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With Her Fist Raised: Dorothy Pitman Hughes and the Transformative Power of Black Community Activism

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The first biography of Dorothy Pitman Hughes, a trailblazing Black feminist activist whose work made children, race, and welfare rights central to the women's movement. Dorothy Pitman Hughes was a transformative community organizer in New York City in the 1970s who shared the stage with Gloria Steinem for 5 years, captivating audiences around the country. After leaving rura The first biography of Dorothy Pitman Hughes, a trailblazing Black feminist activist whose work made children, race, and welfare rights central to the women's movement. Dorothy Pitman Hughes was a transformative community organizer in New York City in the 1970s who shared the stage with Gloria Steinem for 5 years, captivating audiences around the country. After leaving rural Georgia in the 1950s, she moved to New York, determined to fight for civil rights and equality. Historian Laura L. Lovett traces Hughes's journey as she became a powerhouse activist, responding to the needs of her community and building a platform for its empowerment. She created lasting change by revitalizing her West Side neighborhood, which was subjected to racial discrimination, with nonexistent childcare and substandard housing, where poverty, drug use, a lack of job training, and the effects of the Vietnam War were evident. Hughes created a high-quality childcare center that also offered job training, adult education classes, a Youth Action corps, housing assistance, and food resources. Hughes's realization that her neighborhood could be revitalized by actively engaging and including the community was prescient and is startlingly relevant. As her stature grew to a national level, Hughes spent several years traversing the country with Steinem and educating people about feminism, childcare, and race. She moved to Harlem in the 1970s to counter gentrification and bought the franchise to the Miss Greater New York City pageant to demonstrate that Black was beautiful. She also opened an office supply store and became a powerful voice for Black women entrepreneurs and Black-owned businesses. Throughout every phase of her life, Hughes understood the transformative power of activism for Black communities. With expert research, which includes Hughes's own accounts of her life, With Her Fist Raised is the necessary biography of a pivotal figure in women's history and Black feminism whose story will finally be told.


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The first biography of Dorothy Pitman Hughes, a trailblazing Black feminist activist whose work made children, race, and welfare rights central to the women's movement. Dorothy Pitman Hughes was a transformative community organizer in New York City in the 1970s who shared the stage with Gloria Steinem for 5 years, captivating audiences around the country. After leaving rura The first biography of Dorothy Pitman Hughes, a trailblazing Black feminist activist whose work made children, race, and welfare rights central to the women's movement. Dorothy Pitman Hughes was a transformative community organizer in New York City in the 1970s who shared the stage with Gloria Steinem for 5 years, captivating audiences around the country. After leaving rural Georgia in the 1950s, she moved to New York, determined to fight for civil rights and equality. Historian Laura L. Lovett traces Hughes's journey as she became a powerhouse activist, responding to the needs of her community and building a platform for its empowerment. She created lasting change by revitalizing her West Side neighborhood, which was subjected to racial discrimination, with nonexistent childcare and substandard housing, where poverty, drug use, a lack of job training, and the effects of the Vietnam War were evident. Hughes created a high-quality childcare center that also offered job training, adult education classes, a Youth Action corps, housing assistance, and food resources. Hughes's realization that her neighborhood could be revitalized by actively engaging and including the community was prescient and is startlingly relevant. As her stature grew to a national level, Hughes spent several years traversing the country with Steinem and educating people about feminism, childcare, and race. She moved to Harlem in the 1970s to counter gentrification and bought the franchise to the Miss Greater New York City pageant to demonstrate that Black was beautiful. She also opened an office supply store and became a powerful voice for Black women entrepreneurs and Black-owned businesses. Throughout every phase of her life, Hughes understood the transformative power of activism for Black communities. With expert research, which includes Hughes's own accounts of her life, With Her Fist Raised is the necessary biography of a pivotal figure in women's history and Black feminism whose story will finally be told.

