But Some of Us Are Brave

The Work of Rebecca Hall, JD, PhD

Not Killing Me Softly: African American Women in Slave Revolts

“African American women participated in and led slave revolts. They fought on slave ships during the Middle Passage. They took up weapons and fought in revolt after revolt after revolt in the United States. Mainstream history books want you to believe this did not happen.”

Published in” Vol. 1, Issue 2 of The Freedom Center Journal, a joint publication of University of Cincinnati College of Law and the National Underground Railroad Center, June, 2010

Winner of First Article Prize, American Historical Association, Coordinating Council for Women in History, 2011. Supported by the Mellon Foundation’s Post‑Doctoral Fellowship at U.C. Berkeley, the American Association of University Women Dissertation Fellowship, and National Science Foundation/Ford Foundation Dissertation Fellowship.

African American women participated in and led slave revolts. They fought on slave ships during the Middle Passage. They took up weapons and fought in revolt after revolt after revolt in the United States. Mainstream history books want you to believe this did not happen. However, enslaved women leading revolts are all over the primary sources leading slave revolts.

In this article, I recover the stories of enslaved African American women leading revolts on slave ships and in colonial New York City, to show that we are being mislead. Silenced. Pacified. I show how to find the women in the documents: The court records, newspaper articles, captains’ logs of slave ships, insurance policies, government documents. The letters to the British Crown and its Privy Council. Regulations on how to “manage cargo” on slave ships. The correspondence of slave owners. Even the bones of enslaved women buried in “the negro burying ground” in New York City have stories to tell. We can recover these brave women’s stories and return their acts to history.

And why all this silencing, anyway? The first histories of slavery in the United States denied that enslaved people resisted at all, since the “peculiar institution” in the U.S. was so “benign” and “civilizing” for African people. Later white male historians would develop complex social theories as to why there was no resistance: slavery was a “totalizing institution,” similar to concentration camps. Slavery was “hegemonic” and slaves consented to being enslaved. Radical historians like DuBois were telling the truth about resistance, but that kind of work didn’t make it into the academy, or the text book. As African American male historians began to be heard against the back drop of the Civil Rights and Black Power movements, they told the histories of the hundreds of slave revolts that occurred in this country, helping to bring down the institution itself. But they wrote in the framework of the pervasive discourse that insisted Black “sex roles” were dysfunctional—the men “emasculated,” the women “matriarchal.” So they insisted that enslaved women did not take up the manly work of coordinated acts of violent resistance. They walked 10 steps behind their men, as proper women should.

As women’s history began to be taken seriously in the late 1970s and 1980s, these feminist historians never questioned the central assumption that enslaved women didn’t participate in revolt. Instead they wrote to reclaim all the other acts of resistance: the arsons, the poisonings, the destruction of tools—those daily acts that wear on an institution, the “weapons of the weak.” They argued that these more “feminine acts” were just as powerful, if not more so.

“Not Killing Me Softly,” was the first historical work that pushed back against all this. These stories of my women ancestors did not ring true in my ears. It didn’t make sense to me. I started doing the detective work we historians are trained for, and there, in the sources were the women. Read about the strength and sacrifices of our ancestors as they gave up their lives in the struggle for freedom. Lets honor these women. Read Not Killing Me Softly

The Dora Milaje, Black Panther, Marvel Comics

ClexaCon, Taking ALL the Space, Part 1: Feministing Hooters

By Rebecca Hall & Lauren Wood

A Black Lesbian and a White Non-binary Person Walk into a Bar.

I can tell that Lauren is a little freaked. As I sit down at the Blackjack table with all white men, Lauren stands behind me like a sentinel. They had never been in a place like this before.  I, on the other hand, feel pleasantly invulnerable. After 2 days of ClexaCon I am riding high on a wave of validation.



