Black Nationalist Women and the Global Struggle for Freedom

(University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018)


SET THE WORLD ON FIRE is the first book of its kind to examine how black nationalist women engaged in national and global politics from the early twentieth century to the 1960s. In this new and original study, historian Keisha N. Blain charts the diverse ideas and activism of a group of unsung black nationalist women such as Mittie Maude Lena Gordon, Celia Jane Allen, Ethel Waddell, Amy Jacques Garvey, Amy Ashwood Garvey, and Maymie Leona Turpeau De Mena. In various locales in the United States, including Chicago, Harlem, and the Mississippi Delta, and in other parts of the globe, including Britain and Jamaica, these women emerged as key leaders in national and transnational political movements, agitating for the rights and liberation of black people. While historians generally portray the period between the Garvey movement of the 1920s and Black Power as an era of declining black nationalist activism, this book reframes the Great Depression, Second World War and early Cold War as significant eras of black nationalist ferment. Drawing on a variety of previously untapped sources, including archival materials, historical newspapers, government records, songs and poetry, the book highlights the interplay between national and geopolitical issues and makes visible the diverse and creative ways black nationalist women built transnational networks with a diverse group of activists across the globe.

Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • Chapter One: Women Pioneers in the Garvey Movement
  • Chapter Two: The Struggle for Black Emigration
  • Chapter Three: Organizing in the Jim Crow South
  • Chapter Four: Dreaming of Liberia
  • Chapter Five: Pan-Africanism and Anticolonial Politics
  • Chapter Six: Breaks, Transitions, and Continuities
  • Epilogue 

Advance Praise

Keisha N. Blain has approached black nationalism from an altogether new direction. She reconstitutes the post-Garvey nationalist organizations and demonstrates how they contributed to keeping black nationalism alive between the late 1920s and the 1960s. She proves that women led these groups (one reason that they were invisible), and she argues that black nationalism had significant power as an organizing ideology and that it fed into a new Pan-Africanism during and after World War II. All of this is well done in a satisfying way.

~Glenda Gilmore, author of Defying Dixie: The Radical Roots of Civil Rights, 1919-1950

**The book will be published in the University of Pennsylvania Press’s “Politics and Culture in Modern America” series. It will be available for purchase in February 2018. Please check this page for frequent updates.