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Barbara Smith (born December 16, 1946) in Cleveland[1] is an American, lesbian feminist[2] who has played a significant role in building and sustaining Black Feminism in the United States. Since the early 1970s she has been active as an innovative critic, teacher, lecturer, author, independent scholar, and publisher of Black feminist thought. She has also taught at numerous colleges and universities over the last twenty five years. Smith’s essays, reviews, articles, short stories and literary criticism have appeared in a range of publications, including The New York Times Book Review, The Black Scholar, Ms., Gay Community News, The Guardian, The Village Voice, Conditions (magazine) and The Nation. Barbara has a twin sister, Beverly Smith, who is also a lesbian feminist activist and writer.


History and activism

In 1975 Smith reorganised the Boston chapter of the National Black Feminist Organization to establish the Combahee River Collective.

As a socialist Black feminist organization the collective emphasized the intersectionality of racial, gender, heterosexist, and class oppression in the lives of Blacks and other women of color. Additionally, the collective aggressively worked on revolutionary issues such as “reproductive rights, rape, prison reform, sterilization abuse, violence against women, health care, and racism within the white women’s movement,” explains Beverly Guy-Sheftall in her introduction to Words of Fire: An Anthology of African-Feminist Thought. After working for the National Observer in 1974, Smith committed herself to never again being “in the position of having to make [her] own writing conform to someone else’s standards or beliefs,” (Smith 1998).

Soon thereafter Smith felt the growing need for women of color to have their own autonomous publishing resource and in 1980, along with Audre Lorde and Cherrie Moraga, co-founded Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press, the first U.S. publisher for women of color.[3] During her time as the publisher for Kitchen Table, Smith continued to write and a collection of her essays, articles and reviews can be found in The Truth That Never Hurts: Writings on Race, Gender and Freedom.

Smith’s article “Toward a Black Feminist Consciousness” (1982), first published in All the Women Are White, All the Blacks are Men, But some of Us Brave: Black Women’s Studies is frequently cited as the breakthrough article in opening the field of Black women’s literature and Black lesbian discussion. She has edited three major collections about Black women: Conditions (magazine) : Five, The Black Women's Issue (with Lorraine Bethel), 1979; All the Women Are White, All the Blacks Are Men, But Some of Us Are Brave: Black Women’s Studies (with Gloria T. Hull and Patricia Bell Scott), 1982; and Home Girls: A Black Feminist Anthology, (first edition, Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press, 1983; second edition, Rutgers University Press, 2000).

“What I really feel is radical is trying to make coalitions with people who are different from you. I feel it is radical to be dealing with race and sex and class and sexual identity all at one time. I think that is really radical because it has never been done before,” (Smith as cited in Hill Collins, 2000).

Smith and the Combahee River Collective have been credited with coining the term identity politics, which they defined as "a politics that grew out of our objective material experiences as Black women.[4] To those who would criticize her commitment to understanding and continuing discussion around identity, Smith noted in an interview in off our backs, a feminist magazine, that "I have been called an essentialist. By `essentialist' [people] mean that when I look in the mirror and see a Black woman, I think it means something. It's not just a representation. I share a political status with other Black women although my history is unique."[5]

Continuing her work as a community organizer, Smith was elected to the Albany NY Common Council (city council) in 2005, representing Ward 4. She was reelected in 2009.[6]


Smith was made a Bunting Institute at Radcliffe College Fellow in 1996, and received a 1994 Stonewall Award for her activism.[7][8]

Barbara is an alum of the Ragdale Foundation and a graduate of Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, MA.


  • Bethel, Lorraine, and Barbara Smith, eds. Conditions: Five, The Black Women’s Issue 2, no. 2 (Autumn, 1979).
  • Bulkin, Elly, Minnie Bruce Pratt, and Barbara Smith. Yours in Struggle: Three Feminist Perspectives on Anti-Semitism and Racism. Ithaca, N.Y.: Firebrand Books, 1984, 1988.
  • Hull, Gloria T., Patricia Bell Scott, and Barbara Smith, eds. All the Women Are White, All the Blacks are Men, But some of Us Brave: Black Women’s Studies. New York: The Feminist Press at The City University of New York, 1982.
  • Mankiller, Wilma, Gwendolyn Mink, Marysa Navarro, Barbara Smith, and Gloria Steinem, eds. The Reader’s Companion to U.S. Women’s History. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1998.
  • Smith, Barbara, and Beverly Smith. “Across the Kitchen Table: A Sister-to-Sister Dialogue.” In This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color, eds. Cherrie Moraga and Gloria Anzaldua. Watertown, MA: Persephone Press, 1981
  • Smith, Barbara. “’Feisty Characters’ and ‘Other People’s Causes’: Memories of White Racism and U.S. Feminism.” In The Feminist Memoir Project: Voices from Women’s Liberation, eds. Rachel Blau DuPlessis and Ann Snitow. New York: Crown Publishing, 1998.
  • Smith, Barbara. ed. Home Girls: A Black Feminist Anthology. New York: Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press, 1983.
  • Smith, Barbara. Writings on Race, Gender and Freedom: The Truth that Never Hurts. New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1998.
  • Smith, Barbara. “Where Has Gay Liberation Gone? An Interview with Barbara Smith.” In Homo Economics: Capitalism, Community, and Lesbian and Gay Life, eds. Amy Gluckman and Betsy Reed. New York and London: Routledge, 1997.


  1. ^ Smith, Barbara. Home Girls: A Black Feminist Anthology, Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press, 1983, ISBN 0913175021, pxx, Introduction
  2. ^ Joseph, Gloria I.; Lewis, Jill (1986), Common Differences: Conflicts in Black and White Feminist Perspectives, South End Press, p. 36, ISBN 0896083179  
  3. ^ Short, Kayann. Coming to the Table: The Differential Politics of "This Bridge Called my Back" Genders 19 (1994) pp4-8
  4. ^ Harris, Duchess. From the Kennedy Commission to the Combahee Collective: Black Feminist Organizing, 1960-1980, in Sisters in the Struggle: African American Women in the Civil Rights-Black Power Movement, eds: Bettye Collier-Thomas, V. P. Franklin, NYU Press, 2001, ISBN 0814716032, p300
  5. ^ Lesbian feminists and gay/lesbian studies, Off Our Backs, Aug 1994
  6. ^
  7. ^ Bunting Fellowship
  8. ^ N.O.W. bio of Smith
  • Guy-Sheftall, Beverly. ed. Words of Fire: An Anthology of African-Feminist Thought. New York: The New Press, 1995.
  • Hill Collins, Patricia. Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment. New York: Routledge, 2000.
  • Smith, Barbara. Writings on Race, Gender and Freedom: The Truth that Never Hurts. New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1998.

See also



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