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Hear Black Women's Voices

“Are You Listening: Black High School Girls"

Bernice Johnson Reagon smiling at the camera and gesturing with her right hand.Martha Stuart was a producer, reporter, writer, photographer, and founder of Martha Stuart Communications, an independent production company. After moving to New York in 1963, Stuart began to produce a show titled “Are You Listening,” which featured, in her words, "people who are endlessly talked about and rarely listened to." With “Are You Listening,” Stuart brought together groups of people who had a particular experience in common, and encouraged them to speak openly and candidly with each other in order to exchange their perspectives and experiences. 

In this 1968 episode of "Are You Listening: Black High School Girls," young women from South Bend, Indiana—who participated in an Upward Bound program at Saint Mary's College—talk about school, violence, parents, race, and role models.
Please note: The video opens with a loud test tone. The content begins at 1:35.

There are many episodes from Stuart's "Are You Listening" in the Martha Stuart collection. The collection also includes correspondence, professional papers, and other audiovisual items.

Boston Women's Community Radio

Drawing of two Black women on the cover of the pamphlet "11 Black Women. Why Did They Die?" published in 1979"Reading for Twelve Black Women Killed in Roxbury"

Starting in January and extending into late spring of 1979, twelve Black women and one white woman were murdered in Roxbury, Massachusetts. News coverage was lacking, but the community responded with vigorous action. They marched: nearly 500 people protested at Governor Kevin White’s residence in April, and 5,000 women marched at the August “Take Back the Night” event. They organized: the Combahee River Collective held events and published a series of pamphlets (including the one depicted here); the Coalition for Women’s Safety was created by women in the Greater Boston area. And they shared their voices: holding poetry readings, communicating to the governor, the mayor, the police, and their community. The murders and investigations were under reported, but the women are not forgotten by family, friends, or allies.

From the records of the Boston Women’s Community Radio collection, listen to audio of three poems read at a poetry reading, “Reading for Twelve Black Women Killed in Roxbury”:

This audio can be found in the Records of Boston Women's Community Radio (Call#: MC 710, T-317). Beginning in 1978, BWCR served as an umbrella organization and training ground for feminist radio producers and local community groups and aimed for high-quality programming that was entertaining as well as informative,and both political and cultural in content. Shows included sensitive issues such as sexual abuse, lesbian equality, lesbian parenting, children of divorce, Palestinian rights, women organizing in Central America; and they offered a musical blend of Latin American, African, jazz, rock, folk and women's music all highlighting women performers. Moreover, the yearly event featured women writers, playwrights, and poets, including work coming out of Jefferson Park Writing Center in Cambridge. Explore this collection in more detail through the finding aid for the Records of BWCR.

Melnea Cass

Portrait of Melnea Cass sitting at a tableMelnea A. Cass (1896–1978), called "Roxbury's First Lady" and "Roxbury's Elder Stateswoman," recalls the Boston Branch of the NAACP staging sit-ins to protest the Boston School Committee's segregation policies within the Boston Public School system. Cass was active in the NAACP (president, Boston branch 1962–1964); the Board of Overseers of Public Welfare (Boston). "Melnea Cass Day" was proclaimed by the mayor of Boston on May 22, 1966; and she was named Massachusetts State Mother of the Year in 1974. Melnea Cass Boulevard, which runs between Massachusetts Avenue and Tremont Street, opened in 1981.

This audio recording is part of The Black Women Oral History Project, interviews of 72 African American women recorded between 1976 and 1981. With support from the Schlesinger Library, the project recorded a cross section of women who had made significant contributions to American society during the first half of the 20th century. The interviews discuss family background, marriages, childhood, education and training, significant influences affecting narrators’ choice of primary career or activity, professional and voluntary accomplishments, union activities, and the ways in which being Black and a woman affected narrators’ options and the choices made. Interview transcripts and audio files are fully digitized.

Listen to Melnea A. Cass Oral History Interview. The Black Women's Oral History Project. Tahi L. Mottl (interviewer), February 1, 1977. A transcript [PDF] of Cass' interview is also available.

