Black Feminism and The CRM: Not A Winning Combination

Michele Wallace in office at City College of New York pondering. by Stacy Long.

I am just now at the CUNY Graduate Center waiting for someone who has become one of my favorite students, Maribi Henriquez. I think this may be a name you may be hearing a lot. She is sitting in on the Black Feminism class and has enrolled with me for the completion of her MALS thesis.  She is, herself, Dominican American, and is interested in the role of East Coast Latina women in the Civil Rights Movement and/or the Women's Movement. Such an interest turns out to be more daunting than I thought since in the Women's Movement apparently the most active and the most quoted and published Latina women have been Chicano.  Until meeting and talking with Maribi, and now reading her thesis, I hadn't realized that. She needs papers signed today because she plans to graduate in May, so I thought I had better read her draft, which she sent me perhaps two weeks ago, and it was so wonderful and so educational for me. I am planning to ask her if perhaps we can share it with people in the class.

In any case, Maribi's plan is to go on to do her Ph.D. in Women's Studies at one of the few places in the country where this is possible, at Rutger's University where Women's Studies began and has continued full strength.  Maribi was among my students in this class who were present last week at our symposium event, Black Feminism, the Civil Rights Movement and African Anti-Colonial Struggle. I expected that it would be videotaped or streamed or at least audio recorded, as are many events at the Graduate Center but sadly it was not to be although there were world class black feminist scholars presenting--Barbara Ransby, the author of books on Ella Baker and Eslanda Robeson, as well as the Editor of Souls, Beverly Guy-Sheftall, author of Gender Talk, and so many other works in Women's Studies as well as the former Director of the National Women's Studies Association, and Jeanne Theoharis, author of the new book on Rosa Parks as well as numerous other works on women in the Civil Rights Movement.

That there is so little record of what was said was disappointing but this is what happens when you count on others, particularly when the others have anything to do with CUNY.  For a variety of reasons Women's Studies is generally not well regarded in the Academy, and particularly at the CUNY Graduate Center although the same is very much true at the City College of New York where I teach as well.  The reasons for this are many and complex, and some of them I would not even dare to say out loud much less write about it on my curriculum blog for the world to see should they choose to do so.

In any case, I did manage to have some documentation including many photographs taken by photography friend and student Stacy Long, who is also a member of the Black Feminism class at CCNY, as well as a few short films of some of the talks. My co-convener Funke and I had quite a time pulling this program together, including her panel on African Anti-Colonialism, given our demanding teaching schedules (3/3).  Although I wasn't particularly gratified by the reception of the Graduate Center (where there are always a million things going on simultaneously in any case), I was deeply moved by the attendance and support of my students from both the Graduate Center and the City College of New York.  I imagined that it would be an opportunity for them to meet one another--since the two classes are so different in strengths and constituency.  The overwhelming majority of all of my students were able to attend, perhaps a total of about 25.  And I think now that it was important to have such an event even though it was in a sense "hidden in plain sight.

One thing I liked about it a lot was the chance to see Barbara Ransby, Beverly Guy Sheftall and Jeanne Theoharis in action.  They were superb, each in her own way.  I would love to see all three featured at a real event focused on Feminism and the Civil Rights Movement. Since I have been teaching this topic, I have noticed from time to time events that have been given with a focus on women in the Civil Rights Movement and now I will continue to pursue this interest. As the author of Black Macho and The Myth of the Superwoman, such topics are of continued interest to me and I am still learning. 

We are just about to leave for our Spring break and when we return we will only have a few more classes.  We will want to do something focused on the music of the Civil Rights Movement, with singing and live accompaniment by Rev. Lowell Coleman (who is sitting in on the class at CCNY) and something on photography and visual art, maybe even a field trip either to Carrie Mae Weems' show at the Guggenheim Museum or Witness at the Brooklyn Museum.  All I know is tht I am exhausted but everything having to do with this subject matter energizes me.

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