Lauren and I are in Las Vegas for the first #ClexaCon. It is Saturday night, after day two, and what are two queers to do? Lauren is going to go to the ClexaCon party later to dance their face off. I am too old for all that noise. I am going back to the hotel room and curl up with some amazing comics I bought from venders at the Con, and to ice my back. But the night is still young, why not go and Feminist a Hooters?

I talk Lauren into going with me to play $3 Blackjack. It is the only place near the strip with a minimum bet below $10. I had been to Hooters once before and knew that it would be a sea of objectified women and that, by our very presence we would change the game, at least for a little while, with the actual currency of respect.  My favorite part of gambling actually is tipping women dealers for this reason. And because I can have an immediate positive impact on someone else’s financial wellbeing, at least for a little while.

I can tell that Lauren is a little freaked. As I sit down at the Blackjack table with all white men, Lauren stands behind me like a sentinel. They had never been in a place like this before.  I, on the other hand, feel pleasantly invulnerable. After 2 days of ClexaCon I am riding high on a wave of validation.

Just the Tip


When I play Blackjack, I tip the dealer every hand.  I thought that was common practice. I immediately notice that no one was tipping the dealer. I ask, “Why isn’t everyone tipping?” The white men surrounding us began to equivocate. “The dealer is killing us.” The dealer wins when we win if we tip. She loses when we lose. She is not the House. She is not killing us. She is providing a crucial service for those spending their money on Blackjack. She is not on your team because you are not tipping her.  

Since I am tipping her, she is giving me statistical probabilities. “You have a 39% chance to win if you take a card now, and a 61% chance to win if you stay.” White man: “That is the first time a tip has paid for anything.” The pit supervisor pops by and says, “I can’t believe he just said that.”  The dealer smiles. I say, “Tipping makes the world go round. It pays for everything.”

The dealer is a woman in her mid-thirties. Lets call her Samantha. She got her bachelor’s at Michigan State University. “In East Lansing?” I know where she is from. I tell her, “My mom was a history professor there.” In the distraction of our conversation, I put down the tip, without placing my bet. The white man next to me smirks and says “Just the tip.” He is disgusting.  I now call him Just the Tip man.

I ask Samantha about how the job works for her, and how the pay is.  She has been dealing for 11 years. 40 hours a week. She makes about $32k. Tips help her and her 3 kids survive. Who tips her? She says, “I only get tipped by thoughtful women like you…”

You Holler at Who You See


In my mind, I see the battle lines drawn. The dealer is not tipped by these men. To them, she is the House. I am reminded of an exercise that Rebecca taught me years ago. The game begins with 10 people and 10 chairs. An equal distribution of resources, and gradually, with each round of the game, one person accumulates many chairs and then the rest sit on each others laps and try to squish themselves into one seat. This game illustrates capitalism; the way the people at the top can enjoy all of our “chairs,” while the person at the bottom of the seating pile is only truly angry at the person in their lap.  Anger deferred to the individual most readily accessible to receive it. An American narrative as simple as apple pie. She is here in front of me taking my money. Therefore she is the House. Therefore she is my enemy. Therefore it is only right that I make her feel threatened.

A Seat at the Table


A new man walks up to the table and squares his shoulders next to mine. A queue has formed at the cheapest table in the house. I break the ice, and compliment him on a Fuchsia Polo shirt, trying to bring comfort into an uncomfortable situation. I say “Nice shirt. Bold Choice.”  He builds rapport with me, before switching his attention to our dealer, saying “She looks pretty from here, but when you wake up next to her in the morning, she is ugly as fuck.” I retort, “What the fuck? You can’t say that!” Rebecca turns and says that is disgusting, “You can’t talk to people that way.” He clams up, unsure what to do next. We are in uncharted territory for him. But he does not leave. We have ruptured the routine. No one knows what is next.


I am thoroughly enjoying myself. I love rupture. I feel safe, because I am a paying customer.  Capitalism. I feel safe despite all the straight white men at the table with me. I feel powerful in my confidence and integrity. Integrity can be a superpower. I can feel it flowing through me. You can take my life, but you can’t take my heart.

