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Beyond RespectabilityThe Intellectual Thought of Race Women$
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Brittney C. Cooper

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780252040993

Published to Illinois Scholarship Online: January 2018

DOI: 10.5406/illinois/9780252040993.001.0001

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“Proper, Dignified Agitation”

“Proper, Dignified Agitation”

The Evolution of Mary Church Terrell

(p.57) Chapter 2 “Proper, Dignified Agitation”
Beyond Respectability

Brittney C. Cooper

University of Illinois Press

This chapter recuperates Mary Church Terrell as a critical theorist of Black racial uplift. The first President of the NACW, Terrell went on to have a sixty-year career in Civil Rights activism. This chapter moves across the span of her career, mapping her development of a concept called “dignified agitation,” which she introduces in a 1913 speech. She returns to this formulation throughout her career, and the author argues that this idea of dignified agitation is one that she both learned and propagated as part of the NACW school of thought. But it also acts as a bridge concept, and she, as a bridge figure to Civil Rights era Black women intellectuals, who both respected the NACW school of thought and sought to move beyond it in critical ways. Because of the deliberate ways that Terrell wrote about her love of dancing in her autobiography, this chapter also considers the ways in which she is part of a genealogy of Black women’s pleasure politics, even though the current Black feminist discourse on pleasure typically focuses on blues women in this time period. Because Terrell is considered one of the foremost proselytizers of respectability, a turn toward her articulation of pleasure politics richly complicates the manner in which we read her as a theorist of racial resistance and gender progressivism.

Keywords:   Mary Church Terrell, dignified agitation, pleasure politics, racial uplift, Civil Rights

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