Date of Award

Summer 8-15-2018

Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's Department


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Type



ҔWhat Are We Going to Do for Ourselves?ՠAfrican American Women and the Politics of Slavery from the Antebellum Era to the Great Depression,Ӡargues that Black women activists forced a public reckoning with the legacy of slavery that formed a constitutive component of their political power for multiple generations after emancipation. These activists deployed a Ұolitics of slaveryӠthat evoked the historical and imagined experiences of enslaved people as part of an effort to create public policies to combat disfranchisement, poverty, lynching, sexual violence, and the distortion of Black identities in American society. I argue that Black womenճ efforts to wage a Ұolitics of slavery,Ӡfunctioned as an inclusive and generative national political identity among increasingly diverse African American communities burdened by political, economic, sexual, social, and cultural violence and discrimination in the United States. This commitment to rendering the historical injustice of slavery and its derivatives in American society emboldened women with little or no formal political power to demand that the state be responsive the needs of its African American citizens.

This project examines how an increasing temporal distance from the institution of slavery profoundly shaped Black womenճ discursive strategies, their political choices, and their community building capacities. It begins in the 1850s when slavery was a legally sanctioned but increasingly challenged sociopolitical institution and ends in the 1930s when the federal government began documenting the last living voices of those who had been enslaved. Throughout this eighty-year period, African American women established themselves as public policy visionaries and influential architects of historical memories of slavery through their work as abolitionists, worldճ fair organizers, ex-slave pension advocates, anti-lynching crusaders, and WPA Slave Narrative Project interviewees. The imperative to reconcile slaveryճ political and moral legacies with democratic reform compelled many Black women activists to cross boundaries of race, class, education, region, and generation. Examining how, when, and for what purposes these women evoked a politics of slavery to marshal resources, animate public discourse, and shape public policy must be understood in conjunction with other protest strategies African Americans embraced.


English (en)

Chair and Committee

Margaret Garb

Committee Members

Iver Bernstein, Adrienne Davis, Erica A. Dunbar, Rafia Zafar,


Permanent URL: 2028-07-15

Available for download on Monday, August 15, 2118