Gloria Steinem on Black Women: ‘They Invented the Feminist Movement’

Activist details her journey and how, united, women can be a powerful force

Activist Gloria Steinem and Black Enterprise Money editor Stacey Tisdale catch up at a Donor Direct Action event. (Image: File)

I recently had an opportunity to speak with actress, activist and author Pam Grier at Black Enterprise’s Women of Power Summit in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. When she reflected on her career highlights, she said a moment she will always remember was when then Ms. Magazine editor, Gloria Steinem, whom Grier still calls her mentor, “courageously” put her on the cover of the magazine in 1975. That made Grier the first African American to grace the cover and helped make Foxy Brown an early feminist icon.

It wasn’t just Grier. While she is considered the face of the feminist movement, Steinem, now a vibrant and energetic 81-year-old, says her most important lessons and inspirations came from black women. Not only was Steinem the National Treasurer of the 1970’s “Free Angela Davis” campaign, but she also crafted the television speech the late Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm delivered in her historic 1972 bid for presidential nomination of the Democratic party. 

“I thought they invented the feminist movement. I’ve learned feminism disproportionately from black women,” Steinem says. “I realize that things being what they are, the White middle-class part of the movement got reported more, but if you look at the numbers and the very first poll of women responding to feminist issues, African American women were twice as likely to support feminism and feminist issues than White women,” she adds.

[Below: WATCH: Gloria Steinem Talks Impact of Feminist Movement and Black Women’s Empowerment]

Steinem had close alliances with black activists such as the late lawyer Flo Kennedy and Dorothy Pitman Hughes, an early advocate of affordable child care. In the early 1970’s Steinem also published Alice Walker’s work in Ms. Magazine, making Walker one of the first black editors at the publication. (This is long before Walker became a household name for writing her Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Color Purple.)

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