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What were some of Betty Friedan’s stated concerns about “radical” feminism that “borrowed too heavily from the Black Power and new left movements” (p. 240)? Do you think she was right to be concerned about the efficacy of Atkinson and Kennedy’s “radical” frames and tactics? Support your position with an example from the CRM.Let me know if you need anything.
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Betty Friedan Concerns On Radical Feminism Discussions
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10
“Women’s Liberation
or . . . Black Liberation,
You’re Fighting the Same Enemies”
Florynce Kennedy, Black Power, and Feminism
Copyright © 2009. New York University Press. All rights reserved.
Sherie M. Randolph
Several decades after the political upheavals of the sixties, very
few people recognize the name of the Black feminist lawyer and activist
Florynce “Flo” Kennedy (1916–2000). However, during the late 1960s and
1970s, Kennedy was the most well-known Black feminist in the country.1
When reporting on the emergence of the women’s movement, the media
covered her early membership in the National Organization for Women
(NOW), her leadership of countless guerrilla theater protests, and her
work as a lawyer helping to repeal New York’s restrictive abortion laws.2
Indeed, Black feminist Jane Galvin-Lewis and white feminists Gloria
Steinem and Ti-Grace Atkinson credit Kennedy with helping to educate
a generation of young women about feminism in particular and radical
political organizing more generally.3
However, presently Kennedy’s activism is marginalized or completely
erased from most histories of “second-wave” feminism. On the rare occasion that Kennedy is mentioned, it is usually only to reference her exceptional status as one of the few black women involved in the mainstream
white feminist movement.4 Kennedy is a significant exemplar of the exclusion of key Black feminist organizers from most feminist scholarship
on the movement: the erasure of her critical role speaks to the ways in
which feminist literature has failed to see black women as progenitors of
contemporary feminism. In response to such historical effacement, this
223
Theoharis, Jeanne, and Komozi Woodard. Want to Start a Revolution? : Radical Women in the Black Freedom
Struggle, edited by Dayo Gore, New York University Press, 2009. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/gatech/d
Created from gatech on 2018-12-30 16:35:29.
Copyright © 2009. New York University Press. All rights reserved.
Image Not Available
Flo Kennedy AP photo.
224
Theoharis, Jeanne, and Komozi Woodard. Want to Start a Revolution? : Radical Women in the Black Freedom
Struggle, edited by Dayo Gore, New York University Press, 2009. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/gatech/detail.a
Created from gatech on 2018-12-30 16:35:29.
Copyright © 2009. New York University Press. All rights reserved.
“Women’s Liberation or . . . Black Liberation” 225
essay resurrects Kennedy’s political contribution to sixties radicalism and
uncovers a Black feminist politics and practice that not only were connected to the mainstream feminist movement but also were closely allied
to the Black Power struggle. In doing so, it challenges previously held
rigid dichotomies between the Black Power and second-wave women’s
movements and illuminates the centrality of Black feminism and Flo Kennedy to both movements.
Kennedy’s assertion that she could “understand feminism [and sexism]
better because of the discrimination against Black people”5 and because of
her work in black movements helps us to isolate the Black Power movement as a significant force in shaping contemporary feminist struggles.
Earlier feminist movement scholarship ignores or undervalues the connections between Black Power and feminist struggles. Studies of independent black feminists and the predominantly white feminist movements
accurately cite the increased masculinity that kept feminism and black
nationalism divided.6 They are not wrong to do so, but positioning Black
Power as primarily an antagonistic influence misses what the movement
might tell us about how both black and white feminists understood liberation and revolution. Connecting both black and white feminists to organizations such as the Black Panther Party and the Black Power Conferences
tells us a great deal about how feminists worked toward reconstructing the
society in which they lived. While some recent scholarship has helped to
expand our understanding of the Black Power movement’s relationship to
feminism,7 there is still much to be understood about the ways in which
the Black Power movement was connected to feminist radicalism. I argue
that Kennedy’s example forces us to see how the strategies and theories
understood to have originated in Black Power struggles were absorbed, if
at times unevenly, by both black and white feminists.
