No Peace without Freedom: Race and the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, 1915-1975

No Peace without Freedom: Race and the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, 1915-1975

No Peace without Freedom: Race and the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, 1915-1975

No Peace without Freedom: Race and the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, 1915-1975

Synopsis

Just as women changed the direction and agenda of the peace movement when they became progressively more involved in an all-male club, black women altered a cause that had previously lacked racial diversity when they were first granted admission to the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom in 1915. As Joyce Blackwell illustrates in this first study of collective black peace activism, the increased presence of black women in the WILPF over the next sixty years brought to the movement historical experiences shaped by societal racism.

No Peace Without Freedom: Race and the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, 1915- 1975 explores how black women, fueled by the desire to eradicate racial injustice, compelled the white leadership of the WILPF to revisit its own conceptions of peace and freedom. Blackwell offers a renewed examination of peace movements in American history, one that points out the implications of black women's participation for the study of social activism, African American history, and women's history. This new perspective on interracial and black female global activism helps redefine the often-covert systemic violence necessary to maintain systems of social and economic hierarchy, moving peace and war discourse away from its narrow focus on European and European-American issues.

Blackwell looks closely at the reasons why white women organized their own peace group at the start of World War I and assesses several bold steps taken by these groups in their first ten years. Addressing white peace activists' continuous search for the "perfect" African American woman, Blackwell considers when and why black women joined the WILPF, why so few of them were interested in the organization, and what the small number who did join had in common with their white counterparts. She also shows how the WILPF, frustrated at its inability to successfully appeal to black women, established a controversial interracial committee to deal with the dilemma of recruiting black women while attempting to maintain all of its white members.

Tracing the black activists' peace reform activities on an international level from World War I to the end of the Vietnam War, No Peace Without Freedom examines the links black activists established within the African American community as well as the connections they made with peoples of the black Diaspora and later with colonized people irrespective of race. The volume is complemented by eighteen illustrations.

Excerpt

As I prepared dinner one evening in June 1998, I listened to a 1970s song that seemed rather appropriate at the time. While making wildly animated gestures, I lip-synched as the artist bellowed out, “War, oh yeah, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing!” the children laughed, insisting that their mother had been in the kitchen a little too long. I laughed, too, but not for the same reason.

Although the lyrics seemed meaningless for most of 1990s peacetime America, they were eXtremely significant to me then and seem even more so in 2004. For nine years, I had been researching and writing about the role of African American women in the peace movement. They, too, had repeatedly questioned the purpose of war, often concluding that it was pointless. I never thought before listening to that song that the group of middle-class, elitist women that I had come to know would have something in common with a controversial, left-wing, 1970s young artist named Edwin Starr. Perhaps this feeling about war is all that the black peace activists and Starr had in common. Just as that thought occurred to me, the telephone rang. It was my travel agent informing me that the airline ticket I requested would be available the neXt morning. For many reasons, I was looking forward to another journey to Swarthmore to eXamine more boXes of unprocessed data.

I began my study of African American activists in the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) almost a decade ago. As I traveled back and forth to Swarthmore College to peruse dozens of documents, mostly unprocessed, my heart raced with eXcitement and joy.

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