MAKERS Profile

Barbara Smith

Publisher, Women of Color

In this video

Smith on bringing black women's literature to colleges and publishing, and the changing self-image of young women of color.
Barbara Smith and her twin sister Beverly are the products of a powerful upbringing. As young girls growing up in Cleveland, they were surrounded by an extended family made up entirely of intellectually and politically-oriented women. A librarian aunt brought books home and made the house a center for discussion and pointed political awareness. "I'm kind of a natural activist," she later told Ms. magazine. "By the time I was eight I noticed that things were not fair." Barbara joined Mount Holyoke’s class of 1969 and was quickly among a wave of scholars and critics leading in the definition of a distinctive African-American women’s literary tradition and establishing Black women’s studies in college and university curricula.   The new critical approach in turn informed political action and in 1974 Smith co-founded the Combahee River Collective, an early and influential Black feminist group. Her leadership made the group a conscience for different movements by calling attention to the ways racism, classism, homophobia, and sexism intersect. When feminists were ignoring issues of race, Smith was there. And when African-Americans were indulging in homophobia, she was there, too. "We understood that dealing with sexual politics didn't mean you weren't a race woman, and that speaking out about homophobia didn't mean that you didn't want to end poverty." Smith’s political action—recognized in a 2005 Nobel Peace Prize nomination—has continued to be interwoven with writing and criticism. She co-founded, Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press, the first US publisher of women of color, in 1980. She is currently serving her second term as a member of the Albany Common Council.

More From Barbara

Not Getting Women's "Liberation" at First
Smith describes her initial reaction to hearing white women talk about "women's liberation." 

Time Frame for Revolution
The idealistic baby boomers of Smith's generation thought they would transform the world by the time they were 30.  Her estimates have changed.

Following Your Heart
Smith shares her career advice and her joy at having set her own, non-corporate path.

Amos & Andy
Smith talks about what it was like growing up with limited black role models on television.

Don Imus & Rutgers
The media's reaction to the Don Imus-Rutgers incident was actually a sign of progress to Smith.

Being Stereotyped
Smith describes the maddening burden of facing negative stereotypes her whole life.

An Early Sense of Injustice
Smith was not raised by activists, but a deep sense of justice and injustice ran in her veins.

Black Feminism and Domestic Violence
Why the women's movement often alienated women of color like Smith, who experienced key issues differently.

How Race Meets Feminism
A core feminist issue like abortion, shows how the mainstream movement didn't necessarily represent women of color.

Birth of the National Black Women’s Org
Smith recalls the galvanizing experience of attending the first NBFO gathering and the who's who of black feminists present.

Sexism in the Black Power Movement
Frustrated by the sexism of the Black Power movement, Smith was primed to embrace the messages of the feminism.

Origins of Black Women’s Studies
Smith explains how black female scholars, excluded from the texts of black studies and women's studies, created a new field.