I look down and notice that I am wearing my Team Tamsin and Black Lives Matter buttons.

The men start talking about their wives. How long they have been married. I say, “I have been with my partner for 28 years, but I couldn’t legally marry her until 2 years ago.” Samantha congratulates me and gives me a high five across the Blackjack table. I have won against everyone in game of relationship validity and stability. We talk about our wives.

Polo shirt is seated now, as a space becomes available. He says in a loud voice “Samantha used to be an A cup, and now she is a C cup.” I turn to him and yell, “What is wrong with you!” I turn to Samantha: “How do you do this job? I would kill somebody.” Just the Tip guy:  “You wouldn’t have this job.” Samantha: “I just keep smiling. Sometimes these men get violent.“ Just the Tip: “I would never do that.” “Yes you would.” Samantha says, with a smile.

Yes he would.

Mirror in The Bathroom


I stare, feet spread, straight into my reflection in the smudged covered bathroom mirror of Hooters. My shoulders roll back and I feel my gut unclench as I check and re-check my posture and how my clothing falls over my breasts, my stomach and my low-hung pants. I run water through my hair to make sure it looks un-intentionally quaffed. It may be shaggy, but this is a men’s cut.  I know when I re-enter the smoke-filled casino floor and ask the bartender for my next beer he will read me a world apart from the fem servers by his side. I compulsively groom in these public spaces, a relic of a gendered past, mindfully confronting an old frontier, I slip between cowboys and frat bros, walking a fine line back to the Blackjack table where Rebecca sits. Going back to the only buoy of safety I can see. We sit, an Island, a world apart.


Same Sex Cards


Another man sitting to my right is explaining a betting procedure. He says if I bet on being dealt two face cards of the same suit (it is a multi-deck table) and it happens, I get paid 40 to 1. Later I am dealt two Queens of Clubs. “Like this?” I ask.  Just the Tip guy says. “No, there are no same sex cards in Blackjack.” I am confused. I say, “I said same suit, not same sex.”  He says, no, he meant same sex. You have to have a King and Queen. You can’t have two Queens.

  You Have To Fake It To Make It


Rebecca leans into me and asks, “Can I get a Coke with Lime?” I pivot to make this request of the cocktail waitress. She shuffles some drinks, murmurs that she heard me. She briskly walks away, head tilted toward the ground. Another hard day at the office. Samantha makes eye contact with me, and mouths “was she rude to you?” I reassure her that no, it’s all right. I have been a server and I have definitely had those days, too. Samantha says: “She can’t, here.” I say, “Sometimes people have a bad day.”  She says to me in a muted, maternal tone, “No, she has to fake it.” With eleven years experience she should know.


With hawk eyes perceiving everything around me; I make quick calculus of the power-dynamics and odds stacked against Rebecca and myself; and even those odds are considerably different. My whiteness acts as an invisibility cloak in many ways, wrapping around me an often-ignored layer of privilege. I find myself painfully aware of how visible Rebecca is, sitting at the table, unabashedly herself, all her cards on display. I keep mine close to the chest, play into my masculine tendencies, cocoon uncomfortably before un-cloaking my full self later amongst my queer-peers. Blackness cannot be coded in this way, and I reel with respect for how easily Rebecca claims herself in this uncomfortable space; having never had the luxury to closet or cloak parts of herself; we sit on our own islands, side by side in a deeply unfamiliar sea.



ClexaCon for me is about taking the space. Taking all the space. We even take space within ClexaCon, organizing an impromptu panel to further discuss the lack of representation of queer women of color in media (more on that later):

Las Vegas is a nasty place for feminists. Women are things here. You can have women delivered to your room. Resist every day, in every way. Take the lesson from ClexaCon: Take all the space. Feminist ALL the space.

Self-Defense, Non-Violence and the Diversity of Tactics

There is a lot of discussion about non-violence as a moral belief, as a strategy, and as a tactic. I often see the following claim: “Non-violence is the only valid approach. Anything else must be disavowed as destructive to the resistance. Why, look how successful Martin Luther King was, and how seeing all those Black children brutalized on TV is what finally made Civil Rights happen.”

