Book Project

Contesting the Global Color Line: Black Women, Nationalist Politics, and Internationalism, 1927-1957

Contesting the Global Color Line examines how black nationalist women engaged in national and global politics from the early twentieth century to the 1950s. It captures the interplay between national and global political concerns and makes visible the creative means by which these women built transnational networks with activists in Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean. Analyzing an array of primary sources ranging from government records and archival material to songs and poetry, the study argues that the decline of Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA)—the dominant black nationalist organization in the United States and worldwide in the immediate post-World War I era—engendered a crucial space for women activists to engage in nationalist politics in new, idiosyncratic, and innovative ways. With the effective collapse of the UNIA during the mid-1920s, a vanguard of nationalist women leaders— Amy Jacques Garvey, Maymie De Mena, Mittie Maude Lena Gordon, Ethel Collins, Celia Jane Allen, and Ethel Waddell, among them—emerged on the local, national, and international scenes, practicing a pragmatic form of radical politics that allowed for greater flexibility, adaptability, and experimentation. As pragmatic activists, the women chronicled in my book employed multiple protest strategies and tactics (including grassroots organizing, legislative lobbying, and letter-writing campaigns); combined numerous religious and political ideologies (such as Ethiopianism, Pan-Africanism, and Islam); and forged unlikely political alliances—with Japanese activists, for instance—in their struggles against racism, sexism, colonialism, and imperialism.