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Summary

  • Black Women have historically fought on multiple fronts from abolition of slavery, to suffrage, ending segregation to civil rights.  For Women’s History Month, and part of our series on understanding America, Dr Berry will provide a historical perspective of the leadership of Black Women from 1619 to 2021 – The Year of the Black Woman.  She will also discuss the role African American women play today at the forefront of the movement to expand voting rights

     Dr.Daina Ramey Berry, Chair of the History Department at The University of  Texas at Austin, is the author of A Black Women’s History Guide and six other books and scholarly articles on slavery.   In 2016, she served as a historical consultant and technical advisor for the remake of ROOTS.  In 2018, Berry produced several online essays during Black History Month for the National Museum of African American History and Culture in collaboration with Biography and History.com and edited the text for the award winning “People Not Property” website on slavery in the North.

THE WASHINGTON FOREIGN PRESS CENTER, WASHINGTON, D.C. (Virtual)

MODERATOR:  Good morning, everyone, and thank you for joining us today.  My name is Doris Robinson, and I am the moderator for today’s briefing.  Today’s briefing is part of the Foreign Press Center’s series on Understanding America, entitled, “From Slavery to Stacey Abrams: The Year of the Black Woman.”

Now, a few logistics before I introduce our briefer.  The ground rules:  This briefing is on the record, and will be recorded.  A transcript will be made available and posted on our website at fpc.state.gov.  If the Zoom session fails, please try to click on the link again to rejoin.  And finally, nongovernmental guests who are invited to brief FPC members do so in their own personal or organizational capacity, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of State or the United States Government.

Now I will introduce our briefer.  Dr. Daina Ramey Berry is Chair of the History Department and the Oliver H. Radkey Regents Professor of History at the University of Texas at Austin.  She is an award-willing author.  She cowrote A Black Women’s History of the United States with Dr. Kali Nicole Gross, and is the author of The Price for their Pound of Flesh, among other books.  Dr. Berry is a scholar of the enslaved, and a specialist on gender in slavery, as well as black women’s history.  Her work champions the history of the enslaved and amplifies their voices.

Professor Berry completed her BA, MA, and PhD in African American studies and U.S. history at the University of California, Los Angeles.  Dr. Berry will start with opening remarks, and then we will open it up for questions.

Thank you so much, Dr. Berry.  Over to you.

MS BERRY:  Thank you for inviting me, and for that lovely introduction.  It’s a pleasure to be here.  As Ms. Robinson said, I wanted to say a little bit about my research and talk about the subject of black women from slavery to Stacey Abrams, and looking at African American women’s activism, and providing a context to understanding the roles in which African American women and women of African descent have always played in our political process in informal and formal ways.

So as Ms. Robinson said, I teach history at the University of Texas at Austin, and my research really centers on enslaved women.  I started off my career doing work on enslaved women.  And when I was in graduate school at that time, we – the field switched, it made a shift, and we were starting to look at issues of gender and slavery, and understanding how gender impacted various people’s experiences.

And so I ended up doing a book, my first book, on a community study of gender and slavery in the 19th century.  And in that work, and in the work that I’ve done since then, I’ve recognized that black people have always fought and demanded justice.  They fought for their rights of citizenship in this country, even when they were denied citizenship.

And I want to begin with slavery, and begin with enslavement.  So even during the institution of slavery, African Americans fought back.  They fought back when they were on – in Africa, in their communities.  They fought back when they were captured and put on ships.  They fought back when they were on the Middle Passage.  These were people that were – what we consider African captives at that time.  This was not the first generation of African Americans.  But also I think it’s important for us to realize and recognize that some people came to the United States, African – people of African descent that were not enslaved.  Because people of African descent were free before any of them were enslaved, if they were enslaved in their lifetimes.

And so I think that’s a really important starting point, is that we start with freedom and not slavery.  And so when we think about that, what does it mean to have a black woman, Isabel de Olvera, who is petitioning in Mexico to go on a expedition to visit and explore what now is current day New Mexico?  She says that she has papers to prove that she is a free woman, that she is of African and Indian descent, and she ends her testimony by saying, “I demand justice.”  And I think that’s really fitting when we think about black women’s history, because some of the earliest women of African descent – Isabel de Olvera, for example – came to this country demanding justice.  And I would argue that black women are still doing that today.

