Martha S. Jones on Attorney General Nominee Loretta Lynch and the Political Power of Black Women

bay_toward_PBOver at the Huffington Post, Martha S. Jones, coeditor of Toward an Intellectual History of Black Women, puts the nomination of Loretta Lynch for Attorney General in historical and political context. Jones begins:

Glimpse a preview of dynamics that will shape the 2016 election cycle in the contest over Loretta Lynch’s nomination as Attorney General. As the first African American woman slated to occupy that office, Lynch signals a degree to which race and gender no longer determine access to political power in the United States. Even more noteworthy, Lynch has not been alone. Organized black women activists have turned out to lend her their voices and their influence. It is this force in American political culture – that of African American women – that will be aimed at debates about race, gender, and politics in 2016. And they will make a difference.

This moment has been a long time in the making. As far back as 1991, black women organized in support of Anita Hill when she took a seat in the Senate chamber and testified against the confirmation of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court. Some 1,600 women, organized under the rubric of “African-American Women in Defense of Ourselves,” published in newspapers across the country an open letter that denounced the racist and sexist treatment to which Hill was subjected. Thomas would subsequently be confirmed. Still, black women left a record that cast a long shadow over the Court’s newest Justice as he took the bench.

Lynch’s supporters today are visible and vocal:

Tuning in to Loretta Lynch’s January 2015 Senate hearing, there was no mistaking the depth of her support. The nominee took her seat at a sparsely appointed table, poised to field questions from Senate committee members. It was a stock tableau, except for the field of red that was Lynch’s back drop. The members of the black Delta Sigma Theta sorority filled the chamber adorned in their signature color – jackets, sweaters, blouses, suits, and hats – all of which signaled that black women were present and intended to exercise their political muscles in support of Lynch. A former Delta president, Thelma Daley, explained: “We’re going to flood the people in Congress and speak in newspapers… We need to keep the pressure on.”

That pressure included a media campaign that kept Lynch’s confirmation on the nation’s front burner.

Read Jones’s full article, “Rallying Around Lynch Nomination, Black Women Flex Their Political Muscles,” at Huffington Post.

Martha S. Jones is Arthur F. Thurnau Professor and associate professor of history and Afroamerican and African studies at the University of Michigan. Follow her on Twitter @marthasjonesUM.

Toward an Intellectual History of Black Women, edited by Mia E. Bay, Farah J. Griffin, Jones, and Barbara D. Savage, is now available.