30 review for With Her Fist Raised: Dorothy Pitman Hughes and the Transformative Power of Black Community Activism

  1. 4 out of 5

    Siria

    Dorothy Pitman Hughes is perhaps most widely known from the famous photograph taken in the 1970s of her standing next to Gloria Steinem, both women with their fists raised. However, while Steinem is still a highly visible public figure to this day, Pitman Hughes—a community activist who went on a national speaking tour with Steinem—is far less well known. In this, the first biography of Pitman Hughes, Laura Lovett outlines Pitman Hughes' life and work, and shows how race, class, gender, and moth Dorothy Pitman Hughes is perhaps most widely known from the famous photograph taken in the 1970s of her standing next to Gloria Steinem, both women with their fists raised. However, while Steinem is still a highly visible public figure to this day, Pitman Hughes—a community activist who went on a national speaking tour with Steinem—is far less well known. In this, the first biography of Pitman Hughes, Laura Lovett outlines Pitman Hughes' life and work, and shows how race, class, gender, and motherhood put her on a different trajectory to Steinem. Early on in this slim book, Lovett argues that it's not only the famous with certain kinds of achievements who are deserving of autobiographies—that there is much to be gained from studying the lives and communities of those who are more representative of everyday experiences. I think that is certainly true! But it's undeniably true that Lovett has less surviving primary source material to work with when telling Pitman Hughes' story than she would have with other important second wave figures—it doesn't seem that the texts of her speeches have survived, for instance, unlike those of many of Steinem's. And perhaps because Pitman Hughes is still alive, Lovett doesn't delve too deeply into her personal life—this is mostly focused on Pitman Hughes' organising career. Still, a worthwhile read.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Crystal

    I had never heard of Dorothy Pitman Hughes before this book. It infuriates me the amount of black history that is missing from our school system. The list of this woman’s accomplishments is astonishing! Feminist, civil rights activist, child welfare advocate, business owner, mother and I’m sure I’m missing a dozen other things. Inspiring read - I’ll be recommending this one.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Kaytlin

    I received this book as a Goodreads Giveaway in exchange for an honest review. It is very well written and easy to read and but quite short - it left me wanting to know more about Dorothy Pitman Hughes. I think this book should become a part of the core collection of library feminist history titles.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Alex Richey

    Dorothy Pitman Hughes led an important and fascinating life, but this book's organization left me confused about the timeline of events. It felt more like a reading of important bullet points. Dorothy Pitman Hughes led an important and fascinating life, but this book's organization left me confused about the timeline of events. It felt more like a reading of important bullet points.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Book Mitch

    What a badass. I had no idea she had her hands in so many community empowerment endeavors. Daycares, schools, beauty pageants, feminism, Black Panther, copy/print shops, bed & breakfasts.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Sylvia-Marah

