Radical Black Women, Leadership, and the Struggle for Liberation

Monthly Review
a book review by Antonio Lopez

Dayo F. Gore, Jeanne Theoharis, Komozi Woodard, eds.  Want to Start a Revolution?: Radical Women in the Black Freedom Struggle.  New York: New York University Press, 2009.

In the last two decades, a growing field of movement scholarship has complicated conventional representations of Black Power in the United States.  Historians have produced biographies of civil rights leaders, social histories of postwar civil rights organizations, intellectual histories of black liberation thought, and new studies of the Black Panther Party that undermine the artificial structures traditionally used to frame and demarcate civil rights activism and Black Power resistance.1 Building upon the memoirs of Panther members and political prisoners, and new examinations of urban politics, recent historiography has provided students with a deeper appreciation of the oppression faced by black people in the United States, the politicization of black communities, and the freedom dreams of activists.2

Despite the growing interest in the politics of black radicalism, the editors of Want to Start a Revolution?: Radical Women in the Black Freedom Struggle explain that the vital contributions and radical political perspectives of black women remain largely overlooked.  In the introduction to this compilation of essays, the editors Dayo Gore, Jeanne Theoharis, and Komozi Woodard state: “Although, a new generation of scholars has greatly expanded our knowledge of black radicalism and the black freedom struggle, they have left intact a ‘leading man’ master narrative that misses crucial dimensions of the postwar freedom struggle and minimizes the contributions of women.  Such histories have neglected crucial dimensions of the postwar black radical tradition that held black women’s self-emancipation as pivotal to black liberation” (p. 2). Continue reading