Celebrating Black Women’s Resistance on Juneteenth - Advancement Project - Advancement Project

Celebrating Black Women’s Resistance on Juneteenth

On the 154th anniversary of Juneteenth, a subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives will hold the first hearing on the topic of reparations for slavery since 2007. The hearing, which is the second in history, will focus in part on H.R. 40. H.R. 40, a piece of legislation that would employ a commission to study the legacy of slavery and consider reparations proposals.[1] While the fight for reparations gained prominence in recent years, the issue has been waged for centuries, championed by Black women.[2] However, media surrounding the upcoming hearing largely erases this history and centers the famous Black men (Danny Glover and Ta-Nehisi Coates who will give testimony. While they have contributed significant efforts to the cause, the centering of these men speaks to the long-standing tradition of erasing Black women’s work from the historical narrative.

Black women have been at the forefront of resistance movements throughout history, yet are seldom recognized or granted the historical memory they deserve – the fight for reparations is one such example.

Juneteenth celebrates an emancipation that would not have been possible without Black women’s fight for abolition. At this time, narratives served as powerful political instruments. Black women utilized this medium to subvert the prevailing narrative evidenced by works such as Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl: Written by Herself (1861) and The History of Mary Prince, a West Indian Slave Related by Herself (1831).[3] Harriet Jacobs’ Incidents transformed the conversation around slavery at the time, providing a powerful testimony to the pervasive role of sexual violence, garnering support for the abolitionist movement like never before.

The incorporation of demands for reparations into Black politics would not have been possible without the work of women such as Audley (“Queen Mother”) Moore. With her 1963 work, Why Reparations?, Moore offers one of the most extensive analyses on reparations, providing legal basis and reimaging what reparations could look like.[4] In her career which spanned eight decades, Moore traveled across the country organizing and encouraging groups such as the Black Panther Party to include reparations into their platforms. Moore was a critical member of the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America (N’COBRA), which has supported and worked alongside legislators to pass H.R. 40 since it was first introduced in 1989.[5][6] Thirty years later, as the House moves closer to this goal today, Moore’s decades-long work in pioneering the call for reparations must not be forgotten.

The fundamental role that Black women like Moore played in resistance movements is evident throughout history – past and present. Other examples are efforts post-emancipation, as systems of injustice and widespread racial violence terrorized Black communities. Ida B. Wells developed profound research and campaigns on the subject of lynching, radically challenging prevailing narratives. Arguing that lynching was a state-sanctioned tool that used criminality to justify the violence against Black people, she developed some of the most fundamental theory of the modern criminal justice movement.[7]

This Juneteenth, we celebrate and uplift the voices of Black women, who have pioneered the fight for freedom that we see today. History will remember their stories.

Join Advancement Project National Office in highlighting the work of these women and envisioning the future they’ll lead with the second event of our 2045 Project series, The Revolution = Black Women + Girls, July 16 in Washington, D.C. Register today!

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Mirielle Wright is an undergraduate student at Harvard University studying African-American Studies and Government. She is currently working as a Communications Intern at Advancement Project.

[1] Tovin Lapan, “House Hearing on Slavery Reparations Scheduled for Juneteenth,” Fortune, 18 June 2019, http://fortune.com/2019/06/18/slavery-reparations-hearing-juneteenth/.

[2] Ana Lucia Araujo, “The History of Black Women Championing Demands for Reparations,” Truthout, 1 June 2019, https://truthout.org/articles/the-history-of-black-women-championing-demands-for-reparations/.

[3] Darlene Clark Hine, Elsa Barkley, and Rosalyn Terborg-Penn, Black Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia (Brooklyn: Carlson Publishing, 1993), 129.

[4] Ashley Farmer, “Somebody Has to Pay: Audley Moore, Mother of the Reparations Movement,” Black Perspectives, 17 June 2015, https://www.aaihs.org/somebody-has-to-pay-audley-moore-mother-of-the-reparations-movement/.

[5] Ashley Farmer, “Audley Moore and the Modern Reparations Movement,” Black Perspectives, 28 February 2019,  https://www.aaihs.org/audley-moore-and-the-modern-reparations-movement/.

[6] “Legislation Strategies Commission,” http://ncobra.org/commissions/Legislation.html.

[7]Keisha N. Blain, “Ida B. Wells offered the solution to police violence more than 100 years ago,” Washington Post, 11 July 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/made-by-history/wp/2017/07/11/ida-b-wells-offered-the-solution-to-police-violence-more-than-100-years-ago/?utm_term=.3de2c8437c63.

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