Feminist of African descent Dorothy Pitman Hughes has passed away. She was 84. In the 1970s, when feminism was still largely associated with the middle class and white women, Hughes, a community activist, traveled the country with Gloria Steinem.
The two lifted their right arms in the Black Power salute in one of the most well-known photos of the time, which was captured in October 1971.
Pioneering Black-American feminist Dorothy Pitman Hughes, a community activist who toured the United States speaking with Gloria Steinem in the 1970s and who appears with her in one of the most iconic photos of the second-wave feminist movement, has died. She was 84.
— Alexandra Halaby (@iskandrah) December 11, 2022
Hughes, also a child welfare advocate, died on 1 December in Tampa, Florida, at the home of her daughter, Delethia Ridley Malmsten, who said the cause was old age.
In the early 1970s, Hughes and Steinem, a journalist and political activist, formed a potent speaking team and toured the nation at a period when feminism was viewed as mostly white and middle-class. Steinem thanked Hughes with assisting her in developing her public speaking confidence.
The two lifted their right arms in the Black Power salute in one of the most well-known photos of the time, which was captured in October 1971. The image is currently on view in Washington, DC’s National Portrait Gallery.
Hughes was born Dorothy Jean Ridley on October 2, 1938, in Lumpkin, Georgia. According to a family obituary, Hughes started out as an activist at a young age.
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She co-founded the New York City Agency for Child Development to expand daycare options in the city and organized the city’s first refuge for battered women. She also founded a community center on the West Side of Manhattan that provided daycare, employment training, advocacy training, and other services to numerous families.
By the 1960s, she had become involved in the civil rights movement and other causes, working with Martin Luther King Jr, Malcolm X and others.
In the late 1960s, she set up the West 80th Street Childcare Center, providing daycare and also support for parents. It was there that she met Steinem, who was writing a story about the center. They went on to become friends and speaking partners, addressing gender and race issues at college campuses, community centers, and other venues across the country.
In the early 1970s, Hughes also helped found, with Steinem, the Women’s Action Alliance, a broad network of feminist activists aiming to coordinate resources and push for equality on a national level.
By the 1980s, Hughes had moved to Harlem and opened Harlem Office Supply, the rare stationery store at the time that was run by a Black woman. But she was forced to sell the store when a Staples opened nearby, part of President Bill Clinton’s Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone program.
She would remember some of her experiences in her 2000 book, Wake Up and Smell the Dollars! Whose Inner City Is This Anyway!: One Woman’s Struggle Against Sexism, Classism, Racism, Gentrification, and the Empowerment Zone.
In Ms Magazine, Laura L Lovett, whose biography of Hughes, With Her Fist Raised, came out last year, said the activist “defined herself as a feminist, but rooted her feminism in her experience and in more fundamental needs for safety, food, shelter and child care”.
She is survived by three daughters: Malmsten, Patrice Quinn, and Angela Hughes.