Erik S. McDuffie ’92 returned to the Hill on April 10 to highlight the intersectionality of racial justice and women’s rights. The lecture, sponsored by the history department, served to bring awareness to the often overlooked impact black women have had in social movements over the years.
McDuffie is an associate professor of African American Studies and History at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Originally from Detroit and raised in suburban Cleveland, he graduated from Hamilton College in 1992. His honors thesis “Malcolm X: The Evolution of an Internationalist Thinker” argued that Malcolm X’s radical vision played a key role in his move toward revolutionary black nationalism.
In his lecture “Sojourning for Freedom,” McDuffie traces the genealogy of Black Lives Matter, the #SayHerName Campaign, and the #MeToo Movement through recognition of the dynamic history of black women in the U.S. Communist Left during the 1950s.
“Women of African-descendant have been essential yet invisible in these movements and conversations,” said McDuffie. “We need to understand that these kinds of social movements don’t emerge from thin air.”
Throughout the presentation, McDuffie brought awareness to the critical work that was done by organizations like the Sojourners for Truth and Justice, a short-lived African-American women’s progressive civil rights group, throughout the 20th century. He said that the activism of black women leftists during the ’50s speaks to the on-going divisions within modern Black and women’s movements.
“They rejected the idea that patriarchy alone unified women as a group,” said McDuffie. “They understood that a recognition of the intersectionality of race, gender, class, and sexuality are essential to true solidarity.”
With his award-winning book Sojourning for Freedom: Black Women, American Communism, and the Making of Black Left Feminism, McDuffie highlights this intersectionality of activism in America.
“Recovering these kinds of stories is a small but important way of challenging oppression and bringing awareness to those that are sadly too-often overlooked,” McDuffie said. “We all have a responsibility to make the world a better place, no matter in what way that may be.”