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History Lab is proud to present a paper from the winner of the 2024 Olivette Otele Paper Prize: Tionne Alliyah Parris. 

Black Women Radicals and Networks of Transnational Resistance in the Twentieth-Century

Much has been written about the activism of the Black radical woman Claudia Jones, with attention drawn to her activism in the Communist Party USA in the 1950s, and her continued work after her deportation to Britain from 1958 until her death in 1964. However, she operated within a bustling network of Black radical women including activists like Shirley Graham Du Bois, Vicki Garvin and Louise Thompson Patterson. They each contributed to a lineage of Black transnational organising and carried the torch forwards from Jones after 1964. Each had cut their teeth alongside Jones as affiliates of the Communist Party USA, but when their critiques of imperialism, global white supremacy and racism in the US became too powerful, they elicited a sharp response from the Government and thus were caught up in the dragnet of McCarthyism. 

However, these reprisals did not entirely halt their efforts. These women instead
expanded the geographical parameters of their work. Whereas Jones was exiled, Du Bois and Garvin voluntarily left the hostile environment of the United States and travelled across Africa and China throughout the 1960s. On their journeys, they met with a host of allies who were also enduring struggles for liberation in their locales. They continued to weave networks amongst radical activists, and were the connective tissue between figures like Kwame Nkrumah and Malcolm X. When Malcolm X was tragically assassinated, and Kwame Nkrumah ousted from Ghana in a coup d’état, Shirley Graham Du Bois, Vicki Garvin, and Louise Thompson Patterson persisted, and nurtured the leading figures of the emerging Black Power Movement in the United States. 

Through direct mentorship, and spiritual support, they imparted the wisdom learned from their decades of resistance. Furthermore, in 1972, when the Black Power
icon Angela Davis faced off against the apogee of US State repression and was threatened with execution, Louise Thompson Patterson visited Britain to rally support amongst British radicals for Davis’s freedom. In doing so, Patterson, Garvin, and Du Bois were three enduring champions of the struggle for liberation for ‘all oppressed people’, and they followed in the footsteps of their dear friend - Claudia Jones. 

In conclusion, this paper will outline the historic strategies of transnational collaboration utilised by Black radical women, which had the potential to overcome the forces of imperialism, colonialism, and racism across the globe.

Tionne Alliyah Parris is a PhD student at the University of Hertfordshire and a graduate of the University of Dundee in Scotland, holding an MA Honours Undergraduate and Master’s degree in History. Tionne is a specialist in African American history, specifically the Black Power Movement of the 1960s and 1970s. Tionne’s research is focused on American society’s response to race-based political protests and communism within black radical protests and, in our own time, on the rise of the Alt-Right in the 21st Century, as well as the legacy of Anti-Communism in the United States. Tionne is also a Member of the Editorial Board of the History Matters Journal, the first ever recipient of the Bloomsbury Academic Writing Fellowship, and a Coordinator at the Young Historians Project, a non-profit organisation formed by young people encouraging the development of young historians of African and Caribbean heritage in Britain.

All welcome- this seminar is free to attend but booking in advance is required.