Transcribed remarks from a Freedom Socialist newspaper staff retreat, May 17, 1977
The capacity of leadership of minority women comes from experience. I and other women radicals learned this through an empirical process of observation and practical knowledge. It was clear to us from the living reality of our experiences in Seattle’s largely Black Central District in the ’50s and ’60s, and my experiences with minority women in the SWP in the ’40s. We saw the dynamism of this leadership. We did not simply add up oppressions mathematically and pronounce some women leaders.
FSP does not make automatic connections about how oppressed you are and your capacity for leadership. In minority women, we found a fantastic degree of not only consciousness but of militancy and combativeness and organizational ability. We saw minority women rise to the leadership of the civil rights movement and get smashed down and we saw that they weren’t destroyed. They were destroyed as leaders, but never destroyed as individuals and never destroyed as thinkers and strategists of the movement.
FSP knows that there is a group like Black women where the objective exploitation and oppression meet and come into consonance with a certain degree of combativeness and articulateness which grows out of their lives’ experiences that results in leadership material. We have never said that because you were so objectively oppressed that you would automatically rise to leadership. We have said given a certain degree of exploitation and oppression and a certain experience and sociological conditioning in life that you will develop the kind of personality that will put you in line for leadership material and we said this because we observed it.
We didn’t only observe this in Seattle. Who started the whole fight for civil rights in our epoch? Rosa Parks, when she refused to take that back seat in the back of the bus and started the Montgomery bus boycott which made a hero out of Martin Luther King. Nobody knew about Rosa Parks. But Rosa Parks was not an isolated individual but a representative of a whole massive community of Black women, workingclass women, unionized women who were fed up. And the entire leadership of the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee and Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party were Black women and also the leadership of the Muslim movement, as well as the secret is kept, was Black women.
In every single civil rights movement in the ’60s the leadership was Black women. Those women were smashed and sent back home. They’re still there—they are going to rise again. The Black movement has been smashed as we predicted—we didn’t want this and we warned against it—because of smashing the Black woman. Today the Black movement is hardly to be found. But it will rise again. And this time when it rises, Black women will come forward with an inextinguishable force and energy and momentum that will not be put down.