Kennedy was simultaneously a Black feminist and a black nationalist
who built alliances between the mostly white feminist and Black Power
movements during the postwar period that Black feminist historian Paula
Giddings calls the “masculine decade.” The 1960s witnessed a increase in
political appeals to black masculinity as many Black Power radicals demanded that black women assume an auxiliary role to black men and address their energy toward the family.8 Kennedy, like other Black feminists,
criticized these antiquated gender norms.9 Despite her critiques of Black
Power and her close relationship to the feminist struggle, Kennedy continued to work inside the Black Power movement as a lawyer for Black
Power leaders H. Rap Brown and Assata Shakur, as a fund-raiser for
Theoharis, Jeanne, and Komozi Woodard. Want to Start a Revolution? : Radical Women in the Black Freedom
Struggle, edited by Dayo Gore, New York University Press, 2009. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/gatech/d
Created from gatech on 2018-12-30 16:35:29.
Copyright © 2009. New York University Press. All rights reserved.
226 Sherie M. Randolph
numerous Black Panther Party political campaigns, and as an organizer
and delegate of the Black Power Conferences (1967–1972).10
Many Black Power advocates were equally critical of the predominantly white women’s movement, arguing that feminism was divisive, racist, and a diversion. Black nationalists often accused Black feminists of
merely aping white feminist directives.11 Kennedy, however, maintained
that a movement devoted to ending sexist oppression was vital for both
women and men. She worked in predominantly white feminist organizations (such as NOW and the October 17th Movement—later known as
The Feminists) throughout the 1960s and 1970s and independent Black
feminist organizations (such as the National Black Feminist Organization
and Black Women United for Political Action) in the 1970s and 1980s.
Years later, Kennedy commented on what many viewed as the incompatibility between her various political locations, noting that despite her
close relationship to the feminist movement and white feminists, she was
never forced by black nationalists to denounce her feminist affiliations or
to “separate . . . as a feminist from the black movement.”12 This was in part
because the feminism she espoused was deeply entrenched in the theories
and strategies of the Black Power struggle, most notably its commitment
to ending white supremacy and imperialism. Indeed, she grounded her
critiques of sexism within the Black Power movement’s radical criticism
of racism and empire. Moreover, like many other radicals, she viewed the
Black Power movement as the vanguard movement of the era.13 As such,
her work inside white feminist organizations emphasized challenges to
racism and was intricately connected to the Black Power struggle. Much
of her activism and writing exemplify how she maneuvered between what
most contemporary observers and scholars see as inherently oppositional
movements, in an attempt to extend black nationalism outside of Black
Power circles and into primarily white feminist spaces.14
The midsixties were a watershed period for both the Black Power and
women’s movements. Civil rights organizations like the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) rejected their previous integrationist ideology and began to
promote black nationalist frameworks and strategies. Even a few black
elected officials, including Adam Clayton Powell Jr., began advocating
Black Power and held a Black Power Conference at the nation’s capitol in
hopes of bringing together leaders interested in organizing a nationwide
Black Power platform. In the mid-sixties, through the efforts of CORE,
SNCC, the Black Power Conference, and other organizations, the Black
Theoharis, Jeanne, and Komozi Woodard. Want to Start a Revolution? : Radical Women in the Black Freedom
Struggle, edited by Dayo Gore, New York University Press, 2009. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/gatech/d
Created from gatech on 2018-12-30 16:35:29.
“Women’s Liberation or . . . Black Liberation” 227
Power movement began to occupy the national stage and eclipsed the
civil rights movement as the leader of the larger black freedom struggle.
This period was equally pivotal for the predominantly white women’s movement. NOW was founded in 1966; several local chapters and
women’s study groups and organizations emerged throughout the country soon after.15 The rapid growth of both movements forced shifts in the
relationship between postwar radical and liberal organizations: by 1967,
both Black Power advocates and feminists were attempting to define new
agendas and rethink their ties to the larger postwar struggle. In 1967, important opportunities arose for allegiances between the two movements.
An examination of Kennedy’s work as an activist in the Black Power
Conference, the National Conference for New Politics (NCNP), and NOW
during the summer and fall of 1967 helps us to center Black Power as a
pivotal ideological influence on the predominantly white radical feminist
and Black feminist politics that emerged in the 1960s.
