Happy Black History Month! This is the 12th blog of a series of blogs called “Black History Month Heroes You Should Know”. Each blog focuses on the life and career of a Black American whose life has shaped American history.
The focus of today’s blog is Barbara Smith, the queer author, educator, book publisher, and lead scholar in Black feminism.
Importance of Education
Born in Cleveland, Ohio alongside her twin sister Beverly in 1946, Barbara Smith was raised by her mother, grandmother, and great aunt. Unfortunately, the twins lost their mother at age 9 (BlackPast). As she grew up, Barbara quickly understood the importance of education through the way her grandmother and great aunt stressed it. Barbara began her career in activism in high school. BlackPast says while in high school, Barbara joined the marches and protests of the civil rights movement.
B.A., Masters, ABD
Once high school ended, Barbara attended Mount Holyoke College until graduating with a B.A. in 1969. Two years later, she earned her MA at the University of Pittsburgh (BlackPast). Smith also pursued a doctorate at the University of Connecticut. She completed all but the dissertation (ABD) for her degree (BlackPast). In between pursuing her Master’s and Doctorate, Smith co-founded the Combahee River Collective out of Boston.
Combahee River Collective
This organization is best known for authoring one of the first documents to explore intersectional oppression involving racism and homophobia (BlackPast). This document written in 1977 is called the Combahee River Collective Statement. In this document, the authors discussed their sexualities, some of them for the first time (BlackPast). The organization disbanded in 1980, which was around the time Smith saw a need for a publishing company that would promote the scholarly work of women of color.
Barbara Smith joined several of her female colleagues, including poet Audre Lorde, to open Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press. The company saw so much success that other publishing companies began publishing the works of the same scholars (BlackPast). While the publishing company no longer operates, a learning center in Florida called Kitchen Table Literary Arts Center took up the name and the mission.
Since then, Barbara Smith has been educating, lecturing from college to university, and freelance writing. She also got more involved with local politics, joining the Albany, New York Common Council in 2005 (BlackPast). That same year, Smith was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. For her service to the LGBTQIA+ community, she was awarded the Stonewall Award for Service to the Lesbian and Gay Community in 1994 (BlackPast). Today, Smith is 75 years old and still writing for publications like The Nation.