July 3, 2020

Ancestral Power

Maria and Julio are joined by authors and historians Daina Ramey Berry and Kali Nicole Gross to talk about their latest book, A Black Women's History of the United States. They analyze the history of Black women in America and their legacy of activism, resistance and entrepreneurship. Daina and Kali offer their insight on how Black women are shaping politics and harnessing their electoral power.

In their book Daina Ramey Berry and Kali Nicole Gross write that Black women, “did not succumb easily to their captivity. Many fought back in the form of revolts and mutinies at sea. They used their knowledge of the ship’s layout and crew behavior to inform other captives of the location of supplies and weapons, and about the living conditions and daily habits of the crew.” 

Daina Ramey Berry explained that their telling of stories of everyday Black women was intentional. 

“The fact that Black women actually got off the ships and made it to the places they were forcibly removed to—that in itself is resistance, in my perspective.” Daina Ramey Berry said. “And Kali and I were really trying to focus on, not just heroism but just like the sheer, utter everyday experiences of Black women and how they coped with their experiences.”

Kali Nicole Gross detailed the history of Frances Thompson, who was formerly enslaved and a Black trans woman who fought in the Memphis Riots of 1866. White mobs led by the Memphis Police Department attacked a community of former enslaved Black people, killing some 48 Black men and sexually assaulting several Black women (including Thompson) and destroying every Black church and school. No one was ever held accountable. However, Thompson was one of the women to— and believed to be the first transgender woman— testify in Congress following the riots. 

In 1876 she was criminalized for her gender identity being arrested for so-called “cross-dressing” and was sentenced to a male chain gang. Not too long after her release she died. 

“So there are points where the resistance is hardcore and it’s real. But there’s also points of where it’s like you know the costs of it are heavy too. So I am kind of in awe about the fact that there are so many Black women who fought and survived at all,” Kali Nicole Gross said. “And when I see the stuff they went through and encountered, that kind of gives me some optimism for where we’re at now. That they found ways to draw strength from each other and I think that’s something we can use now going forward. Black women have an incredible ability to organize collectively.” 

This episode was produced by Karla Arroyo and co-edited by Karla Arroyo and Nicole Rothwell.

ITT Staff Picks:

  • "Historians Daina Ramey Berry and Kali Nicole Gross came together to weave the wondrous tapestry of history through the perspective of those who’ve been left out of history books," via Beacon Broadside.
  • "An uprising is long past due, but the revolution is incomplete. Black lives matter. Full stop. All Black people deserve their humanity. All Black people deserve protection. All Black people deserve freedom. All Black people deserve justice," Tamara Winfrey-Harris writes in The Atlantic. "And there can be no justice for Black Americans unless women and girls are included in the reckoning."
  • From Ashley Dennis in The Washington Post: The black women who launched the original anti-racist reading list

Photo Credit: Courtesy of the authors

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