Beacon Press: With Her Fist Raised
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With Her Fist Raised

Dorothy Pitman Hughes and the Transformative Power of Black Community Activism

Author: Laura L. Lovett

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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“Readers will cherish this accessible portrait of a lesser-known civil rights figure.”
Publishers Weekly

“A vigorous, vivifying portrait. This biography of a firebrand best known for her activism during the second wave of US feminism captures the fervor of the woman and her time.”
Shelf Awareness

“Lovett’s book is a fascinating read for anyone wanting to know more about Dorothy Pitman Hughes, Black feminist organizing and interracial feminist collaboration in the US women’s movement—a history we should know.”
Ms. Magazine

“I entered Dorothy’s life when she became my speaking partner, and she was already a pioneer of community organizing in New York City. With Her Fist Raised begins with her family in rural Georgia, and with her vision and bravery in defying a life limited by racism or sexism. I can’t imagine any book that could tell you more about this country or about the human spirit.”
—Gloria Steinem

With Her Fist Raised is a testament to the impact, diversity, and reach of African American women’s leadership and activism. Guided by Lovett’s careful and thorough research, this story of Dorothy Pitman Hughes’s life enhances the way we understand intersectional activism and social movements in the United States through her fight for civil rights, community empowerment, and childcare. She emerges from the shadow of Steinem as a force in her own right.”
—Francoise Hamlin, author of Crossroads at Clarksdale: The Black Freedom Struggle in the Mississippi Delta after World War II


The Ridleys: Growing Up in Georgia

Finding Her Voice: Moving “Up South”

Childcare, Community Care: Activism in New York City

“Sisters Under the Skin”: Taking the Stage in the Women’s Movement

“Racism with Roses”: Miss New York City and the Transition to Harlem

Whose Empowerment?: Black Women’s Business and the Politics of Gentrification

Home Again

Image Credits

With Her Fist Raised: Dorothy Pitman Hughes and the Transformative Power of Black Community Activism by Laura L. Lovett

Readers’ Guide Discussion Questions

Download the readers’ guide.

  1. What are your first impressions of the image on the cover of this book? How does Dorothy’s relative anonymity in this well-documented photo speak to the women’s movement in general? What lessons can be learned from this image, and what other seminal images come to mind that demand a similar critical review?
  2. On pages 58–59, Lovett notes, quoting Dorothy, that much of Dorothy’s success with the West 80th Street Day Care Center was rooted in the links she established “between what children see in the classroom and what they experience in the community.” How is this “linking” a radical practice? In what ways are these efforts reflected in contemporary educational systems, and how, where, and why are they neglected?
  3. On page 61, Lovett notes that the basis of Dorothy’s activism was distinct from that of white women—her radical ideals were not shaped by literature but, rather, by experience. How does Dorothy’s experiential approach shape the legacy of her activism? How does it influence your understanding of racial difference within the women’s movement?
  4. What is the effect of interracial solidarity within the women’s movement, and what are the pitfalls of this solidarity? To what degree would you consider the women’s movement of the 1980s to be successfully intersectional? How are the legacies of this interracial solidarity incorporated into contemporary activist movements, and where—if ever—does this intersectionality fall short?
  5. On page 69, Lovett notes that “Gloria [Steinem]’s place in the movement [. . .] contributed to the elision of race as a foundational experience informing feminism” and thus led to the narrative erasure of Black women (Hughes, especially) from well-documented history. What other histories are obscured by biased archival obstacles? How does this erasure influence With Her Fist Raised? How does Lovett bypass these archival obstacles?
  6. What did the Miss America pageant represent to Dorothy, and how does her investment in the pageant shift or solidify your understanding of Dorothy’s activist legacy?
  7. In addition to her efforts in early childhood education and her foundational role in the Harlem copy center, Dorothy actively fought against Harlem’s gentrification to protect Black businesses and homeowners. What was Dorothy’s vision of community, and how did her many activist efforts work to manifest this vision?
  8. In 2020, the Movement for Black Lives has taken center stage as a site of urgent activism. Which of Dorothy’s lessons are incorporated into #BLM, and which lessons are left behind? What might current feminist efforts and the Movement for Black Lives stand to learn from Dorothy’s legacy?

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With Her Fist Raised

ISBN: 978-080701479-0
Publication Date: 1/18/2022
Size:6 x 9 Inches (US)
Price:  $16.00
Format: Paperback
Availability: In stock.
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