In It’s Our Movement Now: Black Women’s Politics and the 1977 National Women’s Conference, editors Laura L. Lovett, Rachel Jessica Daniel, and Kelly N. Giles present a panoramic view of Black feminist politics through the stories of Black women who attended the 1977 National Women’s Conference, placing the diversity of Black women’s experiences and their leadership at the center of the history of the women’s movement.
This book is on sale through February 28, 2023, with code AHA23 as part of our history book sale.
We asked the three editors some questions about their new volume, which we’re sharing below.
When did you know that you wanted to write this book? What led you to focus on the 1977 National Women’s Conference?
Lovett: When we first saw the incredible collection of photographs that Diana Mara Henry had created from the 1977 National Women’s Conference in the University of Massachusetts archives, we knew that they could serve as windows on untold and important stories of Black women’s activism. Black women’s activism was central to the conference, yet much like now their activism is minimized—if not left out—in the narratives that constitute American political discourse.
Daniel and Giles: We were intrigued by a conference of this magnitude that we just didn’t know much about. We admire so many of the Black women activists who were a part of the conference and were curious about what brought them there. Black women oftentimes do so much political work that goes unrecognized, and we wanted to participate in recovering narratives about the lives of Black women who attended this conference and who shaped it in important ways.
What aspects of the conference were most remarkable?
Lovett: The diversity of the meeting was incredible. So many women from different races, ethnicities, sexualities, and experiences gathered in Houston. The phrase “women of color” was coined at the meeting as they worked to fashion an agenda that spoke to that diversity.
Daniel: The video recordings of the reading of the minority plank gave me chills. To see the reading of the plank, introduced by a young Maxine Waters, and ending with Coretta Scott King’s statement, and to watch thousands of women erupt in applause helped me to understand the impact of Black women’s political action on the 1977 Conference.
Giles: The creation of The Black Women’s Action Plan and Black Women’s Agenda and how they informed the minority planks and overall action plan for the conference are beyond remarkable. For me, this demonstrates that Black women’s contributions to the Women’s Movement and American politics have always been central despite them being minimized, devalued, and often erased from historical discourse.
In what ways do you think the events of the conference are still impactful and relevant today?
Lovett and Giles: The Black Women’s Agenda was created at the 1977 meeting and continues to this day to advocate for Black women in the United States. As long as we are dealing with issues of inequality and discrimination, the efforts of Black women to create change in their communities will be relevant and important. Black women then and today are fighting for their humanity and liberation. This is about being seen as a human being.
Which photograph included in the book holds the most meaning for you? Why?
Lovett: We each have our favorites. Mine is the women celebrating the passage of the plank on welfare rights. The sense of triumph shared by the coalition of women in the image captures the power of the activism at the meeting.
Daniel: My favorite is of Dorothy Height, holding a microphone in her hand, standing next to Maxine Waters at the Minority Press Conference. It reminds me that Black women leaders also found ways to support, mentor and cultivate the leadership journeys of younger Black women around them.
Giles: The image of Gloria Scott holding the gavel and calling the conference to order is my favorite. This image represents the power, importance, and significance of seeing Black women take a stand and lead.
Was there anything that surprised you while you put together this book?
All: We were honestly surprised at how little has been written about some of these Black women. We selected women who were incredible activists and yet had received little or no recognition for their efforts.
Where would you direct readers if they’re interested in getting more involved in activism?
All: There are several organizations that are working every day to make change. Find a group that speaks to your needs and the needs of your community. Here are a few places to start:
What are you working on next?
Lovett: I am working on the history of families and children experiencing homelessness in the 1980s.
Daniel: I am writing an intergenerational narrative about a Caribbean American family.
Giles: I am developing a digital archive that lies at the intersection of public history and public health. This project centers Black women’s stories, contributions, and accomplishments, particularly those engaging with sexual politics and democracy.
Laura L. Lovett, associate professor of history at the University of Pittsburgh, is author of With Her Fist Raised: Dorothy Pitman Hughes and the Transformative Power of Black Community Activism. Rachel Jessica Daniel is director of the Center for Employee Enrichment and Development and professor of English at Massasoit Community College. Kelly N. Giles is a Ph.D. student in sociology at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
Publication of this work made possible by a Sustaining the Humanities through the American Rescue Plan grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.