Combahee River Collective Issues “A Black Feminist Statement” Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

An African American lesbian-feminist group called the Combahee River Collective issued “A Black Feminist Statement,” addressing the connections among racial, sexual, heterosexist, and classist oppressions. The statement has become foundational for feminists of all backgrounds and is core reading in women’s studies and other college courses.

Summary of Event

The origins of the Combahee River Collective lie in the black women’s movement, which was formed in response to the neglect and oppression many black women were experiencing from both the Civil Rights movement and the women’s movement. Racism Racism;in women’s movement[womens movement] had worked against black women in the women’s movement led by white women, while sexism Sexism;in Civil Rights movement[Civil Rights movement] had worked against them in the Civil Rights movement, which was headed mostly by men. [kw]Combahee River Collective Issues “A Black Feminist Statement” (Apr., 1977) [kw]River Collective Issues “A Black Feminist Statement,” Combahee (Apr., 1977) [kw]Black Feminist Statement," Combahee River Collective Issues “A (Apr., 1977) "Black Feminist Statement, A" (Combahee River Collective)[Black Feminist Statement] Combahee River Collective African Americans;and lesbian feminism[lesbian feminism] Feminism;and African American women[African American women] [c]Race and ethnicity;Apr., 1977: Combahee River Collective Issues “A Black Feminist Statement”[1200] [c]Feminism;Apr., 1977: Combahee River Collective Issues “A Black Feminist Statement”[1200] [c]Publications;Apr., 1977: Combahee River Collective Issues “A Black Feminist Statement”[1200]

Many feminists believed that the specific concerns of black women should be secondary to the concerns of women in general, regardless of race or ethnicity. Since the women’s movement was made up of primarily white women, white women’s concerns were addressed. Similarly, members of many black civil rights groups gave secondary importance to women and paid little mind to women’s rights, let alone feminism, forces the groups felt threatened their antiracist directives. Out of a growing frustration with this marginalization, a group of black feminists formed the National Black Feminist Organization National Black Feminist Organization Black Feminist Organization, National (NBFO) in 1973 to address the specific concerns of black women.

In 1974, shortly after the first eastern regional conference of the NBFO, a black feminist group outside Boston Boston, Massachusetts was formed for political organizing. Initially, the group met to determine only what resources were available to them and to continue the politics of consciousness-raising and emotional solidarity they felt would enhance their lives. They also decided to form their own independent collective because of disagreements with what they considered the classist Classism;and African American lesbians[African American lesbians] and unfocused position of the NBFO. They became known as the Combahee River Collective, named after the river in South Carolina where Harriet Tubman led one of the first military engagements in U.S. history planned and executed by a woman. Tubman freed more than eight hundred enslaved blacks.

Despite trouble in their earlier years with internal conflict, the group grew in numbers and esteem. “In the process of consciousness-raising, actually life-sharing, we began to recognize the commonality of our experiences and, from that sharing and growing consciousness, to build a politics that will change our lives and inevitably end our oppression.” Eventually the group became not only a study group but also an important political organization for African American women.

The collective promoted equality through sisterhood and cooperation. Their initial politics were derived from the belief that “black women are inherently valuable, that our liberation is a necessity not as an adjunct to somebody else’s but because of our need as human persons for autonomy.” In addition to the oppression caused by race and gender, the collective also sought to address the concerns of lesbians and women in the “lower” working classes. They recognized that issues of sexual orientation, imperialism, and class position were also contributing to the oppression of African American women. Thus, utilizing the techniques of identity politics, the collective asserted a socialist ideal of equality for all peoples.

In April, 1977, the collective put forth a political manifesto called “A Black Feminist Statement.” This declaration has since become one of the defining documents of not only the black women’s movement but also the women’s movement in general, and it represents one of the earliest attempts at combating multiple, interlocking oppressions. The following outlines the guiding force of the collective:

The most general statement of our politics at the present time would be that we are actively committed to struggling against racial, sexual, heterosexual, and class oppression and see as our particular task the development of integrated analysis and practice based upon the fact that the major systems of oppression are interlocking.

This statement was critical because many people believed that multifocused, strategic action was the only way to address multiple forces of oppression. A coherent theory was needed to address the simultaneous effects of racism, sexism, heterosexism, and classism. The manifesto was one of the first steps toward developing this theory.

Significance

The black women’s movement has powerfully impacted the lives of African American women who have been neglected by other civil rights movements. Black feminists have raised awareness about the interrelatedness of sexism and racism, and heterosexism and classism, in the struggles for racial and sexual equality. Most important, black feminists have shed light on the specific struggles endured by black women and given solidarity and voice to those traditionally silenced or silent. The Combahee River Collective’s successes at consciousness-raising have been widely acclaimed.

Although the Combahee River Collective was disbanded in 1980, “A Black Feminist Statement” has continued to influence feminists, academics, civil rights leaders, and social reformers. The statement represents the earliest attempt by an African American feminist group to produce a manifesto. The document has become mandatory reading for students of the Civil Rights movement and for feminist and women’s studies. "Black Feminist Statement, A" (Combahee River Collective)[Black Feminist Statement] Combahee River Collective African Americans;and lesbian feminism[lesbian feminism] Feminism;and African American women[African American women]

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Collins, Patricia Hill. Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment. New York: Routledge, 1990.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">_______. Fighting Words: Black Women and the Search for Justice. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1998.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Combahee River Collective. “A Black Feminist Statement.” In All the Women Are White, All the Blacks Are Men, but Some of Us Are Brave, edited by Gloria Hull, Patricia Bell Scott, and Barbara Smith. Old Westbury, N.Y.: Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press, 1983.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Giddings, Paula J. When and Where I Enter: The Impact of Black Women on Race and Sex in America. New York: HarperCollins, 1984.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Naples, Nancy A. Community Activism and Feminist Politics: Organizing Across Race, Class, and Gender. New York: Routledge, 1998.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Wallace, Michele. “A Black Feminist’s Search for Sisterhood.” Village Voice, July, 1975, 6-7.

July 2-August 28, 1963: Rustin Organizes the March on Washington

May 1, 1970: Radicalesbians Issues “The Woman Identified Woman” Manifesto

November 7, 1972: Jordan Becomes First Black Congresswoman from the South

1981: This Bridge Called My Back Is Published

October, 1981: Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press Is Founded

1982: Lorde’s Autobiography Zami Is Published

September, 1983: First National Lesbians of Color Conference Convenes

1990: United Lesbians of African Heritage Is Founded

Categories: History Content