What Makes Black Women’s Activism Unique? Professor Khadijah Miller

We asked Professor Khadijah O. Miller of Norfolk State University to speak about how activism and change making among women in Chester and elsewhere connects back to the past. Khadijah has written on black women’s activism in the early twentieth century United States, with a particular focus on Pennsylvania. As a scholar familiar with the work of Chester’s own Ruth L. Bennett, we asked Khadijah to share what makes black women’s activism unique and what principles of change making seem consistent over time.

Women change makers do not necessarily see themselves as activists. Rather, they are motivated to address issues that are often a struggle for group survival. Activism, therefore, tends to be highly practical and focused on efforts to assure survival and improvement moving forward. Is this intentional?

What is key, I think, historically, is that black women will fight for their rights wherever they are individually. And then they recognize that they will come together and to fight for those rights collectively and there’s power in numbers.

Khadijah Miller

Networking among women change makers is a consistent feature across time, ranging from the time Ms. Ruth Bennett was active in Chester in the 1920s to the present day. Khadijah speaks to the importance of black women’s clubs in the early 20th century as crucial for women leaders to get to know each other, share ideas, learn of each other’s work, and support each other. This solidarity is rooted in common structural experiences of discrimination based on race and gender. And these principles of support and solidarity are just as important today.

Black women’s activism is rooted in the practical and the everyday. Change making here isn’t formal and institutionalized. It takes place in private arenas where people connect, create networks, make plans and execute decisions. Making positive change is not a ‘profession’ defined in distinction to family, economy, or culture but as connected and articulated through them.

I would even say black women now realize that there is a cultural responsibility to persist and to fight.

Khadijah Miller