That is downright inaccurate historically. A lot of factors came together in the 1950s and 1960s that moved Civil Rights forward, and the tepidly moral outrage of Northern Whites was a part, but only a part.

  • There were the decades of struggle of the African American people pushing towards the Civil Rights “era,” and that resistance took many forms.
  • There was the crucial fact that the United States was fighting the Cold War and trying to be the world’s face of Democracy for all of the decolonizing Third World, and seeing African Americans brutalized didn’t help their propaganda campaign. How many more countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia would they lose to the Soviet Union?
  • There was the other wing of the struggle for African American lives: The armed self-defense movement. Without it, the non-violent wing of the struggle would have not survived to fight back. This movement also continued to mobilize the parts of the African American community that practiced and believed in armed self-defense.
  • Understanding what is “violent” and what is “non-violent” is complex, and takes some sustained analysis. We live in a constant sea of violence.

Those communities not under attack have no right to argue that defending ourselves is immoral or non-strategic. Relying on moral suasion in a world that sees you as sub-human is a precarious proposition at best.

Suggested Readings

Civil Rights History 101: start here for basic historical literacy

I’ve Got The Light of Freedom: The Organizing Tradition and the Mississippi Freedom Struggle, by Charles Payne

The best history I’ve read so far that explains the grass-roots nature of the Civil Rights Movement, and how it is grounded in decades of resistance. Be sure to read the historiographical essay at the end, “The Social Construction of History.”

The Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Women who Started It, by Jo Anne Gibson Robinson

Crucial book on how the Montgomery Bus Boycott was actually organized and sustained, it explains how Martin Luther King was brought in by the organizers to be the face of a movement he is now credited with creating.

Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement, by Barbara Ransby

“In this deeply researched biography, Barbara Ransby chronicles Baker’s long and rich political career as an organizer, an intellectual, and a teacher, from her early experiences in depression-era Harlem to the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Ransby shows Baker to be a complex figure whose radical, democratic worldview, commitment to empowering the black poor, and emphasis on group-centered, grassroots leadership set her apart from most of her political contemporaries. Beyond documenting an extraordinary life, the book paints a vivid picture of the African American fight for justice and its intersections with other progressive struggles worldwide across the twentieth century.”

Cold War and Civil Rights: Read these to understand this crucial issue.

Race Against Empire, by Penny Von Eschen

Race against Empire tells the poignant story of a popular movement and its precipitate decline with the onset of the Cold War. Von Eschen documents the efforts of African-American political leaders, intellectuals, and journalists who forcefully promoted anti-colonial politics and critiqued U.S. foreign policy. The eclipse of anti-colonial politics―which Von Eschen traces through African-American responses to the early Cold War, U.S. government prosecution of black American anti-colonial activists, and State Department initiatives in Africa―marked a change in the very meaning of race and racism in America from historical and international issues to psychological and domestic ones. She concludes that the collision of anti-colonialism with Cold War liberalism illuminates conflicts central to the reshaping of America; the definition of political, economic, and civil rights; and the question of who, in America and across the globe, is to have access to these rights.

Exploring the relationship between anti-colonial politics, early civil rights activism, and nascent superpower rivalries, Race against Empire offers a fresh perspective both on the emergence of the United States as the dominant global power and on the profound implications of that development for American society.

Cold War Civil Rights: Race and the Image of American Democracy, by Mary Dudziak

In what may be the best analysis of how international relations affected any domestic issue, Mary Dudziak interprets postwar civil rights as a Cold War feature. She argues that the Cold War helped facilitate key social reforms, including desegregation. Civil rights activists gained tremendous advantage as the government sought to polish its international image. But improving the nation’s reputation did not always require real change. This focus on image rather than substance–combined with constraints on McCarthy-era political activism and the triumph of law-and-order rhetoric–limited the nature and extent of progress.