This audio recording is part of The Black Women Oral History Project, including interviews of 72 African American women recorded between 1976 and 1981. With support from the Schlesinger Library, the project recorded a cross section of women who had made significant contributions to American society during the first half of the 20th century. The interviews discuss family background, marriages, childhood, education and training, significant influences affecting narrators’ choice of primary career or activity, professional and voluntary accomplishments, union activities, and the ways in which being black and a woman affected narrators’ options and the choices made. Interview transcripts and audio files are fully digitized and can be accessed in the Black Women Oral History Project Research Guide.

Shirley Chisholm

Shirley Chisholm standing behnd a podium, under a sign reading "Political Caucus"Shirley Chisholm (1924–2005) was the first Black woman elected to Congress and served in the US House of Representatives for the 12th District of New York from 1969 to 1983.

In 1972, Chisholm ran for president. She announced her candidacy on January 25 of that year, in Brooklyn, New York, saying, “I am not the candidate of Black America, although I am Black and proud. I am not the candidate of the woman’s movement of this country, although I am a woman and equally proud of that. I am the candidate of the people and my presence before you symbolizes a new era in American political history.”

View the video: "Shirley Chisholm addresses the National Women's Political Caucus. Washington, DC, July 11, 1991" in the Schlesinger Library's Vimeo portfolio. A transcript [PDF] of Chisholm's address is also available.

This video is a clip form a longer video of speakers at the 1991 20th Anniversary Gala of the National Women's Political Caucus (NWPC). The full video can be found in two parts, digitized in the NWPC Videotape collection. Additional archival records and materials about and from the NWPC are available at the Schlesinger Library in the NWPC Papers, the Audiotape collection, and the State and Local Affiliates Newsletter collection.

Angela Davis

Angela Davis, behind bullet-proof glass, as she performsAngela Davis—scholar, author, and black feminist philosopher—is one of the most recognized political activists in the United States. She writes and lectures on social injustice, social movements, the intersections of race, gender, and class, the prison-industrial complex, and prison abolition. She has published many books, including Angela Davis: An Autobiography (1974); Women, Race, and Class (1983); Blues Legacies and Black Feminism: Gertrude "Ma" Rainey, Bessie Smith and Billie Holiday (1999); and Abolition Democracy: Beyond Prisons, Torture, and Empire (2005).

In 1970, Davis was charged as an accomplice to conspiracy, kidnapping, and murder. Her arrest sparked an international campaign to gain her release. In 1972, after a high-profile trial, she was acquitted of all charges. Davis is an advocate for prisoners' rights and a founding member of Critical Resistance, a national organization dedicated to abolishing the prison industrial complex.

View a video of Angela Davis speaking at a Critical Resistance meeting about the "prison industrial complex" (ca. 1998).

More detail about Davis, her activism, and more archival materials can be found in the finding aid for the Angela Davis Papers.

Alfreda Barnett Duster

Alfreda Duster, seated, with her hands crossed.

Alfreda Barnett Duster (1904–1983) was a social worker and community activist in Chicago. She is the daughter of civil rights leaders Ida B. Wells and Ferdinand L. Barnett. Duster served as the Juvenile Delinquency Prevention Coordinator, assigned to the Southside Community Committee. She also administered the girls' program at Camp Illini, a country residential camp for urban children. Later in life she worked for the Woodlawn Community Services Agency, Catalyst for Youth, a talent search project that counseled high school students prior to entering college. Duster edited and published Crusade for Justice: The Autobiography of Ida B. Wells (University of Chicago Press, 1970), the autobiography of her mother.

In the selected portion of Alfreda Duster’s interview, she tells of her life growing up in Chicago as the daughter of two prominent civil rights leaders and the influence this had on her own life’s work. She recounts one family story of Susan B. Anthony cautioning her mother not to have children; advice—fortunately for Duster—Ida Barnett-Wells ignored.

Listen to a selection from the Alfreda Barnett Duster Oral History Interview, part of The Black Women Oral History Project. Marcia M. Greenlee (interviewer), March 8, 1978. A transcript [PDF] of this selection is also available.