    We have all seen the iconic image. A black-and-white photograph of a White woman with long sunny hair and Black woman with a gravity defying Afro, standing in solidarity with serious expressions, and their hands raised in the Black Power salute. It is an image forever tied to the women’s liberation movement. Almost anyone who has read about the women’s movement knows who the woman on the left is. Gloria Steinem is the glamorous and fierce journalist who started Ms. Magazine, and was often the fa We have all seen the iconic image. A black-and-white photograph of a White woman with long sunny hair and Black woman with a gravity defying Afro, standing in solidarity with serious expressions, and their hands raised in the Black Power salute. It is an image forever tied to the women’s liberation movement. Almost anyone who has read about the women’s movement knows who the woman on the left is. Gloria Steinem is the glamorous and fierce journalist who started Ms. Magazine, and was often the face and voice of the movement. But many of us don’t know as much about the other woman in the photo. Dorothy Pitman Hughes and Gloria were speaking partners for several years, traveling the country speaking about civil rights and equality for women. With Her Fist Raised: Dorothy Pitman Hughes and the Transformative Power of Black Community Activism, by historian Laura L. Lovett shares Dorothy’s story from her humble origins in Georgia, through her life as a nightclub singer in NYC by night and a domestic worker by day. Dorothy became involved in community activism first as a child in Georgia, then in her Westside neighborhood in New York, and later in Harlem. Dorothy saw a need in her community for childcare. Rather than waiting for someone else to get involved, Dorothy did something about it herself. This is Dorothy’s pattern in life. She sees a problem, organizes the community, securing funding and volunteers to address the problem. While writing this book the author had some difficulty locating documentation, realizing that much of Dorothy’s contributions to both the civil rights movement and the women’s movement were on the cutting room floor. In the civil rights movement the news stories, how we often learn about our history, were mostly about the men in the organizations she was a member of. In the women’s movement, much of the public discourse and press was about the middle-class white women working within the movement and their concerns. Dorothy’s contributions to both of the political and social movements were significant. Lovett directly addresses the obvious white-washing of the historical record. Lovett relied largely upon interviews and public record to piece together Dorothy’s life story. In these pages we learn about multiple civil rights organizations and political organizations Dorothy was involved with throughout her life. Starting with the NAACP when she was a child in Georgia and later organizations like CORE in New York city. Dorothy worked with the Black Panthers when they opened a chapter in New York and became a friend and co-conspirator to Malcolm X and his wife before his assassination. In the pages of this book we learn about the transformative childcare center Dorothy started in her Westside neighborhood of New York, and how she used this institution to not only improve the lives of the children, but of her entire community. We learn of Dorothy’s independent and dauntless spirit while reading about the year she purchased a franchise of the Miss America pageant, because she wanted to see women of color, not only represented in the pageant, but celebrated for their beauty. This was a controversial stance within the women’s movement. The movement opposed the pageant, thinking it was a patriarchal institution that degraded and infantilized women. But Dorothy saw something else in the pageant. She saw it as an opportunity for Black women to feel both empowered and represented within the Miss America pageant and American society. Dorothy later moved to Harlem with her second husband and began organizing within that community. She saw the need for a local copy and stationery store, because places like this were integral to community organizing and political protest. Recognizing the need for more local Black-owned businesses, Dorothy opened the copy shop herself. Dorothy dedicated her life to improving the lives of her community with tangible things like steady employment, child care, and affordable housing. She believed a community should have a say in how their community is run, giving the residents self-determination and self-governance. She later fought against the city’s planned gentrification of Harlem. Throughout Dorothy’s life, she has seen a need within a community and taken the challenge head on. She ran up against a plethora of stumbling blocks and closed doors because of the intersectionality of gender, race and class, but she has persevered in her commitment to the issues she has taken on. Dorothy now lives in Jacksonville, Florida, near one of her three daughters, and continues to organize her community in the struggle for equity and self-determination. This book was an inspiring and educational biography of an icon of both the women’s movement and the civil rights movement, “I begin with “The Image.” The one that immortalized Dorothy Pitman Hughes as an icon of the women’s movement, reproduced on posters, T-shirts, and postcards. In fact, a copy of it is now part of the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery. Used by people like my students to celebrate the defiant, cross-racial, in-your-face assertiveness of a movement that sought to change everything, this image has taken on a life of its own, without giving us information about the life of its subjects.”

  7. 5 out of 5

    Sharon

    This is a three star book. That's not a bad thing. I knew who Dorothy Pitman Hughes is. A civil rights activist. But I had no idea of the impact and influence she had on not just the civil rights movement, the women's movement, and most importantly (for her) community development. The book itself is compact, sticking to "just the facts, ma'am" methodology that helps and hurts the narrative of Dorothy's life. It helps in that the focus is all on Dorothy. It hurts in the sense that sometimes event This is a three star book. That's not a bad thing. I knew who Dorothy Pitman Hughes is. A civil rights activist. But I had no idea of the impact and influence she had on not just the civil rights movement, the women's movement, and most importantly (for her) community development. The book itself is compact, sticking to "just the facts, ma'am" methodology that helps and hurts the narrative of Dorothy's life. It helps in that the focus is all on Dorothy. It hurts in the sense that sometimes events would move so quickly that I wouldn't realize which decade it was. The only political quarrel I had with the biography is one of intersectionality. Both Dorothy and the author are passionate about not erasing Black women from the narrative of the Women's movement, but neither offers any comment on the "lesbian purge" that took place. Both Robin Morgan and Kate Millet are mentioned as Dorothy's friends, yet she seems to have no opinion on homophobia. Still, that's no reason to skip this book. I highly recommend it if you want to know more than what's literally behind the picture on the Tshirt.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Morgan R