So when we look at what happens – this was 1600.  She goes on this expedition, and we don’t have much else about her.  One of the challenges of doing black women’s history and incorporating black women’s stories is that the documentation that we often use comes from people that are not black women.  And so we have to read into those records in ways and think creatively about their experiences, and ask questions when we don’t have all the answers.  But what we do know is a lot about black women in the era of slavery, and that’s – the scholarship has grown tremendously since the 1980s.  And what we know is that black women during slavery were doing just like Isabel de Olvera said: they were demanding justice and fighting for freedom, they were fighting for their voices to be heard, they were fighting to protect their bodies, they were fighting to protect their families.

And legislation early on, as early as the 1660s, said that black women’s – whenever black women gave birth, the children that they gave birth to would also be enslaved if they were enslaved.  So the status of an enslaved person was defined by their mother, part of a law called partus sequitur ventrem.  That’s the Latin phrase.  It basically means “of the belly.”  So if your mother was enslaved, you were enslaved.  So this leads to in – which later becomes the United States – a hereditary condition of the institution of slavery based on motherhood.  So black women’s wombs, black women’s uteruses, were now being commodified, and their children, their offspring, were also being done that way as well.

And so when we think about what that means in the early history, before the United States was the United States, when we think about how the system of slavery evolves and develops through the wombs of black women’s bodies, it doesn’t mean that black women, as I mentioned earlier, were not fighting back.  At this time, black women were fighting – using – filing for freedom petitions.  Elizabeth Key is one person; also Belinda Sutton.  They filed petitions, and they also found people to support them to go take their stories to court and have witnesses, just like Isabel de Olvera did, and – to testify that they too could be free or should be free.  And some of these women were successful in these freedom suits.

In addition to that, we have black women fighting to – for the right to speak, and also fighting for their right to protect their children.  Sojourner Truth went to a grand jury to fight to get her son back, and that was incredible for a black woman to go stand in front of a grand jury, and at first there’s been testimony that said they ridiculed her, but she continued to proceed and raise money to then eventually two years later get her son returned, who had been sold to the deep South.

So this is just another example of a very famous black woman, Sojourner Truth, who was fighting for justice for her family.  But she also then went on a speaking tour, she used her religious conversion experiences and her relationship to a higher power to then also fight for justice and equality for people that were enslaved.

We also find that black women like Harriet Tubman fought for freedom, we know that, by freeing other people.  They also used ways to bring their families into freedom.  And Harriet Tubman did the same.  She tried to free as many people as she could.  And many of you know the story of Tubman; she’s a more famous figure, as well as Sojourner Truth.

But as we move beyond that, and as we go through the institution, there are a number of enslaved women whose names we don’t know who participated in fighting for freedom, who fought in the American Revolution, who fought during the Civil War, who served as spies during the war, who served as – who served in military camps, like Susie King Taylor, who – in Georgia who served in a military camp.  She was a nurse, but she also tried to find ways to educate other soldiers.

And one of the things that we find in black women’s history is that black women are creating their own institutions, and I think that’s really important when we understand the legacy that people like Vice President Kamala Harris and Stacey Abrams fall under.  There’s a long legacy of black women who have been doing this level of activism.  As we move outside of slavery, we have women that were during slavery working in the suffrage movement, because we know that black men were given the right to vote before all women.  And we know that there was supposedly universal citizenship with the 14th and 15th Amendments, and so African American women were excluded from some of that.

And as a result, Jim Crow legislation comes after slavery, and the segregation we find that happens in the South in the post-emancipation era is detrimental to the black community, but black people are still fighting for their freedom.  Individuals like Ida B. Wells many people know for – there are other – many other figures, but many of these women had their roots in activism, even some of them before slavery, or their parents had been enslaved and they had roots of activism from and they learned these roots – they learned these forms of activism from their parents and grandparents.

