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No Peace Without Freedom

No Peace Without Freedom

Race and The Women's International League For Peace and Freedom 1915-1975

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Joyce Blackwell


6 x 9, 18 illustrations


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About the Book

Just as women changed the direction and agenda of the peace movement when they became progressively more involved in an all-male club, black women altered a cause that had previously lacked racial diversity when they were first granted admission to the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom in 1915. As Joyce Blackwell illustrates in this first study of collective black peace activism, the increased presence of black women in the WILPF over the next sixty years brought to the movement historical experiences shaped by societal racism.

No Peace Without Freedom: Race and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, 1915–1975 explores how black women, fueled by the desire to eradicate racial injustice, compelled the white leadership of the WILPF to revisit its own conceptions of peace and freedom. Blackwell offers a renewed examination of peace movements in American history, one that points out the implications of black women’s participation for the study of social activism, African American history, and women’s history. This new perspective on interracial and black female global activism helps redefine the often-covert systemic violence necessary to maintain systems of social and economic hierarchy, moving peace and war discourse away from its narrow focus on European and European-American issues.

Blackwell looks closely at the reasons why white women organized their own peace group at the start of World War I and assesses several bold steps taken by these groups in their first ten years. Addressing white peace activists’ continuous search for the “perfect” African American woman, Blackwell considers when and why black women joined the WILPF, why so few of them were interested in the organization, and what the small number who did join had in common with their white counterparts. She also shows how the WILPF, frustrated at its inability to successfully appeal to black women, established a controversial interracial committee to deal with the dilemma of recruiting black women while attempting to maintain all of its white members. 

Tracing the black activists’ peace reform activities on an international level from World War I to the end of the Vietnam War, No Peace Without Freedom examines the links black activists established within the African American community as well as the connections they made with peoples of the black Diaspora and later with colonized people irrespective of race. The volume is complemented by eighteen illustrations.


Joyce Blackwell is the chair of the history department at Saint Augustine’s College in Raleigh, North Carolina.


“Joyce Blackwell has written a very readable, informative account of the work of African American women in the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. Her study includes ideas and details that others only touch on. She addresses the work of women in specific local branches and closely investigates the relationships between white women and black women. As one of the few organizations in the early twentieth century with a commitment to racial diversity, WILPF forged the way in fighting racism. Throughout her work, Blackwell puts WILPF’s activities into the broader context of African American history, offering a new slant on the organization’s history.”—Harriet Alonso, author of Peace as Women’s Issue: A History of U.S. Movement for World Peace and Women’s Rights

“Joyce Blackwell’s pioneering history tells the untold story of African American women’s peace work in WILPF. She brings the stories of women such as March Church Terrell, Addie Hunton, and Bertha McNeill to life. The reader learns of their beliefs and activism that highlighted the violence of racism in the United States and then linked it to peace and justice struggles at home and internationally. Compelling as well is Blackwell’s handling of issues and relationships among black and white WILPF’ers as they struggled to acknowledge difference and realize equality. This history is a significant contribution to women’s peace history and opens a door to understanding the contributions of African American women to the modern American peace movement.”—Anne Marie Pois, University of Colorado at Boulder