The complete audio and transcript of the Duster interview is part of The Black Women Oral History Project, including interviews of 72 African American women recorded between 1976 and 1981. With support from the Schlesinger Library, the project recorded a cross section of women who had made significant contributions to American society during the first half of the 20th century. The interviews discuss family background, marriages, childhood, education and training, significant influences affecting narrators’ choice of primary career or activity, professional and voluntary accomplishments, union activities, and the ways in which being black and a woman affected narrators’ options and the choices made. Interview transcripts and audio files are fully digitized and can be accessed in the Black Women Oral History Project Research Guide.

Mary Gibson Hundley

Portrait of Mary Gibson Hundley, circa 1952

Imagine being evicted from the home you bought and paid for, owing to the color of your skin. This happened to Mary Gibson Hundley in the 1940s, and she and her husband fought back. Hundley (1897–1986) was an educator and civil rights activist who graduated cum laude from Radcliffe College in 1918. Radcliffe College honored her in 1978 with the Alumnae Recognition Award for her service as an educator and "courageous citizen." One aspect of that service, her life-long involvement with Dunbar High School—founded in 1870 as the first college preparatory school for Blacks in the nation—is detailed in her book, The Dunbar Story, 1870–1955 (1965). As a result of this work, Hundley was credited with inspiring generations of Black students to pursue higher education and enroll in Ivy League colleges.

In January 1941 Hundley and her husband Frederick purchased and moved into a house in a neighborhood with a restrictive covenant. A restrictive covenant is an agreement limiting the free use or occupancy of property, usually based on race or religion. By the end of 1941, their white neighbors brought and won a lawsuit against the Hundleys, resulting in their eviction from their home in July 1942. That judgment was successfully reversed on appeal in December 1942 (Hundley et ux. v. Gorewitz et al. No. 8154 US Court of Appeals for DC, 1942). The case was later cited in Shelley v. Kraemer, 334 US1-23 (1947), which established that covenants restricting use and ownership of property to whites violated the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. Hundley related the experience in this 1947 radio broadcast of the program "Americans All." Listen to “Americans All,” a 1947 Washington, DC, radio program with Mary Gibson Hundley, Leon A. Ransom, et. al. A transcript [PDF] of the full program is also available.

This audio is found in the Mary Gibson Hundley collection. Explore the full collection through the Hundley finding aid.

Mildred Jefferson

Mildred Jefferson, wearing a hat, surrounded by people at a conference.Surgeon and pro-life activist Mildred Jefferson (1926–2010) was the first Black woman to graduate from Harvard Medical School in 1951. Beginning in 1970, Jefferson was active in the pro-life movement and instrumental in founding pro-life organizations in Massachusetts and across the United States.

Jefferson was president of the National Right to Life Committee when its annual convention was held in Boston in the summer of 1976. Invoking the bicentennial of the United States, Jefferson’s presidential address looked to extend the “unalienable rights” of the Constitution to the unborn child. Jefferson spoke urgently about the needs of poor women, and how the pro-life community had a responsibility to care for and assist them.

A gifted orator, Jefferson found public speaking to be an effective way to communicate her ideas about the value of life and her opposition to abortion. She encouraged young people to develop oratorical and rhetorical skills through a contest run by the Massachusetts National Right to Life Committee. Listen to Mildred Jefferson address the National Right to Life Conference, June 24, 1976

A transcript [PDF] of Jefferson's full speech is also available.

This audio is found in the Mildred Jefferson collection. Explore the full collection through the Jefferson finding aid.

June Jordan

Portrait of June Jordan seated outdoors in grass, c.1970-1975Poet and activist June Jordan (1936–2002) wrote powerfully about liberation from race and gender discrimination. Jordan’s poems often addressed violence and injustice faced by women and black people in the United States.

Jordan wrote “Poem About Police Violence” in 1978 after the murder of Arthur Miller in Brooklyn, New York. New York City police choked Miller to death on June 14, 1978. The poem was published in Jordan’s book Passion (Beacon Press, 1980).

Listen to Jordan read her poem "Poem On Police Violence” and access a transcript of Jordan's reading.

