Womanist Forefathers

Frederick Douglass and W. E. B. Du Bois

By Gary L. Lemons

Subjects: African American Studies, Women's Studies, Gender Studies, Literary Criticism, American Studies
Paperback : 9781438427560, 237 pages, September 2009
Hardcover : 9781438427553, 237 pages, September 2009

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Table of contents

Prologue: Theorizing a Pro-woman(ist) Politics of Gender Justice before, during, and after "The Black Sexism Debate"
Introduction: Black Men Writing Ourselves into Pro-woman(ist)
Being(s) in the Name of the Black Maternal
Part I: Reclaiming Frederick Douglass and W. E. B. Du Bois as Womanist Forefathers
1. A Recovered Past Most Usable: Documenting the History of Black Male Gender Progressivism
2. Frederick Douglass's Journey from Slavery to Womanist Manhood: Liberating the Black Male Self
3. W. E. B. Du Bois: "The Leading Male Feminist of His Time" and "Most Passionate Defender"
4. Novel for the "Darker Sisters": The Quest of the Silver Fleece and W. E. B. Du Bois's Vision of the (Quint)essential Black Woman(ist)
Part II: Black Feminist "Sisters," "Brothers," and Fathers: Securing the Womanist Legacy
5. On the Power of Contemporary Black Feminist Profession
6. "Brother"hood Called into Question
7. A Vision of Pro-woman(ist) Masculinity for a "NewBlackMan(hood)"
8. Hands-on Practice: Everyday Challenges of Pro-woman(ist) / Feminist Fatherhood
Epilogue: "This is What a (Black Male) Feminist Looks Like"
Time Has Brought about a Change
Works Cited

Traces a lineage of pro-feminist black men to two early radical proponents of female equality.


What role did African American men have in the early twentieth-century struggle for women's suffrage? How is gender significant to the historical and contemporary struggles for African American liberation? In Womanist Forefathers, Gary L. Lemons examines the memoirs and political writings on women by Frederick Douglass and W. E. B. Du Bois, positioning these radical proponents of female equality as "womanist forefathers" to later generations of gender progressive black men. Lemons argues that the writings of Douglass and Du Bois, which merge confessional narrative with social criticism, demonstrate the power of pro-womanist thinking in the vision of racial uplift both men advanced. Womanist Forefathers then traces the lineage between these early African American activists to contemporary pro-feminist black men, many of whom have similarly combined analyses of the personal with the political to envision a black male brotherhood founded on womanist principles, free from nationalism rooted in patriarchy, heterosexism, and homophobia.

Gary L. Lemons is Visiting Professor of English at the University of South Florida and author of Black Male Outsider: Teaching as a Pro-Feminist Man, also published by SUNY Press.


"Gary Lemons's Womanist Forefathers … invigorates the critical discourse and terrain of black male feminism … [it] comes highly recommended for anyone interested in black men doing feminism in the twenty-first century." — African American Review

"Lemons provides a deep historical inquiry into black male feminist origins. No one has asked in quite as compelling a manner what qualities or experiences help to produce black men who see women's oppression as a devastating problem. Furthermore, his positioning of absent and problematic fathers as the origin of the investment in the mother that is then transformed into an abiding concern with women's rights is brilliant." — Michael Awkward, author of Scenes of Instruction: A Memoir