March 16, 2018 - Vol. 1, Issue 24
Celebrating Black Women, Pt. 2:
Agency of the Black Female Body 6
Margo Jefferson
Adelaide Sanford
Dorothy Roberts
Nowhere do racial and gender discrimination meet more cohesively than in the bodies of black women. One cannot talk about black female agency apart from a discussion of body politics.

Law professor and HistoryMaker Dorothy Roberts traces the origin of black female body politics to slavery in her work Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty , “Female slaves had no right to autonomy over their own bodies... female slaves were commonly victims of sexual exploitation at the hands of their masters and overseers. The classification of 10 percent of the slave population in 1860 as ‘mulatto’ gives some indication of the extent of abuse. Most these mixed-race children were the product of forced sex between slave women and white slave masters,” and that “Lack of protection was reinforced by the prevailing belief among whites that black women could not be raped because they were naturally lascivious.” 1

During the Civil Rights Movement, t he white power structure continued to deprive black women of body agency with the rising trend of coercive reproductive control and forced sterilization, particularly against black women made vulnerable by poverty.

Journalism professor and art critic Margo Jefferson recalls the integration of black body politics into the feminist movement, “ One of the things that women of color insisted on adding to that slogan was: and no forced sterilization, because young, poor black women were being forcibly sterilized.” [Margo Jefferson, THMDA 1.5.12]. 2 Shatema Threadcraft states of this focus on reproductive rights in Intimate Justice: The Black Female Body and the Body Politic, “These efforts to curtail black fertility--75,000 sterilizations in all and thus one-half of all women sterilized in federally funded clinics--convinced many women active in the Civil Rights, Black Power, and Women’s movements that they must organize around the issue of race and reproduction. Their upset was justified, as in 1970 black women were sterilized at twice the rate of white women and their dependence on public assistance made them much more vulnerable to the practice.” 3

Educator Adelaide Sanford remembers the coercive sterilization of her Aunt Florence, “ She was a teacher. It seems that there was one doctor, Dr. Martan, who would treat people of African ancestry, he would make home visits. My aunt had this terrible stomach ache, just excruciating. And so my grandmother called Dr. Martan, and he came and he examined her. And he said, "She has appendicitis. And she has to have surgery." My grandmother said, "I can't take her to the hospital.” And so he said, "I tell you what you should do. You come to the hospital in the morning. You be there at nine o'clock. Wait for me outside. Don't go in until I come for you." Well, the next morning my grandmother took Aunt Florence to the back door of the hospital, waiting for Dr. Martan. And eventually this person came out and said, “Dr. Martan says come in.” And my grandmother said, "No. He told me to wait until he came for me." He said, "Well, he's scrubbing up, and he sent for me." So they went in. And they gave her a total hysterectomy. Her stomach looked like a series of zippers.” [Adelaide Sanford, THMDA 1.2.6]. 4

As Roberts concludes, “Systematic, institutionalized denial of reproductive freedom has uniquely marked Black women’s history in America. Considering this history--from slave masters’ economic stake in bonded women’s fertility to the racist strains of early birth control policy to sterilization abuse of Black women during the 1960s and 1970s to the current campaign to inject Norplant and Depo-Provera in the arms of Black teenagers and welfare mothers--paints a powerful picture of the link between race and reproductive freedom in America.” 5

Next week, join us for a discussion of black women’s struggle for identity in the feminist movement, and the advent of Womanism.

The HistoryMakers Archive in Action
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We are incredibly excited to welcome the Milwaukee Public Library system; the University of Arkansas at Pinebluff; the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee ; and New York University to the The HistoryMakers family. We look forward to long, fruitful academic partnerships!

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Please share with us your stories of how you incorporate The HistoryMakers Digital Archive into your curriculum and research. We'd love to hear from you!

This week, 14 new interviews were added to The HistoryMakers Digital Archive:
Fatin Dantzler

R & B singer and songwriter Fatin Dantzler (1973 - ) was best known along with his singing partner and wife, Aja Graydon, as the critically acclaimed R&B and Soul music group, Kindred the Family Soul.
Anthony McGill

Clarinetist Anthony McGill (1979 - ) served as the principal clarinetist of the New York Philharmonic and the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra.
Trymaine Lee

Journalist Trymaine Lee (1978 - ) served as a national correspondent for MSNBC. He received the Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News in 2006 for his coverage of Hurricane Katrina.
Debra Simmons

Journalist and newspaper executive Debra Simmons (1964 - ) served as the editor of The Plain Dealer in Cleveland, Ohio.
Bernard Beal

Investment banker Bernard Beal (1954 - ) was the founder and CEO of M.R. Beal and Company, the nation's oldest continuously operated minority-owned investment bank.
Samuel Howard

Corporate executive Samuel Howard (1939 - ) was the founder of Phoenix Holdings, Inc. and Phoenix Communications Group, Inc., and the author of 'The Flight of the Phoenix: Thoughts on Work and Life.'

Anthony Jackson

Business networking chief executive Anthony Jackson (1946 - ) served as an accounting professor for thirty years at institutions like Miami University in Oxford, Virginia and Hampton University in Virginia

Michael Evans Carter

Physician Dr. Robert L. Smith (1936 - ) cofounded the Medical Committee for Civil Rights in Jackson, Mississippi.
Michael Evans Carter

Nonprofit chief executive and educator Michael Evans Carter (1962 - ) was the CEO of the V.E. Carter Development Group in Milwaukee, which operated social service programs and the Carter School of Excellence.
Geoffrey Canada

Nonprofit chief executive Geoffrey Canada (1952 - ) founded the Harlem Children’s Zone in New York City.

The Honorable Ronald L. Ellis

Circuit court judge The Honorable Ronald L. Ellis (1950 - ) began his career at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and served as a magistrate judge in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York from 1993.
The Honorable Richard Arrington

Mayor The Honorable Richard Arrington (1934 - ) was the first African American mayor of Birmingham, Alabama. He served from 1979 to 1999.
The Honorable Terri A. Sewell

U.S. congresswoman The Honorable Terri A. Sewell (1965 - ) represented Alabama's 7th District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 2011. She was the first black woman elected to Congress from Alabama.
The Honorable Willie L. Brown

Mayor, state assemblyman, and nonprofit chief executive The Honorable Willie L. Brown (1934 - ) represented San Francisco in the California State Assembly from 1964 to 1995 and served as Mayor of San Francisco from 1996 to 2004.
1.      Dorothy Roberts , Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. February 19, 2014.
2.      Margo Jefferson (The HistoryMakers A2017.007), interviewed by Harriette Cole, January 20, 2017, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 5, story 12, Margo Jefferson talks about the women's movement        
3.     Shatema Threadcraft, Intimate Justice: The Black Female Body and the Body Politic. Oxford University Press, 2016.
4.     Adelaide Sanford (The HistoryMakers A2003.219), interviewed by Cathy Sandler, September 19, 2003, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 2, story 6, Adelaide Sanford tells the heart-breaking story of her aunt's forced sterilization at age 14
5.      Dorothy Roberts , Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. February 19, 2014.
6.     BANNER PHOTO: The Hammer Museum. Can be found at:
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