The Combahee River Collective was a Boston-based organization of Black feminists, many of whom were lesbians. Active between 1974 and 1980, the Collective was critical of mainstream white feminism, pointing out the discrimination and bigotry that many White feminists directed toward women of color, poor women, LGBTQ women, and others during the second wave period of feminism. For the first time in history, Black women openly and unapologetically embraced their sexual orientation in their social justice and political work and played a key role in the influence of social and critical race theory and black feminism.
Inspired by the National Black Feminist Organization’s regional conference, the Collective began to meet on their own in Boston. Embracing black feminist roots, the Collective commemorated the Combahee River Raid of June 1968 in South Carolina. This resistance, led by Harriet Tubman, freed more than 750 enslaved Black people and was the only military campaign in U.S. history conceived of and directed by a woman. The Collective created a space apart from White women and Black men and established itself in black feminist history.
The collective successfully developed an innovative black feminist ideology, which explored the shortcomings of white feminism’s exclusive focus on gender discrimination against White women, as well as the Black community’s exclusive focus on racism against Black men. Coining the term “identity politics,” the Collective articulated the simultaneity of oppressions, and how race, sex, sexuality, and class cannot be ranked or separated from other oppressions. The Collective created a foundation for intersectionality and womanism.
Best known for the Combahee River Statement, the Collective emphasized Black women’s liberation -- developing a novel approach to community organizing, a strategy that continues to be used today by movements such as Black Lives Matter. The Combahee River Statement emphasizes centering the most marginalized group (in this particular case, Black women) in liberation work because their freedom guarantees everyone’s freedom, and would mean the dismantling of all oppressive systems. The statement further recognizes the contributions and lives of Black women ancestors, such as Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Mary Church Terrell, and others , whose work carved a path for the Collective.
The Combahee River Collective was a necessary and important group of Black feminists who created a community organizing approach that organizations continue to use today. The Collective’s work inspired later contributions to black feminism and womanism, other women’s liberation movements, it also influenced EROC’s Centering the Margins initiative.
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CHARDONNAY MADKINS is a womanist and activist serving the Los Angeles area. She received her Bachelor's of Arts degree in Psychology and Urban & Environmental Policy from Occidental College. As one of the few black women leaders on Occidental's campus, Chardonnay Madkins played a prominent role in the institution's Black Student Alliance and also co-founded the Oxy Sexual Assault Coalition, where she shed light on issues involving survivors of color and mobilized students and faculty to demand administrators appropriately handle sexual assault cases. She dedicates her time advocating specifically for Black survivors and changing policies around sexual assault. She maintains a passion for knowledge and aspires to continue her education of human rights and womanist politics in order to give voice to the voiceless.
You can reach Chardonnay at firstname.lastname@example.org