Black Power and Armed Self Defense:

More is coming out every year on this topic. Get started on this repressed history.

Negroes with Guns: Robert F. Williams

The classic manifesto for armed self defense, written in 1962. Robert and Mabel Williams were dear family friends. An important read. Also, don’t miss his story told in an interview with his wife, Mabel, Robert F. Williams: Self-Defense, Self-Respect, & Self-Determination, as told by Mabel Williams

Radio Free Dixie: Robert F. Williams

The Deacons for Defense: Armed Resistance and the Civil Rights Movement, by Lance Hill

Annoyingly masculinist, but important nonetheless. More work needs to be done recovering women in the armed self-defense movement. Be sure to read the short conclusion, “The myth of non-violence.”

These are slightly later on the time line, but crucial:

Assata: An Autobiography, by Assata Shakur

“On May 2, 1973, Black Panther Assata Shakur (aka JoAnne Chesimard) lay in a hospital, close to death, handcuffed to her bed, while local, state, and federal police attempted to question her about the shootout on the New Jersey Turnpike that had claimed the life of a white state trooper. Long a target of J. Edgar Hoover’s campaign to defame, infiltrate, and criminalize Black nationalist organizations and their leaders, Shakur was incarcerated for four years prior to her conviction on flimsy evidence in 1977 as an accomplice to murder.”

Angela Davis: An Autobiography

If They Come in the Morning, Angela Davis, ed.

“With race and the police once more burning issues, this classic work from one of America’s giants of black radicalism has lost none of its prescience or power

One of America’s most historic political trials is undoubtedly that of Angela Davis. Opening with a letter from James Baldwin to Davis, and including contributions from numerous radicals such as Black Panthers George Jackson, Huey P. Newton, Bobby Seale and Erica Huggins, this book is not only an account of Davis’s incarceration and the struggles surrounding it, but also perhaps the most comprehensive and thorough analysis of the prison system of the United State.

Since the book was written, the carceral system in the US has seen unprecedented growth, with more of America’s black population behind bars than ever before. The scathing analysis of the role of prison and the policing of black populations offered by Davis and her comrades in this astonishing volume remains as pertinent today as the day it was first published.

Featuring contributions from George Jackson, Bettina Aptheker, Bobby Seale, James Baldwin, Ruchell Magee, Julian Bond, Huey P. Newton, Erika Huggins, Fleeta Drumgo, John Clutchette, and others.”

Respect Existence or Expect Resistance, Tar Sands Action Camp, 2013

All the Women are White….

Way back in 1982, when I was a young Black Feminist Lesbian, all of 19 years old, a book came out that saved my life.

It was called All the Women Are White, All the Blacks Are Men, But Some of Us Are Brave: Black Women’s Studies, edited by Gloria T. Hull, Patricia Bell Scott, and Barbara Smith.

 I have named my blog in honor of this book, and because Intersectionality is what will save our asses. We are at the precipice of something massive, and we have never been better equipped to fight in the framework of Intersectionality. All The Brave Ones are leading this fight.

“We Will Not Give Up Our Freedom Dream.”

Angela and Me, SLCC, February 8, 2017

“We will not give up our Freedom Dream.”

Our community had a wondrous experience last week when four powerful African American women presented at the Women in Freedom Movement panel at the Salt Lake Community College on February 8th and 9th: Michele Bratcher Goodwin, Margaret Burnham, Angela Davis, and Kathleen Neal Cleaver. A couple of thoughts as I continue to digest this powerful event:

  • Resistance is a daily, spiritual practice.It is daily as we seek to stander firmer in our integrity, with or without fear, every day. It is spiritual because it is transcendent. We move in something greater than ourselves. We transcend as we connect with each other and with the struggle with integrity and open hearts.
  • We have lived for centuries in the world of “alternative facts.” White supremacy and Hetero-patriarchy are already tyranny.
  • They can kill me, but they cannot take my heart.



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