The Personal Is Political: Mary Church Terrell, Intellectual Activism, And Black Feminist Thought
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Drawing from a vast, yet understudied, collection of speeches, essays, and articles written by women’s and civil rights activist Mary Church Terrell, this study explores her intellectual production to unearth expressions and practices that would become essential to black feminist thought. This study positions Terrell as an early twentieth century social theorist who articulated valuable, methodological approaches that can be used to interpret and interrogate black women’s theoretical work and lived experiences. Terrell represents an important black feminist figure who recognized black women’s unique position in American society and dedicated her life to their advancement. She wrote and lectured with the expressed goal of drawing attention to and educating the larger public on the distinct experiences and accomplishments of black women. Reflective of goals and ideologies central to black feminism, Terrell utilized much of her intellectual production to make black women visible and self–defined. She not only illuminated African-American women’s distinct experiences and oppressions, but also positioned the knowledges they produced as valuable and essential to the progress of the entire race. By articulating black womanhood as autonomous, powerful, and self-valuing, Terrell portrayed black women as claiming personhood, profoundly undermining the pervasive, negative ideations of black womanhood and the “matrix of domination” from which they spawned. Patricia Hill Collins’ definitive works on black feminism will provide the bulk of the black feminist theories discussed. Yet, there are many important voices in the black feminist school of thought, and this work will also draw upon the ideas of these scholars.