did this wonderful work in 1968 in tribute to the black women of the civil rights
movement, and it was called "Homage to My Young Black Sisters." It is a tall
figure, carved in wood, with an upraised fist, and in the center there is a
hollowed, empty space. In antiquity, figures of the goddess often displayed such
an empty space where the womb is. In antiquity, this was believed to have
symbolized the goddess representing the concept of birth as "the ceaseless
generation from infinite space." The ceaseless generation from infinite space. I
think about that sculpture, and about Martha Norman's essay, and about all the
labors of African American women this history reveals. It has been, it is, a
ceaseless generation from infinite space.
This is an edited and revised version of a transcript of my comments during the roundtable discussion at the conference "Afro-American Women and the Vote, 1837-1965." I
attempted to maintain the informal flavor while providing adequate coherence and
context. I added reference notes for the convenience of readers.
Michelle Cliff, "Against Granite", in Cliff, The Land of Look Behind: Prose and Poetry
( New York: Firebrand Books, 1985), 33.
Toni Cade Bambara, "What It Is I Think I'm Doing Anyhow", in The Writer on Her Work,
Janet Sternburg ( New York: W. W. Norton, 1980), 167.
See, for example, Arlene Avakian, "Armenian-American Women: The First Word . . .",
in Transforming the Curriculum: Ethnic Studies and Women's Studies, ed.
John Walter ( Albany: State University of New York Press, 1991), 271-301.
A very useful article that explores the idea of women as their own ethnographers, and
authority, is Alvina Quintana, "Women: Prisoners of the Word", in Chicana Voices: Intersections of Class, Race, and Gender, ed.
Teresa Cordova et al. ( Austin: Center for
Mexican American Studies, University of Texas, 1986), esp. 209-10.
Alice Walker, "The Nature of This Flower Is to Bloom", in
Walker, Revolutionary Petunias
& Other Poems ( New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1973), 70.
It is useful also to see that the concept of simultaneity is one of the particular contributions black feminists have made to the women's liberation movement. See, for example, "The Combahee River Collective Statement, 1974", in Home Girls:A Black Feminist
Barbara Smith ( New York: Kitchen Table Press, 1983), 272-82.
See, for example, Filomina S. Steady, ed., The Black Woman Cross-Culturally ( Cambridge, Mass.: Schenkman, 1981), and Rosalyn Terborg-Penn,
Sharon Harley, and
Andrea Benton Rushing
, eds., Women in Africa and the African Diaspora ( Washington, D.C.: Howard University Press, 1987).
See also the more recent, generative essay by Elsa Barkley Brown, "African-American
Women's Quilting:"A Framework for Conceptualizing and Teaching African-American
Women's History, Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society ( Summer 1989): 921-