And so in this moment, they’re fighting against injustice against their people.  They’re fighting for the right to speak.  They’re fighting for their right to vote.  Ida B. Wells, as many of you may know, was told to stay in the back of the line in the suffrage parade, but she had been doing work with many of the same white women and organizing with the suffrage moment, and she refused to.  And she and a number of other black women took their banners and went to the front of the line and walked with their white sisters.

So because black women are often excluded, they then find their own ways to fight back and to find ways to create their own organizations.  One of those organizations was founded in 1896, the National Organization of Colored Women, and this organization was an organization of colored women clubs.  And the first president was Mary Church Terrell.  These black women all across the United States in these clubs were organizing, and they weren’t just focusing on one cause.  I think that’s one of the main takeaways that I want to share today is that they were often working on multiple fronts.  Just like slavery, they worked on suffrage and antislavery and also the right for their children and to fight for their children.  In the post-slavery era, in the early 20th century, black women were fighting for the right to vote before the 19th Amendment passed.  They were fighting for the right for citizenship.  They were fighting against segregation.

And this is something that they’ve always done.  They have never really been – from what I can see and many of my colleagues would confirm, they’ve never been sort of single focused on one cause.  So we move into looking at black women in politics and trying to understand there’s this legacy that I hopefully have described to you all.  We have some of the first women that participated – in 1918, a woman named Alice Presto, she was the first black woman to take a seat in a state legislature.  She was a member of the Seattle branch of the NAACP.  And although some of these black women knew that they were not going to necessarily win, it was really important for them to run for these offices so that they could pave a way for others that came behind them, and I think that’s another important takeaway of some of these campaigns of early black women that were fighting.

She also paved the way – I would say that Presto paved the way for people like Barbara Jordan here in the state of Texas.  Barbara Jordan was the first African American woman elected to the Texas Senate and the first woman of the South after Reconstruction – to be the first Southern African American woman elected to the United States House of Representatives.  So I think those are really important, and people like Alice Presto paved the way for her.

You also have other women that you might have read about in the piece that was shared from Politico that I wrote with my coauthor, Dr. Kali Nicole Gross.  We outlined a number of other women, like Charlotta Bass.  We talk about her bid for being the first vice presidential candidate in 1952, and one of her slogans was that she said “Win or lose, we win by raising the issues.”  And so I think that’s another important carryover from a previous era.

And finally, we get to the great Shirley Chisholm.  Her campaign slogan was “Unbought and unbossed.”  I think that is just clever, a very clever phrase that she shared, and she said – and there’s a wonderful speech that you can find online of her saying, “I am not the candidate [for] black America, although I am black…I am not the candidate for [women’s America, for women in America], although I am a [female]…I am the candidate for the people” of America.  And so they were really focusing on the issues that they were concerned about: fighting against injustice, against freedom, and belonging and being treated as respectful human beings.

They also looked at economic campaigns to help support the African American community, but it wasn’t just laser-focused on black people.  It was focused on equality for all.  And I think that’s something that’s really important when we understand people like – the work that Stacey Abrams did in Georgia.  Those – the voter registration that she did, black women were doing that at the turn of the century, in the early 19 – I’m sorry, in the early 20th century.  They were doing similar voting drives out of their garages, at their churches.  They were walking around and making sure that people were registered to vote.  This legacy is the legacy that Stacey Abrams came into, and this is something that black women have been doing for more than – almost a hundred years.  I think that’s one of the main points that I wanted to share with you today, and I’m happy to answer questions about other black women, including Kamala Harris and her rise to the vice presidency.  Thank you so much.

MODERATOR:  Thank you, Dr. Berry.  That was a wonderful overview.  So I – now I would like to open it up for questions.  If you have a question, you can either raise your hand in the participant tab or you can put your question in the chat and I will call on you and read out your question.  So we will just take a moment.

I will go ahead – it looks like we have a question from Martin.  Martin, you can go ahead and unmute yourself, and please state your name and your outlet.

QUESTION:  Okay, yes.  My name is Martin Burcharth.  I am the U.S. correspondent for a newspaper in Denmark.  The name is Information.  Hello, Dr. Berry.  Very nice to meet you.

MS BERRY:  Hi.  Nice to meet you too.

