Preserving the Work of Black Feminists and Continuing the Legacy

Dr. Alexis Pauline Gumbs. Photo via New Black Man.

Recently while scrolling through posts on Tumblr I came across a link to an essay called Seek The Roots: An Immersive and Interactive Archive of Black Feminist Practice by Dr. Alexis Pauline Gumbs. Within the essay, Gumbs describes the painstaking process of researching and preserving the work of black feminists, and discusses why it is important to do so.

"It's a queer thing (and by queer I mean unlikely, magical, and against the current of the reproduction of oppression) that the work of a Black lesbian teacher mother warrior poet is even preserved on a college campus, so I take the event seriously. How does one ethically and effectively engage an archive of morbid thoughts and threatened utterances from the pens of dead Black feminists? What framework allows us to share traces of un-actualized projects, out-of-print masterpieces, and forgotten victories?"

Audre Lorde. Photo via
Reading Seek The Roots made me appreciate the progress of technology. It has allowed for people to build broader networks around a particular interest or cause, and leveled the playing field in terms of access to information. I remember reading books like Black Feminist Thought, This Bridge Called My Back (which is sadly now out of print), and Home Girls in college when I was on a hunt for feminist perspectives that spoke to my experience as a woman of color. The books themselves were incredible resources, but it would have meant even more to have a dialog around them that was outside the traditional university classroom setting. Dr. Alexis Pauline Gumbs is a member of The Eternal Summer of the Black Feminist Mind, a North Carolina based grassroots project which aims to put theory into practice and engage the community around the ideas of black feminists.

"Through night schools, potlucks, podcasts, internet videos, a public-access channel TV program, an internet TV station, an ongoing interview process, travelling workshops, blogs, and zine publications, The Eternal Summer of the Black Feminist Mind makes published, out-of-print, archived, and previously undocumented Black feminist strategies, poems, essays, newsletters, and practices accessible to a diverse community of parents, teachers, organizers, and writers."
Sassafrass, Cypress, and Indigo by Ntozake Shange.

One of the most exciting initiatives that recently occurred in collaboration with Eternal Summer was Indigo Days, a week long North Carolina gathering for black women and black genderqueer people "to be healers, spiritual leaders and transformative warriors in our communities and on the planet." The event was free to all participants, and featured a blues porch concert, workshops on black healing traditions, herb walks, film screenings, and "Blues Woman Bible Study (blues as sacred texts in the tradition of black feminist healing)". Indigo Days was inspired by the character Indigo in Ntozake Shange's 1982 novel Cypress, Sassafrass, and Indigo. In Shange's novel, Indigo was a healer, musician, and midwife with a magical presence.
At the beginning of her essay, Dr. Gumbs shares a quote from Audre Lorde's 1974 personal diary that is fitting: "When I have been dead four and a half seasons, dry my words, seek the roots where they grow, down between the swelling of my bones..."

Eternal Summer of the Black Feminist Mind and Indigo Days serve as important models for how we can use historical archives and texts as a way to connect with the world around us and as a foundation for grassroots organizing and engage communities at a deeper level. Let's seek the roots of the voices who inspire our work, and continue to find innovative ways to carry on their message.