Black History Month: The Combahee River Collective

In celebration of Black History Month, first year Sociology student Bailey Hackett has written a series of blog posts casting a spotlight on a number of queer, black figures and groups who been instrumental in advancing the cause of both black and LGBTQ+ rights. We’ll be publishing one every week during October. Follow Bailey’s queer history blog at A Little Gay Historia

THE COMBAHEE RIVER COLLECTIVE (STATEMENT)

 

 

CREATED 1977 - (primarily written by Demita Frazer, Beverly Smith and Barbara Smith)

'That is what Combahee created, a place where we could be ourselves and where we were valued. A place without homophobia, a place without racism, a place without sexism.' - Barbara Smith. 

The Combahee River collective was a black, lesbian feminist collective. Formed in early 1974, they campaigned against sexual violence, sterilisation abuse, and were one of the first radical voices to speak out against society’s multiple systems of oppression, and how black women often faced the most discrimination. The name of the collective was inspired by Harriet Tubman, and her successful organisation of the only military campaign in US history - a shining example of black, female collective action.

The Combahee River Collective Statement, released in 1977, outlines the political philosophy of the collective. They addressed the racism within the mainstream feminist movement, how black feminism evolved, and their main issues and practices while also expressing their passion and devotion to liberating black (and lesbian) women from their oppresions, concluding the statement with; 'As Black feminists and lesbians we know that we have a very definite revolutionary task to perform and we are ready for the lifetime of work and struggle before us.' From 1977 to 1979, they also held several retreats for black feminists and queer people of colour - allowing the group to more thoroughly assess the state of their movement and develop their own politics, while also being a place of community and spiritual rejuvenation. 

Primary contributor Barbara Smith, together with iconic poet and writer Audre Lorde, also founded Kitchen Table Press - solely publishing the works and writings of women of colour and allowing them full creative autonomy over their work. This led to the creation of several black feminist anthologies and a variety of chapbooks and short story collections. They were hugely successful and their books were brought to a multitude of book fairs, conferences and readings across the US.

Ultimately, The Combahee River Collective was a place of sancity and unity for black (lesbian) feminsts. Their devotion to fighting against all forms of discrimination have strongly impacted today’s political landscape, being one of the first to use the term ‘identity politics’, and should be honoured within black, feminist and queer history. 

Check out our programme of Black History Month events at goldsmithssu.org/bhm.