Crossing Waters & Fighting Tides

The Efficient Womanhood of the Negro Universal Improvement Association Black Global World 

Women’s History Month Program
Presented By Dr. Natanya Duncan Associate Professor of History and the Director of the Africana Studies Program Queens College CUNY 

Dr. Duncan’s talk will focus on the endeavors of Black women to resist inter-racial and intra-racial oppressions during the first half of the 20th Century.  Their efforts, she argues, shaped an activist strategy where gender and race concerns were pursued in tandem.  She has labeled their activism  “efficient womanhood” and traces the legacy of this activist strategy to modern day movements #BLM and #MeToo.


Natanya Duncan is the Director of Africana Studies and Research Institute at Queens College City University of New York and an Associate Professor of History. A historian of the African Diaspora, her research and teaching focuses on global freedom movements of the 20th and 21st Century.

Dr. Duncan’s research interest includes constructions of identity and nation building
amongst women of color; migrations; color and class in Diasporic communities; and the engagements of intellectuals throughout the African Diaspora. Her forthcoming University ofIllinois Press book, An Efficient Womanhood: Women and the Making of the Universal Negro Improvement Association, focuses on the distinct activist strategies enacted by women in the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), which Duncan calls an efficient womanhood.

Following the ways women in the UNIA scripted their own understanding of Pan Africanism, Black Nationalism and constructions of Diasporic Blackness, the work traces the blending of nationalist and gendered concerns amongst known and lesser known Garveyite women. Duncan’s publications include works that explore the leadership models of UNIA women and include “Now in Charge of the American Field”: Maymie De Mena and Charting the UNIA’s New Course” in Journal of Liberty Hall (Vol. 3 2017); “Henrietta Vinton Davis: The Lady of the Race” in Journal of New York History (Fall 2014 Vol 95 No. 4); “Laura Kofey and the Reverse Atlantic Experience” in The American South and the Atlantic World (University of Florida Press, 2013).

Most recently she co-edited a special volume of Liberty Hall Journal “UNSILENCED: AFRO-CARIBBEAN WOMEN IN BLACK NATIONALIST ACTIVISM”(December 2021) and Caribbean Women and Gender Studies Journal “Gender and Anti-colonialism in the Interwar Caribbean” published December 2018. The award winning 12 article volume examines the political ferment of the interwar period (1918–1939), tracking how gendered conceptions of rights, respectability, leadership, and belonging informed anti-colonial thought and praxis. Rather than constructing a singular narrative of Caribbean anti-colonialism, we grapple with the varied political visions and modes of resistance that animated critiques of colonial rule, attending at once to place-specific strategies and to shared regional agendas.

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