Inspired by the intersectional activism of Sojourner Truth a century before, Sojourners for Truth and Justice was a radical black women’s human rights organization during the height of the cold war’s Age of McCarthy. The group included Alice Childress, Shirley DuBois, Esther Cooper Jackson, Claudia Jones, Lorraine Hansberry, Louise Thompson Patterson, and Mary Church Terrell. They advocated a black left feminism that required an intersectional approach to their mobilizations against postwar American racism, critiques of U.S. foreign policy during the cold war, and they sought to expose human rights violations against African Americans before the newly formed United Nations.
In their 1951 march on Washington, “A Call to Negro Women,” they read a list of grievances that denounced the State’s complicity in racist violence against black women. Their agenda—which was deemed subversive during the Red Scare—highlighted the ways in which, as mothers, wives, and sisters, they experienced violence and oppression within the U.S. apartheid system. In an issue of the Freedom newspaper, Lorraine Hansberry offers a report, “Women Voice Demands in Capital Sojourn” on Sojourners for Truth and Justice’s attempt to meet with President Harry Truman. They proclaimed: “In the spirit of Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth—we demand the death of Jim Crow.”
Hansberry describes these American citizens as “wives, mothers and victims of race hatred” demanding “a redress of grievances,” and their activisms modify postwar narratives of domesticity to offer a record of injustice in a manner that radically inaugurates the notion that the “personal is political.” For instance, Hansberry writes “Mrs. Westry, whose son had been shot on the emergency operating table by a policeman, while the doctors were trying to treat the sockets where his gouged out eyes had been” and “Mrs. Josephine Grayson, whose husband with six other tobacco and furniture workers of Martinsville, VA had been legally lynched in February” stand as witnesses to political violence that violates the presumed sanctity of the family.
Framed as a “demand” their proclamation describes the terms of their complaint not as a petition, but instead as an expected right of citizenship. And, by describing themselves as wives and mothers, the Sojourners for Truth and Justice deploy conformist notions of an ideal, implicitly white womanhood to serve their more radical notion of equality and democracy for all. They expose the violence taking place in the everyday lives of black Americans and their stories insist on the constitutional rights of black women.
Dayo F. Gore, Radicalism at the Crossroads: African American Women Activists in the Cold War (2012)
Erik S. McDuffie, Sojourning for Freedom: Black Women, American Communism, and the Making of Black Left Feminism (2011)