TRAILBLAZERS Volume 1
Black Women as Foot Soldiers
Black Body Beautiful
In Volume 1, it is fitting the series begins with activists. Black women, who have always functioned at the intersections of gender, race, class, sexuality, and ability, have played a vital role in social justice movements. Having historically fought on multiple fronts from the abolitionist, suffragist, and feminist movements, we revisit the significance of early activists like Ella Baker, Pauli Murray, Rosina Tucker, and Clara Day, who represent the hundreds of unnamed women who participated in the civil rights and labor movements. They have proven time, and again that activism cannot be performative. It requires a critical eye on our world and committing to the cause utilizing available resources to help make the world a better place for all oppressed people. It is the path modern-day activists like environmentalist Peggy Shepard and community activist Kadiatou Diallo have taken.
Although the American dance world practiced pervasive racism, it did not prevent African Americans, especially Black women, from participating in dance. They formed their own companies, created and blended techniques, studied the masters and became masters, authored books, penned choreography, taught legends, and wowed audiences near and far with breathtaking dance movements while representing the African American diaspora. Readers rediscover tap dancer Jeni Legon and ballroom dancer Margot Webb, honored alongside dance legends Josephine Baker, Katherine Dunham, and Janet Collins. Their success metamorphosed a new generation of trailblazing hyphenates: dancer-choreographer-anthropologist-artistic director-executive directors like Judith Jamison, Virginia Johnson, Camille A. Brown, Dormeshia, and Cynthia Oliver.
Historically, it is difficult to picture, but there was a time when women were not allowed to compete in sports. As women were allowed to participate, Black women faced additional barriers, thanks to double discrimination. But some Black women managed to shatter those barriers, such as the nearly forgotten tennis and basketball champion Ora Washington and Alice Coachman, the first to compete and win the Olympics. The trail they blazed allowed many others to follow, including Serena Williams, Allyson Felix, and Simone Biles, who have become the most decorated athletes in American history. Despite the weight of this racial history, they continue to battle stereotypes and carving out new societal pathways to follow.
Throughout this volume, David challenges the socially conditioned assumptions, stereotypes, and false binaries denigrating Black women's bodies, particularly in dance and sports, including how they wear their hair. In this regard, David addresses the totality of Black womanhood: physically, culturally, and politically.
“The first book in an anticipated six-volume set, TRAILBLAZERS is an inspiring, comprehensive work. With a multidisciplinary background in music, design, and poetry, David provides the model of activist scholarship that combines academic nuance and sophistication with an engaging writing style that is accessible to general readership, such as David’s essay that convincingly demonstrates how women served as the “foot soldiers” of the civil rights movement. Backed by impressive endnotes and references, each chapter is encyclopedic in breadth while offering fresh analytical insights into Black women who are well covered in the existing literature, like Rosa Parks. The choice to combine the topics of activism, dance, and sports makes for an eclectic collection . . . . Accompanied by dozens of stark, powerful black-and-white photographs and portraits, this is a visually arresting volume whose words match the power of its images. An exciting resource in a promising, thorough multivolume celebration of Black women."