The social and political upheavals of the 1960s and 1970s saw more women reflecting on the power structure and trying to understand sexist oppression. Second Wave feminism essentially rose out of the activism of the Civil Rights movement. But a black feminist ideology did not easily develop. Many black women simply rejected feminism, and many felt disillusioned by and excluded from the male dominated Civil Rights movement and the white dominated Women’s Liberation movement.
As black female writers and activists began to recognize the importance of analyzing gender and race oppression, they faced the challenge of demonstrating that feminism need not be only for white women. Black feminist organizations rose up during the 70’s to raise awareness of the interconnectedness of racist, sexist, classist, and homophobic prejudices. As their goal, they wanted to destroy capitalism, imperialism, and patriarchy as the key to liberating all oppressed people.
The Combahee River Collective, for example, was a socialist feminist organization which rejected gender as their primary source of oppression and worked to raise consciousness of issues related to the continuum of black women’s suffering. The Combahee River women began to meet in Boston in 1974 in small groups to develop a theoretical and intellectual framework for black socialist feminism. Combahee was part of a backlash against the social movements of the 60s and their failure to achieve true equality. Most of the founding members were lesbians, who in an era of homophobia in the country, felt they had the least to lose with radical politics. The Combahee River Collective built on the writings of Toni Cade, Alice Walker, Angela Davis, Audre Lorde and others. Their greatest contribution was a document written by founding members Barbara Smith, Beverly Smith, and Demita Frazier, “A Black Feminist Statement”. 1
The Combahee River Collective and other black feminist groups helped create a black feminist presence and define the movement after the 70s.
1. Breines, Wini. The Trouble Between Us: An Uneasy History of White and Black Women in the Feminist Movement (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), 121-149.