The End of the Century

The End of the Century spanned from 1980-2000.  The gains from the civil rights movement enabled the rising generation of black girls a level of freedom and ownership. At the same time, the national landscape continued to collapse on the progress black people achieved in the closing decades of the twentieth century. President Reagan appointed a woman to the Supreme Court and declared Martin Luther King, Jr’s birthday a legal holiday.  Conversely, as early as 1981 Reagan led an assault on affirmative action, social welfare policies and civil rights agencies. Nevertheless, black women reached higher levels of professionalism never before attained.  In areas of art and culture, politics and professionalism, organizing and education, these women continued in the tradition of being a source and resource for themselves and their community. 

Alice Walker
Alice Walker. Courtesy of
Virginia DeBolt.

Historically, black women have written about their observations and experiences. In 1982 Alice Walker published The Color Purple, which won the Pulitzer Prize.  Walker’s work opened wounds of racial betrayal and abuse by black men who sought to overcome identification with sexual stereotypes. Walker’s life and perspective broadened the definition of the black experience, as well as the ideal of what was acceptable public discourse for the black community. Also in 1982, All the Women Are White, All the Blacks Are Men, but Some of Us Are Brave, a pioneering collection of essays in black women’s studies, was edited by Gloria T. Hull, Patricia Bell-Scott and Barbara Smith. This work provided academic course development and usable bibliographies on the experience of African American women.  It also openly introduced the idea of alternative sexual identities as healthy options some black women selected.

In 1984 Octavia E. Butler won two of science fiction’s most prestigious awards, the Hugo and the Nebula awards. In 1991 Lynn Whitfield became the first African American woman awarded an Emmy for outstanding actress in a miniseries for her portrayal of Josephine Baker in The Josephine Baker Story.


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