More detail about Jordan, her writing and life, and more archival materials can be found in the finding aid for the June Jordan Papers, the finding aid for the June Jordan Audio collection, and the finding aid for the June Jordan Video collection.

Florynce "Flo" Kennedy

Florynce Kennedy sitting in a chair, chin in handLawyer and radical activist Florynce "Flo" Kennedy (1916–2000) fought discrimination in the courtroom and on the streets. Kennedy represented Black musicians fighting for control of their music, the Black Panthers, and radical feminist Valerie Solanas, and was involved with several cases against New York’s restrictive abortion laws. Outside of the courtroom, Kennedy used her flamboyant personal style and theatrical flair to stage public actions protesting racism and sexism. Dissatisfied with the more liberal politics of mainstream women's organizations such as NOW, Kennedy founded the Feminist Party in 1971 and cofounded the National Black Feminist Organization in 1973.

"The Feminist Party Street Walks" shows several Feminist Party actions, or "street walks," in New York City—beginning with one outside the New York Times office, protesting a lack of coverage of Shirley Chisholm's 1972 presidential campaign. Another clip shows Feminist Party members in front of St. Patrick's Cathedral. Kennedy and the Feminist Party were opposed to the Catholic Church’s involvement in abortion politics. Activists in the street walks sing popular songs with rewritten, humorous lyrics, and many include profanities.

View the video of "Feminist Street Party Walks". Special note: This video contains language some viewers may consider offensive (several instances of f*ck and s*it).

This audio recording is part of Kennedy's personal papers, housed at the Schlesinger. More detail about Kennedy's life, activism, legal career, and more archival materials can be found in the finding aid for the Florynce Kennedy Papers.

 

Audre Lorde

Pat Parker and Audre Lorde laughing at the Berkely Women's Center,May 9, 1981.The poetry of Audre Lorde (1934–1992) often explores the tensions and joys of her overlapping identities as a black woman, a feminist, and a lesbian. In the introduction to this 1981 reading Lorde addresses these issues of intersectionality, saying to the women in the crowd, "I am also very, very conscious of those things which separate us, of the causes, of anger, and of the reasons why we do not hear each other when we do not hear each other."

"Afterimages" comes from a set of poems called "Women in Rage," and it centers on the story of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old black boy who was brutally murdered in Mississippi in the summer of 1955.

Listen to Lorde reading "Afterimages” and read the transcript of Lorde's reading.

This audio recording can be found in the Records of Persephone Press (Call#: MC 1030, T-439). Persephone Press was founded in 1976 in Watertown, Massachusetts, as a lesbian-feminist collective originally called Pomegranate Productions. The goal of Persephone Press was to produce innovative material to foster lesbian sensibility and to effect social change by building a successful feminist publishing company and communications network. In its short time in operation (1976-1983), Persephone Press published a number of extremely influential books, including The Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color, edited by Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa (1981), and Audre Lorde's Zami: A New Spelling of My Name (1982). More detail about Persephone Press and other archival materials can be found in the finding aid for the Records of Persephone Press.

Pauli Murray

Pauli Murray at a microphone, reading her poetry, 1977.Pauli Murray was an Episcopal priest, attorney, and civil rights activist and became an enduring voice for freedom and equal opportunity during her lifetime (1910–1985). She was a founding member of the Congress of Racial Equality and the National Organization for Women, as well as a pioneer of African American genealogy.

“Dark Testament” was published in Murray’s only book of poetry, Dark Testament and Other Poems (1970), a compilation of poems written between 1933 and 1941. In an interview with Genna Rae McNeil in 1976, part of the Southern Oral History Program, Murray said this about her poetry: “I think the same thing that made me write poetry, Dark Testament, the same kind of …I don't know whether to call it fire, the same kind of unrest, the same kind of response to situations, made me participate in activities. I'm inclined to think that when I could effectively act, I did not write. When I could not act, when I was blocked from acting, it came out in words. It had to come out in some way … but that in each case, I was striving for the highest form of action. I didn't say that I achieved it, but that I was striving for the highest form of action.”

Listen to audio of Pauli Murray reading "Dark Testament." Also available is a transcript of the "Dark Testament" audio recording [PDF].

