African American History Culture : Want To Start A Revolution? - Radical Women, Black Freedom Struggle


Well-Known Member
Feb 28, 2009
Vicki Ama Garvin
December 18, 1915 - June 11, 2007


Vicki, as she was affectionately known, was born in Richmond, Virginia and grew up in a working class family in Harlem. Her mother was a domestic in rich white homes; her father a plasterer who often was unemployed due to racism in construction unions. Vicki spent her summers working in the garment industry to supplement her family's income.

From high school on, she became active in Black protest politics, supporting efforts by Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. to obtain better paying jobs for African-Americans in Harlem and creating Black history clubs dedicated to building library resources. After earning her B.A. in political science from Hunter College, she became the first African-American woman to earn a Master's degree in Economics from Smith College, and did graduate work in French literature. She spent World War II working for the National War Labor Board in New York, organizing a union there and serving as its President. When the wartime agencies ended, she became National Research Director of the United Office and Professional Workers of America and co-chair of its Fair Employment Practices Committee. During the postwar purges of the Left in the CIO, she was a strong voice of protest and a sharp critic of the CIO's failure to organize in the South.

She was married briefly to a trade union organizer, and although they divorced, she kept his last name. In 1951 she took part in the formation of the National Negro Labor Council (NNLC), and became a national Vice President and Executive Secretary of the New York City chapter. With the NNLC, she worked closely with Coleman Young, later Mayor of Cleveland, and she organized cultural programs featuring Paul Robeson, then under persecution. He was a close friend until his death. In 1955, under pressure from the House Un-American Activities Committee and other repression, the NCLC disbanded.

In the wake of McCarthyism, Vicki traveled to Africa in the late 1950s, worked in Nigeria, and then went to Ghana, where she worked closely with Dr. W.E.B. DuBois and Shirley Graham DuBois, Alphaeus and Dorothy Hunton, and others on the African Encyclopedia and anti-colonialist efforts. In Ghana she lived with Maya Angelou and Alice Windom. When Malcolm X, whom she had known in Harlem, visited Africa, Vicki introduced Malcolm to the ambassadors from China, Cuba, and Algeria whom she knew from teaching English at their embassies. Using her French language skills, she interpreted for his meeting with the Algerians.

In 1964 Vicki was invited to China by the Chinese ambassador. Both Malcolm X and Dr. DuBois encouraged her to go. She taught English for six years in Shanghai. She became close friends with many of her young students and kept in touch with them over the years. In China, she also became close to then political exiles Robert F. Williams and Mabel Williams. When Mao Tse-Tung issued his proclamation in support of the Afro-American movement in 1968, Vicki made a speech about the statement to a rally of millions. Also in China she met and married Leibel Bergman in a Red Guard ceremony during the early days of the Cultural Revolution, and became a loving stepmother to his daughter and two sons.

On their return to the U.S, they lived in Newark, where Vicki was Director of the Tri-City Citizens' Union, a community organization for children and teenagers. In Manhattan, Vicki worked for four years as Area Leader for Community Interaction at the Center for Community Health Systems of the Faculty of Medicine of Columbia University. Later they moved to Chicago, but when the marriage ended Vicki returned to her parents' home in Brooklyn and cared for them until their deaths.

She remained active in political and international circles, traveling back to China several times, and making many trips to Africa and the Caribbean, often with her dear friend Adelaide Simms. She was an active supporter of many organizations, including: Sisters Against South African Apartheid/Sisters to Assist South Africa (SASAA); the Committee to Eliminate Media Offensive to African People (CEMOTAP); Black Workers for Justice; and the Center for Constitutional Rights.

Vicki spoke at community events and joined rallies in support of Mumia Abu Jamal and other political prisoners. She was recognized by many organizations as an "honored elder" for her contributions to the freedom struggle of her people and the world's peoples. In speeches made just before her serious health decline, Vicki urged the younger generations forward. She wrote: "Of course there will be twists and turns, but victory in the race belongs to the long-distance runners, not sprinters. Everywhere the just slogan is reverberating --'No justice, no peace!'"



Well-Known Member
Feb 28, 2009
Toni Cade Bambara (1939-1995)

born Miltona Mirkin Cade on March 25, 1939, lived the first ten years of her life in Harlem. Bambara credits the Harlem community as having a significant influence on her writing. She learned the power of the word from "the speakers on Speaker's Corner in Harlem" (Tate 28). She also credits the musicians of the forties and fifties with giving her "voice and pace and pitch" (Tate 29). While living on 151st Street between Broadway and Amsterdam, Miltona changed her name to "Toni" around kindergarten. The richly diverse population of the area contributed much to Bambara's life lessons. Always willing to "stop and talk," Bambara "adopted people" to fill the place in her life for relatives, especially grandmothers (Deep Sightings 208-209).