QUESTION:  Yes.  So I just – first I just wanted – I think a lot of people would be curious to know what you think of Vice President Kamala Harris’ role in this administration.  I noticed that President Biden – and that’s my impression; I think I would like to know what your impression is – that he has been incredibly respectful towards her in public settings and that he’s given her a lot of space physically, on television.  And he has – I follow it pretty closely, what’s going on in the White House, and he has given her quite a number of tasks, even calling foreign heads of state of smaller countries.  Like recently, just called the – she called the prime minister of Norway and he didn’t.

And so that’s a question I would like to ask you, the first one, and then I have a follow-up question.

MS BERRY:  Great.  Thank you for the question.  I actually agree with you.  I was very impressed and reassured to see that at most of the meetings, when we see the photo ops from meetings that they’ve had, you see her sitting next to him; you see her visibly on television doing her job, doing the work of the vice presidency.  And I think that’s very important, because for young black girls all over the world, representation is so important.  And for them to see an African woman, of African descent and Indian, South Asian descent, in this position, it really shows that there’s – the sky is the limit in terms of the kind of careers that young girls can have.  So I think it’s – for one, I think that’s important.

But also it shows that this is someone – Vice President Harris is someone who is well-educated and well-trained and was ready for the job.  And so you’re not – it’s not just about the image of who she is and her being in this position, but it’s also that he trusts her and that she’s qualified to do the work of the vice presidency.  And I think that is also extremely important.

QUESTION:  And the follow-up question, if I am allowed to do that, would be:  What are your expectations in terms of her work within the administration with respect to achieving more racial equity – not equality but equity?

MS BERRY:  Yes.

QUESTION:  And what is your wish list in terms of what should be done in particular for black women?

MS BERRY:  Wow, that’s great.  That’s a long – there’s probably a long wish list for me, and that’s just because as an historian I’m thinking about all of the social injustice that we’ve experienced.  But at one – my hope is that she will do a good job in her job, and I am fully confident that she will.  I also know that she is a representative of all people in the United States regardless of race, gender, sexuality, all of those things.  But I think she will be a person that her voice and her being at the table is going to be extremely important, because she can speak about a number of issues that some folks might not be sensitive to.

And so I think looking at a new agenda, I think that from what I understand, they are calling for some commissions to explore racial equality – or equity, as you say.  I think there are a number of other – I think they’re looking at the police, looking at questions about police reform, policing reform.  This – these are all very important issues because they’ve been not just issues of recent – of the recent past but of the long history.  There’s a long history of African Americans in particular, but other groups of color and other marginalized groups, that have struggled with not only law enforcement but also of having, like, sort of a level playing field.  And I think that Kamala Harris will be an important part in those conversations.  But I think she’ll also know who to recommend to be on some of these lower House committees and so forth.  So I think that’s another very important role that she’ll have.

In terms of my wish list, I actually wish that when – I wish that they consult a wider range of people to have these conversations and not just those of us that have letters behind our names.  I think everyday, ordinary citizens should have a say in some of these conversations, because they’re experiencing it.  So look at black women domestic workers.  They are the ones that work in hotels, that work in people’s homes.  I would love to have their voice at the table.  I would also love to have the voice of those that are incarcerated, because the experiences that are going on in our nation’s jails and prisons are horrific.  And we talk about injustice that we see out here, but there’s stuff that’s happening in incarcerated spaces that is very, very troublesome, if not deadly.

So I think those are two issues.  I think also dealing with the issue of reparations, which is a question that’s been coming up lately.  I do hope that the late John Conyers’ bill, H.B. 40, now that’s been carrying on by Representative Lee, Jackson Lee, I hope that we now will actually have that commission and that there’ll be a number of scholars, activists, and everyday citizens at the table to really do this research on the history of slavery and the impact on the economics of slavery on this country.

QUESTION:  If there is no one else, I have more questions.

MODERATOR:  Let me give a call.  Just a reminder, to ask a question you can raise your hand in the participant tab or you can submit your question online.  Martin, I did have one question that was submitted in advance, and it’s about black women’s history in the schools.  And the reporter asks if you could talk about that a little bit.

