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Race Women Internationalists Activist-Intellectuals and Global Freedom Struggles, by Dr. Imaobong D Umoren.

In this, our latest blog post, we are delighted to hear from Dr. Imaobong D Umoren, winner of the 2019 women’s history network first book prize for: Race Women Internationalists Activist-Intellectuals and Global Freedom Struggles.

The book developed out of my PhD thesis and explores the travels and involvement of Afro-Caribbean and African American women within a range of internationalist movements in the first half of the twentieth century. Based on newspaper articles, speeches, and creative fiction and adopting a comparative perspective, the book brings together the Jamaican Una Marson, the Martiniquan Paulette Nardal, and the African American Eslanda Robeson. Adopting a group biographical perspective, the book argued that these women were involved in a variety of internationalisms throughout their lives including black, feminist, Christian, liberal and conservative, which shaped their identities as ‘race women internationalists’. Race women were public women of African ancestry who sought to play a leading role in attempts to solve both the ‘race problem’ and the woman question. Race women internationalists exhibited these traits but also identified as being part of the ‘darker races of the world’, and practiced varied internationalisms.

The reasons why I chose these three women was because I wanted to bring together women from different parts of the African diaspora in particular those from the English and French speaking Caribbean- who are oftentimes written of separately and I wanted to place them in dialogue with African American women. Secondly, I wanted to discuss women who shared ideological differences. Lastly, I sought to examine women who were not directly connected to each other- but rather shared indirect relationships and networks- so all the women knew of each other but were not in direct contact throughout their lives.  I intended for the book to contribute to the fields of black international history as well as black women’s intellectual history, stressing the range of political ideas among radical, liberal and conservative thinkers.

I am continuing threads of my research in a larger collaborative project about black women’s intellectuals in historical and contemporary perspective. I am currently the co-investigator on an AHRC funded research networking project alongside my colleague Dr Becky Fraser (UEA) who serves as the Principal Investigator. The network provides a forum for an international network of scholars to expand scholarship on the links between historical and contemporary trends within black women’s intellectualism. From 2019 to 2021 we are organizing a range of events at UEA, the LSE, Oxford and Leeds and hope to bring together academics, activists and the general public to discuss these themes. More information about the network can be found here on our website here.

What next?

Building on but also extending on from my first book, I turned attention to focus on Caribbean women’s involvement with party politics. My current research project is a book length study of Eugenia Charles. Born in 1919 in Pointe Michel in Dominica and educated in Grenada, Canada, and Britain, Charles became the islands first female barrister, head of a political party, and in 1980, Prime Minister. She simultaneously also became Minister of Foreign Affairs and Defence and Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs. Charles was one of the longest serving political leaders in the region, successfully winning three elections and resigning from politics in 1995. With political views on the right of the spectrum and her close alliances and friendships with Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan as well as her own defiant personality, Charles gained the moniker ‘Iron Lady of the Caribbean’. Charles is most famously known for her involvement as head of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States in the US invasion of Grenada. In October 1983 she stood alongside Reagan at the White House and the infamous press conference saw her emerge on the international stage and resulted in her becoming a polarising figure.  The latter years of the 1980s, saw Charles’s popularity wane. Yet she continued to receive international acclaim. In October 1991, Charles was given a Knighthood and became Dame Eugenia Charles.

My current research tries to unpack the complexity of Charles’s politics and their implications for Dominica, the wider Americas and within a transnational context. The project will be built on a variety of sources including newspapers, images, speeches, oral interviews, policy documents, and parliamentary records. The book intends to adds to the field of Caribbean women’s political and intellectual history by exploring the intersections of race, gender, class and conservatism. It also bridges the divides between the disciplines of history, political science and international relations drawing on theoretical insights of small states, the global south, and development.

Dr Imaobong Umoren studied a BA in History and MA in World History and Cultures at King’s College London before moving to the University of Oxford where she gained her DPhil and spent a year serving as a Fulbright scholar at Harvard University. She subsequently took up a Career Development Fellowship jointly held with Pembroke College and the Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities research programme Women in the Humanities.Dr Umoren’s research interests include the intersecting history of race, gender, migration, and religion in the nineteenth and twentieth century Caribbean, US and global African diaspora. Her research has been supported by numerous bodies including the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the Library of Congress, and the British Academy.