Highlighting those who have transformed the anti-sexual violence movement
Black History Month is an annual celebration of achievements by Black Americans and a time for recognizing their central role in our history. This month, we want to take the opportunity to highlight six key Black leaders in the anti-sexual movement that have shaped our work.
Anita Hill is an attorney and a professor of Social Policy, Law, and Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies at Brandeis University. Hill gained national recognition in 1991 when she testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee during the confirmation hearing of Supreme Court Justice nominee Clarence Thomas.
During the televised confirmation hearings, Hill told the committee that Thomas had sexually harassed her while he was her supervisor at the Department of Education and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. You can watch this short video of the all-male and all-White Senate Judiciary Committee grilling Hill to get an idea of how brave and unwavering she was in the face of all of this injustice.
And though Clarence Thomas was confirmed as a Supreme Court Justice by a narrow majority of 52 to 48, Hill inspired many women across the country. According to D.C. Congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, Hill’s treatment by the panel was a contributing factor to the large number of women elected to Congress in 1992. She stated, “women clearly went to the polls with the notion in mind that you had to have more women in Congress.”
Crystal Feimster is a Professor of African American Studies, History and American Studies at Yale University. Her book, Southern Horrors: Women and the Politics of Rape and Lynching, broke new ground in her story of the racial politics of the postbellum South by focusing on the intersections of race and sexual violence.
“Pairing the lives of two Southern women, Ida B. Wells, who fearlessly branded lynching a white tool of political terror against southern blacks, and Rebecca Latimer Felton, who
urged white men to prove their manhood by lynching black men accused of raping white women, Feimster makes visible the ways in which black and white women sought protection and political power in the New South.” — Book review
Kimberlé Crenshaw is a feminist legal scholar, critical race theorist, and civil rights advocate who coined the term “intersectionality” over 30 years ago. She explains her decades long work in a 2016 TEDWomen talk, The Urgency of Intersectionality. Crenshaw has worked extensively on a variety of issues pertaining to gender and race in the in the US and abroad including violence against women, structural racial inequality and affirmative action.
According to Crenshaw in an interview with Columbia Law School in 2017:
“Intersectionality is a lens through which you can see where power comes and collides, where it interlocks and intersects. It’s not simply that there’s a race problem here, a gender problem here, and a class or LBGTQ problem there. Many times that framework erases what happens to people who are subject to all of these things.”
Crenshaw is a Professor of Law at Columbia Law School, as well as a Distinguished Professor of Law at the University of California, Los Angeles. She is also the Co-Founder and Executive Director of the African American Policy Forum, and the founder and Executive Director of the Center for Intersectionality and Social Policy Studies at Columbia Law School.
Tarana Burke is a social justice and community activist who is known for starting the Me Too movement, which became a viral movement encouraging survivors of sexual trauma to disclose their experience of sexual violence as a way to shed light on th e prevalence of the issue.
Burke’s activism and work with sexual trauma survivors began in the 1990s. In 2003, Burke developed the nonprofit “Just Be,” which was an all-girls program for Black girls aged 12 to 18. In 2006, Burke began using “Me Too” to help other women with similar experiences to stand up for themselves. Over a decade later, in 2017 #MeToo became a viral hashtag women began using it to tweet about the Harvey Weinstein sexual abuse allegations. The phrase and hashtag quickly developed into a broad-based, and eventually international movement.
Time named Burke, among a group of other prominent activists dubbed “the silence breakers”, as the Time Person of the Year for 2017. Burke continues to present at public speaking events across the country and is currently Senior Director at Girls for Gender Equity in Brooklyn.
Tony Porter is an educator and activist who is internationally recognized for his efforts to end violence against women.
Porter is the co-founder of A CALL TO MEN, an organization that challenges men to think critically about how they might be reinforcing or passing on harmful beliefs about gender roles and so they can challenge those beliefs in other men. Their educational programs have been developed to address the root causes of violence against women to pave the way for gender equity.
Porter is internationally recognized for his efforts to prevent violence against women while promoting a healthy, respectful manhood. His 2010 TED Talk, A Call to Men, has been named by GQ Magazine as one of the “Top 10 TED Talks Every Man Should See.”
Wagatwe Wanjuki is a feminist activist, speaker, writer, and digital strategist best known for her work as a national campus anti-violence advocate. She is a founding co-organizer of the Know Your IX ED ACT NOW campaign focusing on holding schools accountable to protect the civil right for an education free of sexual violence.
She created the nationally trending hashtag #SurvivorPrivilege, which aims to highlight how sexual assault victims suffer devastating consequences of the violence committed against them. Her TEDTalk, The (Literal) Cost of Not Believing Survivors, explores the ways in which victim-blaming and lack of accountability for perpetrators causes immeasurable harm to survivors.