Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

John McMillian

Second Advisor

Jacqueline Rouse

Third Advisor

Mary Rolinson

Fourth Advisor

Akinyele Umoja


This dissertation explores the memories and motivations of women who helped mold Pan-African cultural nationalism through challenging, refining, and reshaping organizations influenced by Kawaida, the black liberation philosophy that gave rise to Kwanzaa. This study focuses on female advocates in the Us Organization, Committee for a Unified Newark and the Congress of African People, the East, and Ahidiana. Emphasizing the years 1965 through the mid-to-late 1980s, the work delves into the women’s developing sense of racial and gender consciousness against the backdrop of the Black Power Movement.

The study contextualizes recollections of women within the groups’ growth and development, ultimately tracing the organizations’ weakening, demise, and influence on subsequent generations. It examines female advocates within the larger milieu of the Civil Rights Movement’s retrenchment and the rise of Black Power. The dissertation also considers the impact of resurgent African-American nationalism, global independence movements, concomitant Black Campus, Black Arts, and Black Studies Movements, and the groups’ struggles amidst state repression and rising conservatism.

Employing oral history, womanist approaches, and primary documents, this work seeks to increase what is known about female Pan-African cultural nationalists. Scholarly literature and archival sources reflect a dearth of cultural-nationalist women’s voices in the historical record. Several organizational histories have included the women’s contributions, but do not substantially engage their backgrounds, motives, and reasoning. Although women were initially restricted to “complementary” roles as helpmates, they were important in shaping and sustaining Pan-African cultural-nationalist organizations by serving as key actors in food cooperatives, educational programs, mass communications pursuits, community enterprises, and political organizing. As female advocates grappled with sexism in Kawaida-influenced groups, they also developed literature, programs, and organizations that broadened the cultural-nationalist vision for ending oppression. Women particularly helped reformulate and modernize Pan-African cultural nationalism over time and space by resisting and redefining restrictive gender roles. As such, they left a legacy of “kazi leadership” focused on collectivity, a commitment to performing the sustained work of bringing about black freedom, and centering African and African-descended people’s ideas and experiences.

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