Today we honor and celebrate a woman who explored the intersections of oppression through the lens of feminism and the civil rights movement, Frances M. Beal. She was born in Binghamton, N.Y January 13, 1940 to a Jewish mother and an African-American father.The simultaneous family struggles against both racism and anti-Semitism informed her early social conscience. As a result, Beal spent her life as an activist, mostly by organizing, writing and speaking about the issue of rights for Black women and racial justice as a whole.
She started political activism in college with the NAACP in 1958, but soon ran into conservative restrictions. She took a break from American politics and went to France, where she attended the Sorbonne. Her worldview became heavily influenced by student opposition to the colonial status of Algeria. This was reinforced by many a cafe discussion about the decolonization process in Africa, which provided a world outlook of internationalism which came to define her politics at home. Beal met Malcolm X in Paris and was introduced to the works of Simone de Bouvoire.
When she returned home, she worked with SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) and became involved in SNCC’s International Affairs Commission. Other influences included meetings with women at the United Nations representing African liberation and anti-colonial struggles. When the Moynihan Report was published (1965) positing that the main problem afflicting the Black community was the Black matriarchy – a view that tried to push Black women into a second class role – Beal became a founding member of the SNCC Black Women’s Liberation Committee (1968), which evolved into the TWWA (Third World Women’s Alliance (1970-1978).
Given her overlapping interests and deeply personal understanding of the intersections of oppression, Beal wrote a highly influential pamphlet in 1969, Double Jeopardy: To Be Black and Female. This brilliant excerpt underscores the tensions between the various civil rights movements of the day.
Much has been written recently about the white women’s liberation movement in the United States and the question arises whether there are any parallels between this struggle and the movement on the part of black women for total emancipation. While there are certain comparisons that one can make, simply because we both live under the same exploitative system, there are certain differences, some of which are quite basic. The white women’s movement is far from being monolithic. Any white group that does not have an anti-imperialist and anti-racist ideology has absolutely nothing in common with the black women’ t struggle. Are white women asking to be equal to white men in their pernicious treatment of third world peoples? What assurances have black women that white women will be any less racist and exploitative if they had the power and were in a position to do so? These are serious questions that the white women’s liberation movement has failed to address itself to.
Beal is also a lifelong peace advocate, supporting the end of colonialism, African liberation, and opposing the war in Vietnam. She has also worked for the ACLU (1987-2005) and in 1998, was elected National Secretary of the Black Radical Congress. Frances Beal retired in 2005 and continues to promote peace and justice through her support of the Women of Color Resource Center (a group that has its roots in the TWWA), and her opposition to war in Iraq and the rest of the Middle East.