Gwendolyn Bennett and Juanita Harrison: Writing the Black Radical Tradition
Comparative American Studies
Narratives of radicalism privilege the intellectual thought of men whose ideas are preserved through publication and archives. Black women thinkers are often presumed to be missing from the archive. When they are present, their work is harder to find -often scattered across institutions whose archival practices fail to recognise Black female agency. Black feminist scholars such as Darlene Clark Hine and Saidiya Hartman have created new frameworks to map the unknowable, to reclaim and make
... e that which has been withheld, without re-enacting the violence of the archive. This essay considers these issues by exploring the presence of Black women in archives of radicalism in the early twentieth century. It focuses on the public life and writings of Juanita Harrison, whose travelogue was a bestseller in 1936, and the archive of Gwendolyn Bennett, artist and writer who was at the centre of cultural networks in and beyond the Harlem Renaissance. Considering the two together, this article explores how both women attempted to control what was included and what was left out in their public writings and archives, and how this has been shaped by archives of surveillance that privilege the 'doing' rather than 'thinking' of radical Black women.