More detail about Murray's life and more archival materials can be found in the finding aid for the Pauli Murray Papers.

Pat Parker

Pat Parker on stage reading, Nov 6, 1978African American feminist lesbian poet Pat Parker (1944–1989) published her first book of poetry, Child of Myself, in 1972. In 1978 Parker became director of Oakland's Feminist Women's Health Center and in 1980 she founded the Black Women's Revolutionary Council, a group of revolutionary feminists intended to educate people about the effects of racism, classism, and sexism. Her other works included Womanslaughter (1978), Movement in Black: The Collected Poetry of Pat Parker, 1961–1978 (1978), and Jonestown and Other Madness (1985).

In this recording, Parker reads the title poem from Jonestown and Other Madness, which alludes to the mass murder-suicide that took place at the People Temple Agricultural Project in Guyana in 1978 at the behest of charismatic cult leader Jim Jones. About 70 percent of the number of victims in Jonestown were Black. 

Listen to audio of Pat Parker reading “Jonestown and Other Madness” and read the transcript [PDF] of Parker's reading.

More detail about Parker's life and more archival materials can be found in the finding aid for the Pat Parker Papers.

Rosa Parks

Group protrait of Rosa Parks and her 8 granddaughters.Rosa Parks (1913-2005) recalls the evening she refused to leave her seat for a white man on her bus ride home from work on December 1, 1955, in Montgomery, Alabama. Her courageous act of civil disobedience set in motion the Montgomery Bus Boycott and, a year later, the Supreme Court decision in Browder v. Gayle (1956) that ruled that Montgomery's bus segregation laws were unconstitutional. At the time of her arrest, Parks worked as a seamstress in a department store and served as secretary for the local chapter of the NAACP. Fired from her job, she stayed in Montgomery until the boycott forced an end to all discriminatory practices on the bus lines. In 1957 she and her husband moved to Detroit, Michigan, where in 1965 she took a part-time job as receptionist and administrative aide in the office of Congressman John Conyers. She was the first woman in 1980 to receive the Martin Luther King, Jr., Nonviolent Peace Prize.

Listen to Rosa Parks Oral History Interview, Detroit, Michigan, The Black Women's Oral History Project. Marcia McAdoo Greenlee (interviewer), August 22 and 23, 1978. A transcript [PDF] of the Parks interview is also available.

This audio recording is part of The Black Women Oral History Project, including interviews of 72 African American women recorded between 1976 and 1981. With support from the Schlesinger Library, the project recorded a cross section of women who had made significant contributions to American society during the first half of the 20th century. The interviews discuss family background, marriages, childhood, education and training, significant influences affecting narrators’ choice of primary career or activity, professional and voluntary accomplishments, union activities, and the ways in which being black and a woman affected narrators’ options and the choices made. Interview transcripts and audio files are fully digitized and can be accessed in the Black Women Oral History Project Research Guide.

Bernice Johnson Reagon

Bernice Johnson Reagon smiling at the camera and gesturing with her right hand.Bernice Johnson Reagon (b. 1942) is a scholar of American history, social activist, composer, and performing artist. She was an original member of the Freedom Singers, a group that used a cappella protest song, chants, and communal singing as tools of civil rights activism alongside the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in the 1960s. In 1973 while working on her doctorate in history at Howard University, Reagon formed the Grammy-nominated African American women's a cappella ensemble Sweet Honey in the Rock, which she led until her retirement in 2004.

In this recording, Reagon sings a song with lyrics taken from June Jordan's poem "Getting Down to Get Over," which was published in the 1974 book New Days: Poems of Exile and Return. Reagon also recites Jordan's "Poem about My Rights" from the 1980 collection Passion. A transcript [PDF] of Reagon's recitation is also available.

This audio is an excerpt from a longer audio recording found in the June Jordan Audiotape collection. The full recording is digitized and accessible in the Jordan Audiotape finding aid. More material relating to both Reagon and Jordan can be reviewed in a search for "Bernice Johnson Reagon" and a search for "June Jordan" in the HOLLIS catalog.