Copyright © 2009. New York University Press. All rights reserved.
Florynce Kennedy’s Early Radicalism
Born in 1916 in Kansas City, Missouri, Kennedy was raised by workingclass parents who taught their five daughters to challenge white authority
at every turn. Often the Kennedy girls witnessed their mother and father
successfully defending themselves and their family against attacks by the
Ku Klux Klan and white employers. In 1942, during the first year of the
United States’ involvement in World War II, Kennedy moved from Kansas
City to New York City, where she found political direction for the lessons
she had learned at the feet of her iconoclastic parents.16
At the age of twenty-six, Kennedy arrived in New York hoping to benefit from the few wartime opportunities now open to African Americans
and women. The city’s intellectual and political environment was an escape from the drudgery of Kansas City’s unskilled labor market, where
she had worked as an elevator operator and a domestic. It was in the political and social milieu of New York City while a student at Columbia
University and its law school, and then as an up-and-coming lawyer, that
Kennedy politically came of age.
Although Kennedy’s work and classes left her little time for political
organizing, she took full advantage of Columbia’s radical currents. She
enrolled in courses on socialism and communism and sought out those
professors who were active in New York’s Popular Front efforts. She also
moved through the city’s radical social movements—attending Adam
Theoharis, Jeanne, and Komozi Woodard. Want to Start a Revolution? : Radical Women in the Black Freedom
Struggle, edited by Dayo Gore, New York University Press, 2009. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/gatech/d
Created from gatech on 2018-12-30 16:35:29.
Copyright © 2009. New York University Press. All rights reserved.
228 Sherie M. Randolph
Clayton Powell’s speeches in Harlem and rallies for Progressive Party
presidential hopeful Henry Wallace, and voraciously reading anti-imperialist and antiracist literature. Kennedy’s experience among the flood of
women, most of them white, who entered Columbia University during
World War II—and who were barred from admission after the war—led
her to connect the oppression of white women and black people. She began to see an alliance of the two as a force that could be tapped against
white male hegemony. Her papers in college suggest that she was beginning to make links between all forms of oppression, especially between
imperialism, racism, and sexism.17
When Kennedy graduated from Columbia Law School in 1951, she
became one of the few black women practicing law in the city. Like her
peers, including Pauli Murray and Constance Baker Motley, she faced
limited opportunities for employment in New York’s major law firms and
legal aid societies. In 1954 she opened her own firm, defending the rights
of black cultural workers (such as Billie Holiday) who had been targeted
on the basis of the political import of their work.18
In the early and middle 1960s, Kennedy went to work with civil rights
organizations (Wednesdays in Mississippi—an interracial group of middle-class women who traveled south during Freedom Summer to help
support SNCC workers); white leftist organizations (Youth against War
and Fascism and the Workers World Party); and black nationalist organizations (Organization of Afro-American Unity). She published a weekly
column in the Queens Voice, a local black newspaper, and hosted Opinions, a thirty-minute show on WLIB radio. Her frequent guests included
activists such as Key Martin (Youth against War and Fascism), Cynthia
Epstein (NOW), and Betty Shabazz, widow of Malcolm X. The show was
built around heated discussions of various techniques for challenging
white backlash against Black Power, strategies for ending the war in Vietnam, and the growth of the women’s movement.19 During the 1960s, Kennedy’s column and radio show were among the few Black feminist media
channels devoted to examining imperialism, sexism, and racism.
Racism Is “Deadly”: The Black Power Movement Should Lead
While Kennedy worked within an array of organizations and advocated ending all forms of oppression, she ultimately believed that racism
shaped relationships of power and domination in the United States and
was therefore the litmus test for American democracy. Like Black Power
Theoharis, Jeanne, and Komozi Woodard. Want to Start a Revolution? : Radical Women in the Black Freedom
Struggle, edited by Dayo Gore, New York University Press, 2009. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/gatech/d
Created from gatech on 2018-12-30 16:35:29.
Copyright © 2009. New York University Press. All rights reserved.
“Women’s Liberation or . . . Black Liberation” 229
leaders and other black radicals Stokely Carmichael, Ella Baker, and W. E.
