Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Soul Generation: Radical Fashion, Beauty, and the Transnational Black Liberation Movement, 1954–1980
by Ford, Tanisha C., Ph.D., Indiana University, 2011, 329; 3466337
Abstract (Summary)

Employing the term “soul culture” to describe the hairstyles, clothing, music, and leisure activities of black women coming of age in the 1960s and 70s, this dissertation argues that black women activists in the U.S. and in London used the space of the Black Liberation movement to self-fashion their own modern, liberated identities that were influenced by Pan-African cultures and political tactics. The project explores how Africana women's notions of what was soulful—and thus beautiful and powerful—changed from the late 1950s to the early 1980s as they gained visibility in movement organizations and in the media. Expanding the temporal framework of soul illuminates the multiple and often contradictory meanings that soul culture had for women such as Nina Simone, Miriam Makeba, Angela Davis, Olive Morris, and Stella Dadzie, all of whom were influential in making soul culture a globally recognized form of black expression. Black women used the media to publish articles that highlighted women's diverse roles in the movement, to debate on whether or not women should wear natural hairstyles, and to question notions of an “authentic” blackness. They also fostered political networks between black women activists on both sides of the Atlantic, helping to create an international black movement.

Many of the stories of black women's contributions have been omitted from the historical discourse, because much of the history of the Civil Rights movement has, to this point, focused on more traditional forms of political organizing. Shifting the focus away from lunch counters and public transportation reveals the ways in which spaces such as beauty salons and black-owned fashion boutiques were nodal points that connected grassroots community activists, celebrities, and ordinary people in an international dialogue about race, gender, and liberation. These sites of resistance, which were often deemed “women's spaces,” were just as critical in the fight for black liberation as buses and lunch counters because while most blacks were not involved in formal political organizing, many were invested in beauty culture and fashion. The battle for liberation was waged through black people's everyday encounters with one another and their white counterparts and through cultural practices, making the semiotics of beauty and style an arena for struggle alongside formal politics.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Clegg, Claude
Commitee: Bodnar, John, Bose, Purnima, Chakrabarti Myers, Amrita, Muhammad, Khalil G.
School: Indiana University
Department: History
School Location: United States -- Indiana
Source: DAI-A 72/10, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: African American Studies, Black history, American history, Womens studies
Keywords: Black feminism, Black liberation movement, Blacks in Britain, Davis, Angela, Simone, Nina, Soul culture, Student nonviolent coordinating committee
Publication Number: 3466337
ISBN: 978-1-124-79363-4
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