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How Black Womanhood Has Evolved Throughout The Decades

Still we rise.

Human Interest

Black women are the core of this country and are the stern foundation of the Black race. They are often the least celebrated in history books and in our day-to-day lives because of intersectionality, being that they are Black and women. Black womanhood has evolved immensely over the decades, but unlike many other individuals, our change and opportunities have always developed slower because of the lack of support Black women often have. Either dealing with sexism, racism, or being gaslighted for their experiences.

Black womanhood is defined by unapologetic Black women that persevered through every storm regardless of the mishaps.

Here is a snapshot of Black womanhood and Black feminism in America throughout the decades. The good, the bad, and our bittersweet realities all in one.

​Black Womanhood During Slavery

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Enslaved women lived very different experiences; if you were light skin, you were considered a house slave and assigned domestic tasks. Black enslaved women faced several harsh stereotypes like being the nurturing mammy, lustful jezebel, or aggressive sapphire. Light skin slaves were often favored because their skin tone was the closest to white, and they were often the main target to be raped by male slave owners.

Dark skin enslaved women were known as field slaves, and they were demanded to do more grueling tasks. Field slaves would work ridiculous hours ranging from sunrise to sunset, women worked the same amount of hours as men, and pregnant women worked until the child was born. Older Black women would be considered less valuable because of their limited strength, so they would take care of the children and younger women if needed. Slavery is the reason colorism is still a prime issue globally; it created a caste system that has evolved over the generations and across the globe, perceiving darker skin as problematic.

Black Womanhood During Abolitionism And The Underground Railroad

Black women were the leading force of the abolitionist writing, lecturing, and leaders of escaping slavery. One of the most prominent women during this time was Maria W. Stewart, who was the first Black woman to publicly address slavery and criticizing Black men for not standing up and being heard about the rights they deserve. Many abolitionists were also educators like Sarah Mapp Douglass, who ran a school for free Black children in Philadelphia, and she also taught kids and adults in New York.

Harriet Tubman wasn't a lecturer but she led hundreds of slaves to the north, an activist at heart, and collaborated with women's rights groups. At the time, the leader of Black feminists was Sojourner Truth. She lectured about women's rights and anti-slavery and joined a traveling anti-slavery circuit alongside Abby Kelly Foster.

Black Womanhood During The Civil War

Rosa Parks gives a speech at the Poor Peoples March in 1968 Photo by Unseen Histories on Unsplash

During the Civil War, Black women didn't have the privilege of contributing to the Union supporting troops in the war—like their white counterparts. And they didn't have the option to fight in the Civil War like Black men. Black women's workload just increased at their plantation and household labor. Some women took this opportunity to flee slavery with their children but faced several difficulties along the way.

Black women faced "formidable obstacles to freedom: limited mobility, little knowledge of geography, and concern for loved ones, further complicated by the encumbrances of escaping with young children." Despite all of their challenges, some of them were able to stick together as a family in innovative and creative ways.

Black Womanhood During Harlem Renaissance

During the Harlem Renaissance, some Black women pursued being a librarian or a teacher, while others decided to be artists and writers, amplifying their truth.

Black women were the integral parts of the Harlem Renaissance. Taking roles as editors, organizers, decision-makers, and they helped publicize and shape the movement.

During that time, many Black women artists addressed race and gender issues and amplified their truths of what it was like to live in the world as a Black woman.

Black Womanhood During Jim Crow In The South

Washington Dc Girl GIF by Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture Giphy

Right after Emancipation, Black women tried to devote most of their time to their families by withdrawing from field labor, but they ended up having to work at least part-time because of white landowners. Formerly enslaved Black women were finally able to marry their Black male partners legally. Most Black women were restricted to just working domestic jobs, and they were finally able to get an education and build school establishments for every grade level.

America's race-based segregated economy took advantage of Black women domestic servants requiring them to work excessively long working hours, pay them tremendously low wages, and demanding them to complete an unreasonable workload.

Black Womanhood During The Civil Rights Movement

Black women were the backbone of the Civil Rights Movement, though many dealt with gender and sexual harassment. They built the grassroots organizations in cities and small towns in the South and for national movements. Ella Baker is known to be one of the most influential women in the Civil Rights Movement, working in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), starting as a field secretary and later becoming the director of branches. There were countless unnamed Black women who contributed to the movement that seem to just be shadows in society's eyes compared to Black male activists.

As journalist and minister Barbara Reynolds mentioned:

"It was not just a few leaders—it was women ... who really put their mark on history."

Black Womanhood During The Black Power Movement Late 60s To 70s

Photo by Benedikt Geyer on Unsplash

Black women were the trailblazers of the Black Power Movement. Some Black women joined serving both rank-and-file, national organizations, and leadership roles. Some Black women chose to focus on community control and self-determination through welfare rights and local neighborhood rights. Though there were issues with marginalizing Black women within the movement—Black women didn't stop fighting for inclusive Black power, demanding organizations to combat sexism, capitalism, and racism.

Black women joined the Black Panther Movement in the 60s after a year of its founding. Some of the most prominent Black women leaders in that organization were Joan Tarika Lewis, Ericka Huggins, Elaine Brown, and Angela Davis. There were also other prestigious organizations fighting for Black power, like the Black Liberation Army, with Assata Shakur at the front of their organization and the several Black women demanding justice in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

Black Womanhood During The New Jim Crow

Black women have accomplished a tremendous amount of work in the 21st century, though we still deal with oppression through systemic racism. Black women have continued to persevere through every obstacle course. According to the National Women's Law Center, "almost all social justice movements were and are carried on the backs of Black women." Their impactful and lasting contribution to literature, education, feminism, fashion, music, and much more—are evident.

"Out of the huts of history's shame, I rise. Up from a past that's rooted in pain, I rise." - Maya Angelou

Black women are the most educated group of individuals in America, and they are the leading group of entrepreneurs opening businesses in America. It's simple; Black women are the future, the group that was once seen as the most neglected is rising on top to show how rich they have always been in spirit.

Featured image via Unsplash

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