MS BERRY:  Absolutely.  Black women – actually, this – it’s a really interesting, long history.  Just like most of black women’s history, it’s just not always known.  Black women’s history in schools started before there were organized school systems, when black people were excluded from gaining their education during slavery.  Heather Williams at the University of Pennsylvania writes a book called Self-Taught, and she talks about how black women were instrumental in helping form these sort of small communities of learning.  So sometimes from the slave cabins, if there were someone that knew how to read or write, because literacy was denied and made illegal during slavery, but there were a number of African Americans that taught themselves how to read or write, or they were fortunate to have one of their enslavers teach them letters.  Like Frederick Douglass talks about this, Nat Turner talks about this, and a number of other enslaved people talk about the ways in which they tried to learn the letters or learn about spelling and reading and all kinds of forms of literacy.

So when – but so during – there’s a community of black women even in Savannah that had – free black women that were educated that taught schools in their houses.  And because it was illegal for enslaved people, they would pretend and carry buckets that looked like cleaning buckets, but inside there were books, and they would go these people’s homes and they would have a lesson.  And one of the things about early education in African American history is that there was not the sort of level of grades that we think about of kindergartners, first, second, third.  You might have an adult that’s 35 years old and a six-year-old in the same room in the same schoolhouse learning how to read and write.

So I wanted to just start off by saying that the early forms of education among African Americans started within their own communities, and they started by taking pieces of newspaper and learning the letters, but then also free blacks that were educated also taught schools.  That was much more institutionalized during Reconstruction, when they actually had free black and white educators, and when the first forms – when the first HBCUs, historically black colleges and universities, were formed in the aftermath of slavery.  That’s when you find the educational system opening up more doors for African Americans in mostly segregated facilities.

Then when you go into the 20th century and even into more contemporary times, you’ll notice that there is a long history of black women educators at every school level from pre-K to the professorate.  And so I think that there’s just this long legacy of black women educators teaching their communities but also teaching others.

And I hope that answers your question.

MODERATOR:  It does, and thank you.  Martin, do you want to go ahead and unmute yourself?

QUESTION:  Yes, thank you.  No, I just had a follow-up question – not a follow – an entirely different question which I’m curious about when you think – and that is that if you look at Stacey Abram’s work and LaTosha Brown’s work in Georgia, if you compare that to Fannie Lou Hamer’s work in the ‘60s in Mississippi, Fannie Lou Hamer was someone who was strictly – she starts with civil rights, fighting for civil rights, for the vote.  That was her main issue.

And I want – I mean, so they – Stacey Abrams and LaTosha Brown, who I think are the most important in Georgia and probably even nationwide right now among black women fighting for voting rights, I’m just wondering whether the situation has not changed since the ‘60s up to date, and that they ought to do more than that, in other words, fight for other things than just the right to access the polls in a free and unhindered way.

MS BERRY:  I think that’s a great question.  What I was saying earlier though is that a lot of the black women in the 19th century didn’t really have a choice or the freedom to not – to focus on just one issue.  Most of them were working on multiple fronts, because there were so many injustices that they were experiencing.  I think because black people have been free now since 1865, right, and we have many more people in lots of different areas, that I think we’re now seeing some are doing more than one – some are still doing more than one form of activism or one cause.

But I think for someone like Stacey Abrams, I think she probably considers that this is one of the most important, the enfranchisement of a group of people that have been disenfranchised.  So I think that that’s partly why there’s that focus that she and Brown are doing.  There’s also black women doing this activism; they’re doing reproductive justice.  There are black women that are looking at literacy and fighting for children in schools.  There are – I mean, so there’s so many other people now that are active and organized, and there are so many grassroots organizations that I don’t even have – I don’t even think I have the capacity to recognize all of them, even in this moment here.  But there’s so much underground work that’s being done as well.  Even the Black Lives Matter movement was founded by black women as a movement for black lives.  And that was similar to the way Ida B. Wells started her anti-lynching campaign.  So I think it just depends on where people are.