    The iconic photo on the cover of this book from Esquire magazine 1971 is well known and while Gloria Steinem may be a household name, the lesser-known human rights activist next to her, Dorothy Pitman Hughes, finally gets her time to shine in this concise and accessible biography. After losing her father to KKK violence, she moved to New York and became a social justice warrior with child welfare and intersectionality at her forefront. She empowered communities in poverty, women, and other under The iconic photo on the cover of this book from Esquire magazine 1971 is well known and while Gloria Steinem may be a household name, the lesser-known human rights activist next to her, Dorothy Pitman Hughes, finally gets her time to shine in this concise and accessible biography. After losing her father to KKK violence, she moved to New York and became a social justice warrior with child welfare and intersectionality at her forefront. She empowered communities in poverty, women, and other underserved populations, founded a day care center, spoke nationally about women of color’s rights, co-founded Ms. Magazine, and was a pivotal figure in Harlem’s Black-owned business community. Written with clarity and focus, Lovett helps to round out the availability of quality books about women’s history and American feminism.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Amy

    This is a hard book to rate. The woman that is the subject of this biography, Dorothy Pitman Hughes, has a 5-star life. She is someone that we should all be aware of, who has packed so much activity and activism into her life. Her erasure from public knowledge is an important part of her story. Each chapter in this book has enough content to be its own book. The epilogue, at only 4 pages, is a full story in itself. The author is an academic, which isn’t a bad thing, but she takes a very academic This is a hard book to rate. The woman that is the subject of this biography, Dorothy Pitman Hughes, has a 5-star life. She is someone that we should all be aware of, who has packed so much activity and activism into her life. Her erasure from public knowledge is an important part of her story. Each chapter in this book has enough content to be its own book. The epilogue, at only 4 pages, is a full story in itself. The author is an academic, which isn’t a bad thing, but she takes a very academic approach to her storytelling. The text is 3 stars. It’s fine, but only hints at the full life she attempts to capture on paper. In short, read this book because of the subject, but let’s hope that someone in the future dives more in depth into the rich, full experiences that make up the life of Dorothy Pitman Hughes.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Shannan Harper

    Gloria Steinenm is a household name when it comes to the works of the feminism movement. But she didn't do it alone. Standing next to her and working along side her was a woman named Dorothy Pitman Hughes. This is her story. Not does it cover her life, it covers her work in the movement, including her work for the black feminist movement, which often gets overlooked. The author did such a great job with this book. I recieved a copy of the book via edelweiss plus and am voluntarily leaving an hone Gloria Steinenm is a household name when it comes to the works of the feminism movement. But she didn't do it alone. Standing next to her and working along side her was a woman named Dorothy Pitman Hughes. This is her story. Not does it cover her life, it covers her work in the movement, including her work for the black feminist movement, which often gets overlooked. The author did such a great job with this book. I recieved a copy of the book via edelweiss plus and am voluntarily leaving an honest review

  11. 4 out of 5

    Des

    A bit superficial.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Elbrackeen Brackeen

    I am really happy to know about Dorothy Pitman Hughes in more detail. This was a wonderful addition to In Search of the Color Purple.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Tracey Renee Wilson-forrest

    Great book and easy to read.Not very many books can keep me interested but this one for sure did.Great book

  14. 5 out of 5

    Angela Ohrn

  15. 5 out of 5

    Peter

  16. 5 out of 5

    Caroline

  17. 4 out of 5

    Liz

  18. 5 out of 5

    Melanie

  19. 4 out of 5

    Dave Martin

  20. 4 out of 5

    Tonya Schmehl

  21. 5 out of 5

    Krystal

  22. 5 out of 5

    Prerna

  23. 4 out of 5

    Hannah

  24. 5 out of 5

    Kristen

  25. 5 out of 5

    Reader

  26. 4 out of 5

    Carissa

  27. 5 out of 5

    Emily

  28. 5 out of 5

    Anne Fresia

  29. 5 out of 5

    Diana

  30. 4 out of 5

    Trish

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