 25, 1951,” “Letter
from B. Richardson to Mr. Alexander Pace, Secretary of War, September 25, 1951,” “Letter from B. Richardson to Dean Acheson, Secretary of State, September 25, 1951,” Folder 17, Box 12, Louise Thompson Patterson Papers.
For an overview of the Sojourners see: Erik S. McDuffie, “A “New Freedom Movement of Negro Women”: Sojourning for Truth and Justice, and Human Rights in the Early Cold War” Radical Historical Review (Spring 2008): 81-106.
Reprinted from Black Perspectives with permission from the author. https://www.aaihs.org/black-women-march-on-washington-thesojourners-for-truth-and-justice-and-black-womens-lives-matter/
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“I am going to keep on stinging ‘till I arouse the conscience of America.” —Harriet Tubman
“The name has come. Sojourner, that’s it. Because I am going to travel up and down to the country showing the people their sins and being a sign unto them.” —Sojourner Truth
A Call to Negro Women |
THE time has come for us Negro women of these
United States to personally address this government for absolute, immediate and unconditional redress of grievances.
We cannot, must not, and will no longer in sight of God or man sit by and watch our lives destroyed by an unreasonable and unreasoning hate that metes out to us every kind of death it is possible for a human being to die.
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14 / 19 | Sojourners for Truth and Justice
We die of poverty, loneliness, drudgery, and disease. We have watched our husbands and fathers burned, quartered, hanged and electrocuted by hooded and unhooded mobs. We have seen our brothers beaten, shot and stamped to death by police. And when our greatest fighter for civil rights dares to challenge the injustice he is cursed, reviled and indicted by the highest legislative body in the land.1
This is a reference to William Patterson.
A Call to Negro Women |
We have seen our sons rotting in prison, weâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ve seen them poured into foreign wars in defense of this government which denies them equity on the battlefield and at home. And when the greatest mind we have produced dares speak out for peace, he is handcuffed and indicted as a foreign agent.2
There is no state in the whole of the forty-eight in which we can eat, live, work, play, rest, or breathe free of segregation and discrimination, and when the greatest voice we have produced dares sing out against these indignities, his passport is recalled and he is denied the property right to earn a living.4
This is a reference to W.E.B. Du Bois.
This is a reference to Rosa Lee Ingram.
This is a reference to Paul Robeson.
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16 / 19 | Sojourners for Truth and Justice
We claim that this government cannot honestly, convincingly and sincerely spend billions, send troops and draft treaties for the peace and freedom of other nations while it never has and does not now protect the lives and liberties of 15,000,000 of its own Negro citizens. Only when our government abolishes the lynch justice of Mississippi, when it publicity declares there shall be no more Ciceros 5 or Peekskills 6, only when it moves to enforce with its might the 13th and 15th amendments to the United States Constitution, then and only then can it speak as a free nation for a free world. And to this end, we, the Negro Women of this our land, must and now dedicate our every effort.
We, therefore issue this call. Negro Women of the United States of America, dry your tears, and in the spirit of Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth, ARISE. Arise, come to Washington and speak your mind.
This is a reference to the 1951 Cicero riot.
This is a reference to 1949 Peekskill riot.
A Call to Negro Women |
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Ask your church, lodge, trade union, civic or community organization, your family or friends, to send you as their spokesman. But come, even if you must send yourself. We know it will mean a sacrifice, but that has been our life, a long one of sacrifice, and we can well afford to make this one if we can help end our pain and our misery.
In Washington we will come together to plan the full program of the SOJOURN FOR TRUTH AND JUSTICE, elect our committees, and visit the President, the State and Justice Departments, the Senators and Congressman, to demand action NOW on our grievances.
A Call to Negro Women |
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INFORMATION FOR THE SOJOURNERS:
Sojourners should plan to reach Washington, D.C., by 1 P.M. Saturday, September 29, 1951. Report immediately to the headquarters of the Cafeteria Workers, 1015 M. St., N.W., where you will be given housing information and participate on committees to shape the full program for the Sojourn in Washington. For further information and to register for the SOJOURN FOR TRUTH AND JUSTICE address communications to:
Beulah Richardson, Acting Secretary for the Initiating Committee Harriet Tubman Center 290 Lenox Avenue New York, N.Y.
A CALL TO NEGRO WOMEN A (Little-Known) Black Feminist Manifesto