And I’ve always said recently when people say, well, what can we do or what should we do, I always suggest that people focus on the corner of influence that they have and the corner of the world that they live in.  And so I think that’s what fantastic and phenomenal about Fannie Lou Hamer.  She went and she was in the fields and she was speaking to her people, people that were her peers, that would listen to her, that would trust her, and that would go with her to the polls.  And I think that that’s important because she had a bigger sphere of influence there than somebody maybe from the outside that might not know how to speak the right language or might not treat them with the level of respect that someone like Fannie Lou Hamer would.

QUESTION:  She was incredibly courageous.

MS BERRY:  She was.

QUESTION:  Thank you.

MS BERRY:  Thank you.  I appreciate your questions.

MODERATOR:  We did have another submitted question, and it was along those lines, Dr. Berry.  It was about leadership in other organizations like Black Lives Matter, and also the journalist asked:  “To what extent would you think Charles M. Blow claim that young African Americans move back to Southern states and get more female representation?”

MS BERRY:  There is sort of a – I don’t know if they’re calling it this, but a reverse migration, where people are moving back to the South.  As you know, the migration period – and I think Isabel Wilkerson was brilliant in her work In the Warmth of Other Suns, also historian Nell Irvin Painter in Exodusters, just to name two black women writers who write about this time period.

But there was a movement after slavery that black people left the South, and what Isabel Wilkerson argues is that they left on their own volition.  This was their – this was them marching with their own feet and leaving the South and trying to create a new life for themselves.  There were obviously push factors that were involved in that because of lynching and some of the challenges that people were facing in terms of developing the economic stability of their families.

But when we look at what’s happening now – so black people left the South.  They moved all over the country, from the West Coast, Pacific Northwest, to the Midwest, to the East, and the Northeast.  There is now a movement back to the South, where people are going back and looking at going back to their roots, where their grandparents lived or their great grandparents lived.  I think the South is not considered as much of a threat or a hostile environment as it was, and also the North was not necessarily this place of refuge that people thought it would be.  And so I think that you see some of that, and you’re going to continue to see that over the next, I would say five to seven years, because that’s the pattern that we’re absolutely seeing.

MODERATOR:  Thank you so much.  So I will do another call for questions.  Journalists can raise their hand in the participant tab or submit their question in the chat forum.  So we’ll just give that a minute.

MS BERRY:  While we wait, may I say something?

MODERATOR:  Absolutely.

MS BERRY:  There’s a really – a growing field in African American women’s history.  And I’m probably the middle generation now at this point, because there are so many young scholars that are coming behind.  And the field in terms of publications and scholarship is growing.  And many of these – there’s biographies, but there’s also micro-histories of different movements or events, and then there’s also these macro studies like the book that Dr. Gross and I wrote, A Black Women’s History of the United States, where we were just using that as an overview.

If you wanted to have a starting point to think about let’s understand black women’s history, that was the goal of our study was really just to give the general reader an overview and that it’s not at all – it doesn’t even cover so many other aspects of African American women’s experiences, and we don’t even cover every single black woman that we could have possibly covered.

So I just wanted to share that, because there are also scholars that are media trained and happy to talk to press, that feel comfortable speaking to press and know how to speak to press in ways that are not highly academic and jargony.   And so I think there are a number of scholars that are willing and happy to answer questions to make sure that the stories that you all share are historically accurate.

MODERATOR:  Thank you for that.  It looks like we have a question in the chat.  Mayoko Ishikawa from Asahi Shimbun asked:  “What is the role of gender relations inside African American community in black women’s history?”

MS BERRY:  Wow, that’s a great question, because it varies.  And it’s interesting, because in the 1980s, 1990s, when scholars were getting more into the internal lives of African Americans, people didn’t want to write so much about – or people were challenged within the black community for writing about domestic abuse and some of the more negative aspects.  But you’ll find across black women’s history leadership and camaraderie with black men and black women, but you’ll also find that black men did not support black women.  So it – I’m not trying to contradict myself, but it varies depending on when.

So for instance, there were a number of people that supported Shirley Chisholm and there were a number of African Americans that did not.  And so it varies.