Muriel Snowden

Portrait of Muriel Snowden, leaning on her arms.Muriel Sutherland Snowden (1916–1988) was founder and codirector of Freedom House, Boston, a social service agency established to develop effective citizen participation and to promote interracial understanding and cooperation. She graduated from Radcliffe College in 1938 and studied at the New York School of Social Work. Snowden was executive director of the Cambridge Civic Unity Committee and was an adjunct lecturer at the Simmons College School of Social Work. She served on many organizational boards in the Boston area, including Shawmut Bank, Radcliffe College Alumnae Association, Associated Harvard Alumni, and the board of overseers at both Harvard College and the University of Massachusetts. In this clip, Snowden discusses growing up in the all-white neighborhood of Glen Ridge, New Jersey, and the discrimination she experienced. Listen to track #3 of the Muriel Snowden Oral History Interview, the Black Women's Oral History Project, Cheryl Gilkes (interviewer), October 30, 1977. A transcript [PDF] of track #3 of the Snowden interview is also available.

This audio recording and the other Snowden tapes (six reels in total) is part of The Black Women Oral History Project, including interviews of 72 African American women recorded between 1976 and 1981. With support from the Schlesinger Library, the project recorded a cross section of women who had made significant contributions to American society during the first half of the 20th century. The interviews discuss family background, marriages, childhood, education and training, significant influences affecting narrators’ choice of primary career or activity, professional and voluntary accomplishments, union activities, and the ways in which being black and a woman affected narrators’ options and the choices made. Interview transcripts and audio files are fully digitized and can be accessed in the Black Women Oral History Project Research Guide.

 

Dorothy West

Dorothy West, leaning forward, seated at her writing desk.The writer Dorothy West (1907–1988) is best known for her 1948 novel The Living Is Easy about upper class African Americans in Boston, Massachusetts, where she was born and raised. West began writing short stories at a very young age. When she was still just a teenager, she won second prize in a contest in Opportunity, a journal of the National Urban League, for her story "The Typewriter." In 1926, West moved to New York City and became involved in the artistic and intellectual movement known as the Harlem Renaissance; West's friends included such prominent figures as Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen, Zora Neale Hurston, and Claude McKay.

In this clip from Dorothy West's 1978 interview for the Black Women Oral History Project, she speaks about the influence of her parents, including her father, who was born into slavery. She also recalls the "subtle prejudice" she experienced during her early years in Boston and how her understanding of herself as a writer and a Black woman was shaped by these surroundings.

Listen to a selection from the Dorothy West Oral History Interview, part of The Black Women Oral History Project. Genii Guinier (interviewer), May 6, 1978. A transcript [PDF] of this selection is also available.

The complete audio and transcript of the West interview is part of The Black Women Oral History Project, including interviews of 72 African American women recorded between 1976 and 1981. With support from the Schlesinger Library, the project recorded a cross section of women who had made significant contributions to American society during the first half of the 20th century. The interviews discuss family background, marriages, childhood, education and training, significant influences affecting narrators’ choice of primary career or activity, professional and voluntary accomplishments, union activities, and the ways in which being black and a woman affected narrators’ options and the choices made. Interview transcripts and audio files are fully digitized and can be accessed in the Black Women Oral History Project Research Guide.

More detail about West's life, writings, other work, and more archival materials can be found in the Dorothy West Papers.

Woman Alive!

A still frame from theDecember 9, 1975 Woman Alive! video.

This episode of Woman Alive!, a television show developed by Ms. magazine and public television, features the short film (beginning at 06:50), Consider the Source by filmmaker Bonda E. Lee. The film begins with footage of people crossing New York City streets while the narrator, Lynn H. Ball, reads quotes from black and white women regarding their views on racism, sexism, and capitalism. After an opening title credit, the film places the current state of racial inequality through the history of slavery and into the modern women's movement. Forty-five years later, many of the same "distortions and perpetuations" are still resonant today. View video: Woman Alive! Series 1, episode 8, December 9, 1975. The film Consider the Source starts at time marker 06:50.

 

This and other videos along with program books and other material can be found in the Woman Alive! collection. All of the video has been digitized and is accessible online. Explore the full collection and access the videos through the Woman Alive! finding aid.