The Combahee River Collective
Black women have and continue to be leaders in the movement to end sexual and domestic violence.
“We are a collective of Black feminists who have been meeting together since 1974.”
These words open The Combahee River Collective Statement published in April 1977, one of the earliest documents to define the movement of Black feminism, especially in the context of lesbian identity. The collective’s name was inspired by the Combahee River Raid coordinated by Harriet Tubman to free slaves in South Carolina.
Founding and early members included Barbara Smith, Beverly Smith, Demita Frazier, Cheryl Clarke, Akasha Hull, Margo Okazawa-Rey, Chirlane McCray, and Audre Lorde. Their statement explored the intersections of race and class in the oppression of Black women, while also identifying the privilege and power of white feminism.
“Black feminists and many more Black women who do not define themselves as feminists have all experienced sexual oppression as a constant factor in our day-to-day existence…it difficult to separate race from class from sex oppression because in our lives they are most often experienced simultaneously.”
The collective defined its political position as “a healthy love for ourselves, our sisters and our community which allows us to continue our struggle and work.” This love was enacted during six months in 1979 in a suburb on the south side of Boston during the Roxbury murders.
Two Black women were brutally murdered in January of that year. During the next five months, nine more Black women would be killed. The murders received little to no attention until The Combahee River Collective launched a coordinated awareness campaign. Members canvased the community to alert women of color in the area and published pamphlets that identified systemic racism and sexism as cause for the murders. Their protests and marches shined a light on ineffective police investigations and the lack of media attention.
Although meetings of the collective ended in 1980, the final sentence from their statement gives voice to the continuation of shared commitment: “As Black feminists and Lesbians we know that we have a very definite revolutionary task to perform and we are ready for the lifetime of work and struggle before us.”
The featured image at top of page was retrieved from timeline.org. For more information about resources linked in this post, please visit these links:
- BlackPast, B. (2012, November 16) (1977) The Combahee River Collective Statement. Retrieved from https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/combahee-river-collective-statement-1977/
- Leichner, H. (2012, December 21) Combahee River Raid (June 2, 1863). Retrieved from https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/combahee-river-raid-june-2-1863/
- “Why did they die? A document of Black feminism,” Radical America, Vol 13, No 8 (November-December), 41-47. Retrieved from https://library.brown.edu/pdfs/1124979008226934.pdf