You also – I think there was – who was it – Charlotta Bass was supported by W.E.B. Du Bois and Paul Robeson, and that’s really huge because these were individuals that were well known – well-known black intellectuals and black thinkers.  Robeson was the renaissance man of our community because he was a scholar, but he was also an athlete and he was also a performer.  And so to have that level of support – we know that Bass was also the first female editor of a newspaper there in Los Angeles, and she had a number of men that supported her, black men that supported her in that work.  Ida B. Wells started off her campaign because some of her African American male friends had been lynched, and so she was fighting against lynching and fighting against that cause in support of black men.

So what I’m saying here is that you’re going to find there’s not one single story about – within the African American community, the level of support between black men and black women.  I think overall, you’ll find that at some points it’s fraught and other points it’s completely collegial and supportive.  I think, though, for the most part, you will always find supporters and there will always be dissenters no matter what time period and what movement you’re exploring.

And that actually adds a lot – for black women, it adds a lot of complexities because many of them were hurt when they didn’t find the support from black men, but then you have other supporters where black men are right there as part of these campaigns.

MODERATOR:  (Inaudible.)

MS BERRY:  Can’t hear you.  You’re on mute.

MODERATOR:  There we go.  Thank you so much.  I’m going to see if we have any other questions.  We do have a question from Andrej Stopar.  Andrej, can you go ahead and unmute yourself and state your name and your media outlet?

QUESTION:  Hello, I hope you hear me.

MS BERRY:  Yes.

MODERATOR:  Yes.

QUESTION:  Yeah, how do you do?  I’m Andrej Stopar.  I’m a U.S. correspondent from Slovenian Public Broadcasting.  It’s a pleasure listening to you, Dr. Berry.

MS BERRY:  Thank you.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  It’s interesting.  I have a more of a general question.  I’ve never lived in a country who – where the race would be so extremely important and stressed as it is here.  Well, in Europe, we have nationalisms, but not in as such extent.  That’s something which fascinates me in a negative way, of course.

When we look at history, the U.S. history, it looks like as you would be dealing with the same questions all the time.  At the same – but at certain points, you make a breakthrough but a setback falls immediately.  Why?  And in which phase do you think you are now?

MS BERRY:  That’s a great question.  So I’m actually really happy you asked this question because whenever there has been – and I’ll focus on race and I’ll focus on African Americans.  Whenever there’s been black success, like Wall – the Black Wall Street in Tulsa, there’s also been – there’s been a response to curtail that.  And what I mean by that is black businesses in Tulsa a hundred years ago, just about, were burned down.  Anytime African Americans made some gains, there was backlash, and some people are now using the term whitelash.  I’m not sure how I feel about that, but there’s a response to try to police or to control or to push back the progress that African Americans have made, and that has been constant and we can trace it throughout history.

When we look where we are now, many would argue, and I would agree, that some of what we experienced over the last four years was backlash from an Obama presidency, from an African American or person of African descent being in the White House.  And I think some of that was there.  I don’t – I am concerned that there may be backlash for an African American woman vice president – an African American and South Asian woman vice president.  And I hope that’s not the case, but that has historically been what we’ve found, and that anytime you have African American achievement and success, and if it’s getting too close to where people are not comfortable, there’s usually some kind of pushback that happens.  And that’s where I think we are right now.  That’s what I would say.  And that’s probably not a popular answer.

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  Our next question comes from Alex Buisson.  Alex, can you unmute yourself and state your outlet?

QUESTION:  Thank you.  Yes, it’s – the outlet is La Croix.  It’s a French daily newspaper.  Thank you so much for this presentation.  I had a first question and then a follow-up if possible.  My first question was about the activism of young black teenagers from the Gen Z generation.  I was wondering if you could speak a bit more about that and if the election of Kamala Harris had made any difference in the activism of younger generations of black women.  Thank you.

MS BERRY:  Great – yeah, great question.  First of all, as you know from the Civil Rights Movement, that was a very young movement, and even when we look at Little Rock Nine, when we look at African American girls that were participating in desegregating schools, they were very, very young.  My mother herself was a young teen who went to the March on Washington against my grandmother’s will, because my grandmother was worried that there was going to be violence at the time and so she didn’t want her to go, and she snuck out and went with her older brothers.

