On this day in 1946, Barbara Smith was born in Cleveland, Ohio.
Smith’s activism began in the 1960’s, when she participated in civil rights protests and boycotts while in high school. The first member of the Smith family to graduate college, Barbara earned her B.A. in 1969 from Mount Holyoke College and her M.A. in 1971 from the University of Pittsburgh. She went on to continue her education at the University of Connecticut, where she completed all but the dissertation in her doctoral studies.
In 1974, Smith co-founded the Combahee River Collective in Boston, Massachusetts. The Combahee River Collective Statement, which she co-authored with her twin, Beverly, was published in 1977. It has become one of the earliest explorations of sexual oppression in the black community.
In 1980, the Collective disbanded. Smith, realizing that very few publishing opportunities existed for black female scholars, created the first publisher for black women in the country. Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press was founded in 1980.
One book, edited by Smith, was titled Home Girls: A Black Feminist Anthology (1983). By integrating the voices of both homosexual and heterosexual black women, the book helped create a place for black women in the literary niche, regardless of sexual orientation. Kitchen Table continued to break literary ground, becoming extremely successful. The mainstream press had noticed their success, leading them to begin publishing these scholars.
In 1973, Smith taught classes at Emerson College on black women’s literature. She also has worked as a visiting professor, writer in residence, freelance writer, and lecturer at several institutions, most notably the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.
In the early 2000’s, Smith was elected to the Albany, New York Common Council (city council). Among other honors and awards, Smith received the Stonewall Award for Service to the Lesbian and Gay Community in 1994. In 2005, she was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.