Dr. Brittney C. Cooper, who is an assistant professor of women's and gender studies at Rutgers University, explores the intellectual genealogy and geography of the work of African-American women over the course of more than a century in her book, Beyond Respectability: The Intellectual Thought of Race Women (University of Illinois Press, 2017). While knitting together an understanding of the intellectual achievements and contributions of many African-American women, Cooper pays particular attention to Anna Julia Cooper, Fannie Barrier Williams, Mary Church Terrell, Pauli Murray, Toni Cade Bambara and the engagement that these women had with ideas, highlighting the contributions they made to racial knowledge, questions of gender, and civic engagement within the United States, from the period after Reconstruction through the 1970s. Cooper than provides a contemporary epilogue, integrating into her research the conversation around the beginnings of the #blacklivesmatter movement and the women who started it, Patrisse Khan-Cullors, Alicia Garza, and Opal Tometi, and how they, like the race women who preceded them, have been compelled to attest to their primacy in thinking about and then coming together to form this more recent social movement.
Cooper traces the spaces where Black female intellectual engagement took place, in places like the National Association for Colored Women, the club movement, and the pages of the political magazine, Voice of the Negro, as well as how some of this movement migrated into college and university classrooms and programs. Cooper's book engages with the actual ideas and concepts that many of these women voiced or wrote, as well as analyzing the intellectual conversations these women had with each other on occasion, but more particularly with their contemporaries. Beyond Respectability is both accessible and sophisticated in the discussion of American intellectual history, race, gender, sexual orientation, black feminism, citizenship, and social engagement.
Lilly J. Goren is professor of political science at Carroll University in Waukesha, WI.