Patricia J. Williams, James L. Dohr Professor of Law at Columbia University, published these words twenty-five years ago in her renowned essay on slavery, race, gender, and rights called "On Being the Object of Property":
There are moments in my life when I feel as though a part of me is missing. There are days when I feel so invisible that I can't remember what day of the week it is, when I feel so manipulated that I can't remember my own name, when I feel so lost and angry that I can't speak a civil word to the people who love me best. Those are the times when I catch sight of my reflection in stores windows and am surprised to see a whole person looking back.
In a symposium last week at Columbia Law School that celebrated her continued work in law, critical race theory, and intersectional feminism, she recalled the climate in which she wrote this reflection on the dispossession of black people in general and black women in particular.
Born Chloe Anthony Wofford in 1931, Toni Morrison is one of the most iconic literary figures of the twentieth century. She was born in Ohio, to which her parents, Ramah Willis Wofford and George Wofford, moved in order to escape the racist climate of the US South. I’ll be referring to her by the name by which she is known professionally, Toni Morrison, throughout this piece, but I want to point out that Toni is the nickname, and Chloe Wofford preferred. She writes a lot about being denied one’s true self, and, as naming is a powerful determinant here, I don’t care to be one to let this writer’s true self go unacknowledged. Morrison, then, won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1993–the eighth woman to be awarded this honour–and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1988. Morrison’s services to literature have not just been through her own fiction, however; she’s edited writers such as Angela Davis, promoting black literature every which way she can.
Octavia E. Butler is most likely the best writer I’ve ever encountered. That’s certainly true technically: she’s flawless. I mean that there is literally not a thing I would change in her writing, and that is absolutely unique. But it’s her incisive, loving explorations of a broken world that will blow your mind wide open.
Speaking as one of the few women at the Pan-African Congress conference in London, 1900, founding the Colored Women’s YWCA in 1905, and pushing W.E.B Du Bois to write Black Reconstruction are only three of Anna Julia Cooper's achievements. Sure, when you live to be 105, you can set your sights high, but in an era of progressive depravity when it came to race and gender, Cooper's position as one of America's formidable scholars and educators is no small feat.