B. Du Bois, Kennedy reasoned that racism contributed to every major social problem in the United States: the exploitation of labor, the policing of
sex workers, the abuse of sexual minorities, and the oppression of women
as a group.20
Frequently, Kennedy used the term “niggerizing” as a synonym for
oppression, as a rhetorical strategy meant to force oppressed people to
understand how the racist techniques sharpened on the backs of blacks
could be deployed against all oppressed people. Although Kennedy understood oppressions as interconnected, she ultimately believed that racism was the primary language scripting American society and was therefore the most “deadly” form of oppression. Further, she argued that “racism will always be worse than sexism until we find feminists shot in bed
like [Black Panthers] Mark Clark and Fred Hampton.”21 And, like other
Black Power leaders and some white leftists, she argued that black people
“started this revolution” and spent more time on the front lines; therefore,
the Black Power movement had earned the right to claim vanguard status
within the larger struggle.22
Though Kennedy privileged black liberation movements and racial
oppression, she still argued that it did not matter which oppression was
more lethal: they all “hurt like crazy.” In her opinion the best strategy was
to conquer all forms of exploitation.23 Kennedy believed that a steady and
consistent attack against all forms of oppression from a variety of organizational fronts helped to quicken revolutionary change. Kennedy’s theory
on challenging oppression helps to explain why she worked in a wide
range of organizations and movements throughout her political career.
Her theory on challenging oppression also helps explain her relationship to white leftist—specifically white feminist—organizations. While
working in predominantly white left spaces, she demanded that white activists focus on ending racism and support the Black Power struggle. She
frequently instructed white radicals on the importance of understanding
how power and force circulate in the United States:
If you test the fences of this society and dare to influence the direction
of this society, they know you mean business by the extent to which you
identify with the black revolution. . . . If you want to absolutely communicate the depth of your determination to bring down this society that
is committed to racism, then indicate determination to frustrate racism
with a coalition with the black revolutionary struggle.24
Theoharis, Jeanne, and Komozi Woodard. Want to Start a Revolution? : Radical Women in the Black Freedom
Struggle, edited by Dayo Gore, New York University Press, 2009. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/gatech/d
Created from gatech on 2018-12-30 16:35:29.
230 Sherie M. Randolph
Copyright © 2009. New York University Press. All rights reserved.
Building the Black Revolutionary Struggle:
The Black Power Conference
When SNCC and CORE began to popularize the term “Black Power” in
1966, Kennedy welcomed the open tenacity, bravado, and revolutionary
ambitions of the young radicals. As a representative to the 1967 Black
Power Conference in Newark, Kennedy attempted to dispel the mediadriven myth that Black Power was a new phenomenon. In an interview
with the New York Times during the conference, she asserted that Black
Power had always existed “but was like the wind that turns no windmill or
the waterfall that was not harnessed to run a generator.”25 Like other black
radicals, she was frustrated with the Democratic Party’s failure to meet the
black community’s needs and disdained civil rights organizations like the
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)
that relied primarily on legal strategies in the fight against racism.26 She
welcomed the possibility that young black radicals might “harness” the
revolutionary potential of Black Power’s assertion that black people constituted a single community within the United States and therefore had a
right to determine their own destiny and profoundly shift relationships of
power.
During the spring and summer of 1967, Kennedy attended the Black
Power Conference planning sessions held in Newark. Alongside Black
Power leaders such as Omar Ahmed, Nathan Wright, and Amiri Baraka,
she developed workshops, invited black delegates from the United States
and abroad, and helped create a publicity plan.27 Kennedy hoped to find
ways to support the Black Power movement’s increased momentum.
The Newark rebellion that occurred only days before the meeting
helped to virtually triple the registration rolls from the initial projection
of 400 participants.28 From July 20 to July 24, 1967, more than 1,000 black
women and men flocked to Newark from other parts of the United States
and from the Caribbean and Africa.29 The delegates represented hundreds
of different organizations. The Newark rebellion and the masses of blacks
who descended upon the convention forced organizers to engage the concept of Black Power as a tool for revolutionary change and to capitalize on
the momentum created by the rebellion. At the workshops, speakers such
as Amiri Baraka, H. Rap Brown, and Maulana Karenga (US Organization)
stressed black self-def …
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