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Keisha Blain Interviews Barbara Smith as she Looks Back on a Lifetime of Black Feminist Struggle

Barbara Smith is one of the most influential Black feminists of our time.

Smith co-founded the Combahee River Collective in 1974—best known for its groundbreaking Combahee River Collective Statement, which called attention to racism in the feminist movement and sexual oppression in the Black community. Since the 1970s, Smith has written extensively on Black feminist thought. Her landmark essay, “Toward a Black Feminist Criticism,” published in 1977, underscored the significance of sexuality in reading Black women’s literature. 

In 1980, Smith co-founded, with Audre Lorde, the publishing house Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press, which exclusively published writings by women of color. In 1982, she coedited, with Patricia Bell-Scott and Gloria T. Hull, the first Black women’s studies anthology—All the Women Are White, All the Blacks Are Men, But Some of Us Are Brave. A year later, she edited Home Girls: A Black Feminist Anthology, a trailblazing collection which featured writings by Black feminist and lesbian activists.

In an exclusive interview, Smith looked back on her activist career for Ms.—and took stock of the progress we’ve made and the fights we still have left ahead.

Tell us more about how you became an activist. How did your upbringing, and early experiences growing up in the U.S., affect your desire to engage in social and political activism?

I was born in Cleveland in 1946, which means that I was born during the last decades of official Jim Crow. Most of my family had migrated to Cleveland from Dublin, Georgia following World War I. Although they did not talk in detail about the horrors of domestic terrorism that they had experienced, they nurtured an alert level of racial consciousness in my twin sister and me. I often describe them as race women. They talked with each other in our hearing about the news, especially news that affected our people. When the Civil Rights movement began to get national attention, through the new medium of television, they paid close attention to what was going on. They also read Black newspapers, kept in touch with family members down South, and were active in our church where the minister consistently spoke out about racial issues.

Read entire article at Ms. Magazine