And so it was – there is a level of activism that we are seeing today, and I would say from my – I first saw it personally, just me personally, saw it with the school killings, with the school shootings when some of the kids who were too young to vote at the time – 15-year-olds, 16-year-olds – were advocating against gun violence and they were speaking out and they were marching and they were protesting.  And I think that there’s – the younger group, the Gen Zs and younger than that are realizing that they have a voice and they have a collective voice.  And I remember reading stories where they’ll say, like, “I can’t vote yet, but when I vote, these are the things, these are the causes that I’m going to be focusing on.”  And I think that is just brilliant, that it shows that they are participating in the body politic that we have, they’re participating in understanding that their collective voice matters, and that they can have a say in the way the future looks for them.

And so looking at what this means for this campaign, when you look at the marches that have been happening over the last, I would say, 16 months or so, very, very young.  I mean, people of all ages are out there.  But the Gen Z folks are out there, they’re campaigning, they’re doing some really great grassroots organizing across states that I think is not necessarily being recognized.  And they’re able to mobilize because of social media, and I think that their savviness on social media, whatever platform they’re using, is allowing them to connect to a large unit of people that are fighting for some of the same issues.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  Just a second question about the black sororities specifically.  I was curious to have your opinion as to how influential they were on the political level, because suddenly they’ve been very active around Kamala Harris.  And so – yeah, is that a new kind of influence or – and yeah, how would you assess how influential they are?  Yeah, thank you.

MS BERRY:  So black – yeah, black sororities have been around since the early 20th century.  Yeah, and because I’m not in a sorority, I don’t have all the dates and (inaudible), but it’s very important – and I don’t want to say the wrong date, but it is very important on when these organizations were founded.  The Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, the Delta Sigma Theta, Sigma Gamma Rho, and also Zeta Phi Beta, those – oh that’s the males, that’s the fraternity.  There was another sorority that I’m – escaping me right now.  And it’s the same color I’m wearing, so I’m forgetting that, so pardon me, all sorority sisters, for me forgetting that.

At any rate, this – sororities have been major organizations, just like the black women club movement, of organization, of community support, of volunteer activities, of social justice, fighting for social justice, since their founding.  And so a lot of – a number of black women have gained their political experience, their social justice, activism in these organizations, and these are community organizations.  And they’re often focused on different causes depending on what the themes are of the founding members, but then also they might have national themes that they’re focusing on for a period of time.  So it’s absolutely important.  It’s a level of networking that has been a very, very important part of the African American community.

QUESTION:  Thank you so much.

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  And we do have time for one more question.  So I will throw that out there if anyone would like to ask a final question, we do have a bit of time before we sign off.

MS BERRY:  Zeta Phi Beta, that’s the sorority.  That was going to drive me crazy until I remembered.

QUESTION:  Thank you.

MS BERRY:  Sorry.

MODERATOR:  Well, it doesn’t look like we have any more questions, so Dr. Berry, I will turn it over to you for any final remarks that you would like to make.

MS BERRY:  Okay, thank you.  First, I want to thank you all, the Foreign Press Center, for having me, and for all of the people that came today.  I really appreciate your time, I appreciate you asking questions, and I appreciate your interest in African American women’s history.  I just want to say that if you have questions, there are – as I mentioned earlier, there are scholars that are happy to answer them and to speak with you, and to just reach out, that we are in university communities but many of us are skilled and ready and happy to talk and share our stories, and to provide context for the stories that you all are writing.  And that’s really all I wanted to say, just to say thank you for being here, and to remember that black women come from a legacy of activism.  And that legacy started even when they were not free, when they were enslaved, and it continued after slavery, and black women are still fighting and finding ways to use grassroots organizing and national campaign organizing to make sure that we have a more equitable society.  So thank you very much.

MODERATOR:  Thank you so much, Dr. Berry, for taking the time to speak with us today. And I would like to thank the journalists for participating.  We will have a transcript of this session later today, which we will post on the FPC website.  And also if there were questions that you did not have a chance to ask, you can send those to dcfpc@state.gov and we will get those to Dr. Berry to answer.

Once again, thank you so much, Dr. Berry, and this session is now concluded.

MS BERRY:  Thank you.

U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future