Black Women and Political Leadership

The Oakland History Center commemorated Black History Month by hosting "Black Women and Political Leadership," a program to honor the dedicated and innovative work Black women accomplish.

On February 3, to commemorate this important moment in our history, the Oakland History Center hosted a panel discussion featuring Women of Color Resource Center co-founder Linda Burnham, newly elected Oakland District 3 councilwoman and Moms4Housing co-founder Carroll Fife, author and Black Panther Party newspaper editor Judy Juanita, and Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza. The event was a special one with these women discussing the hard, collaborative work that makes a movement, defining allyship, outlining challenges women activists face, and sharing insights about where we go from here.

The recording of the event can be found here. For library books and other resources about Black women claiming political power, see our latest bibliography here: Black Women and Political Leadership.

The year 2020 will go down in American history as the year Black women rose to national prominence in the political arena. They led nationwide protests against racial injustice, mobilized tens of thousands of voters to turn a red state blue, demanded cities defund police departments, and helped elect the country’s first Black, first female Vice President Kamala Harris. We saw a number of black women like Val Demings and Keisha Lance Bottoms be given serious consideration for the vice presidential seat. We saw activists like nurse Cori Bush run successfully for Congress to help correct the endemic problems she saw in her community. We saw young people of all backgrounds take to the streets--in the midst of a pandemic--to protest the police murders of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and so many others.

Whether these incidents are the predicted inflection point that will turn us inextricably away from our common history of racial discrimination, police violence, and economic inequality remains to be seen. But the hard, collaborative work Black women engage in daily continues. Despite all the suffering and social turmoil of the last several years, Black women have kept their eyes on the prize and found enough determination in themselves and enough inspiration in their communities, to continue to work for the betterment of everyone. All the big accomplishments start out on the local level, with regular people organizing themselves to call out chronic societal problems, such as housing inaccessibility, underfunded schools, and unemployment. Society evolves when regular people demand that something be done about the problems we face.

Community organizing work is neither new nor trending. The work of Black women in grassroots organizing is as old as this country. Women like Angela Davis, fighting to end mass incarceration, are continuing Harriet Tubman’s work. Kamala Harris is standing on the shoulders of Charlotta Bass, who ran for VP on the Progressive Party ticket in 1952. Voting rights activist Stacey Abrams is continuing Ella Baker’s work to make America the democracy it claims to be.

In January, Stacey Abrams and the Black Lives Matter movement were both nominated for the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize, proving that the goals and impact of Black political leadership has international relevance and influence!