Although the neighborhood was instrumental in forming an important part of Bambara's identity, the author says her greatest influence and inspiration was her mother: "My mother had great respect for the life of the mind" (Deep Sightings 212). In a poignant dedication to her mother in The Salt Eaters, Bambara writes: "Mama, Helen Brent Henderson Cade Brehon, who in 1948, having come upon me daydreaming in the middle of the kitchen floor, mopped around me. " In 1959, Toni Cade graduated from Queen's College with a B.A. in Theater Arts/English. For her first published short story, "Sweet Town," she received the John Golden Award for fiction. From 1962 to 1965, Bambara completed her master's degree while serving as program director at Colony Settlement House in Brooklyn. She began teaching at City College of New York in 1965 and continued working there until 1969. During that time Bambara became involved in many socio-political issues and community groups. Bambara also attributes her mother's influence as key to shaping her political being: "My mother gave us the race thing. [In school] we were to report back to her any stereotypic or racist remark" (Deep Sightings 216).

Within the highly charged political atmosphere of the civil rights and women's movements, Toni Cade Bambara edited and published an anthology of non-fiction, fiction, and poetry, entitled The Black Woman. An important product of the Black Arts Movement, The Black Woman was the first major feminist anthology featuring work by Nikki Giovanni, Audre Lorde, Alice Walker, Paule Marshall, and others. The genesis of the anthology, Bambara says, "grew out of impatience with the lack of writing for African-American women by African-American women. Bambara herself contributed three essays to the anthology. In "On the Issue of Roles," she argues that "in a capitalist society a man is expected to be an aggressive, uncompromising, factual, lusty, intelligent provider of goods, and the woman, a retiring, gracious, emotional, intuitive, attractive consumer of goods" (Black Woman 102). This statement not only epitomizes the themes of many of the works within the anthology, but also explicitly reflects the emerging attitude of the time.

In 1971, Bambara edited her second anthology, entitled Tales and Stories for Black Folks, while teaching at Rutgers. The first seven stories of the book fall under the category Bambara calls "Our Great Kitchen Tradition. They are the "stories of the family" that make up an inextricable part of the African-American heritage and tradition of orality.....



Well-Known Member
Feb 28, 2009
Esther Cooper Jackson


Born into an activist family in Virginia in 1917, Jackson dedicated her life to civil rights, or as she puts it, "what some would call the revolutionary movement."

Now approaching 97, Jackson took GRITtv on a tour of her Central Brooklyn apartment which is packed with memorabilia of her association with W. E. B. Du Bois, Paul Robeson and Dr. King.

"I think we have a big job to do in this country...We have a long way to go," she told GRITtv.

Watch the piece and be reminded that as the famous saying goes, "the past isn't over, it isn't even past."

Jackson worked with W. E. B. Du Bois, Paul Robeson and Dr. King


Well-Known Member
Feb 28, 2009
Johnnie Tillmon
1926 - 1995

Johnnie Tillmon was born in Scott, Arkansas, in 1926. A migrant sharecropper’s daughter, she moved to California in 1959 to join her brothers and worked as a union shop steward in a Compton laundry. Tillmon organized workers and became involved in a community association called the Nickerson Garden Planning Organization which was established to improve living conditions in the housing project.

Tillmon became ill in 1963, and was advised to seek welfare. She was hesitant at first, but decided to apply for assistance to take care of her children. She immediately learned how welfare recipients were harassed by caseworkers who went to their apartments looking for evidence of extra support and who designated how they should spend money. In order to fight against this dehumanized treatment, Tillmon organized people on welfare in the housing project and founded one of the first grassroots welfare mothers’ organizations called ANC (Aid to Needy Children) Mothers Anonymous, in 1963. When a former CORE activist, George Wiley, brought together local welfare recipients’ groups and transformed them into a national movement, ANC Mothers joined the movement and became a part of the National Welfare Rights Organization (NWRO). Tillmon quickly emerged as a leader and became a chairperson of the NWRO. Together with other welfare mothers, she struggled for adequate income, dignity, justice, and democratic participation.

While the NWRO was officially run by welfare recipients, the male middle-class staff managed the finances and administered the national office, wielding great influence over the organization. Tillmon and other welfare mothers became increasingly critical of Wiley and his supporters who dominated leadership positions, and sought to place control of the organization in the hands of the welfare recipients. When the number of recipients rapidly increased and the NWRO was under fierce attack, the internal conflict between the staff members and welfare recipients came to the forefront. While Wiley and his advisors tried to mobilize the working poor, especially the white blue-collar workers, into the welfare rights movement, welfare mothers led by Tillmon sought to align with a women’s movement and gain support from feminist organizations such as the National Organization for Women (NOW).

In 1972, Tillmon published an article in Ms magazine entitled “Welfare Is a Women’s Issue,” articulating how the welfare system controlled the lives of women on welfare and constantly placed them under the scrutiny of government authorities. She tried to broaden the horizon of the feminist movement by redefining poverty as a “women’s issue.” When Wiley resigned in late 1972, Tillmon was chosen as the new Executive Director of the NWRO. The funding for the organization, however, had become depleted by the time she became the director. After the NWRO folded in 1975, Tillmon returned to Los Angeles, continuing her struggle for welfare rights at the local and state levels. In 1995 Tillmon passed away at the age of 69.

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