Blackbirds Singing

Inspiring Black Women’s Speeches from the Civil War to the Twenty-first Century

An uplifting collection of speeches by African American women, curated by the civil and human rights activist, scholar, and author

“Bell reminds readers that one story is never enough to truly explain a movement.” —Shelf Awareness

When Mary Ann Shadd Cary—the first Black woman publisher in North America—declared, “break every yoke . . . let the oppressed go free” to congregants in Chatham, Canada, in 1858, she joined a tradition of African American women speaking for their own liberation. Drawing from a rich archive of political speeches, acclaimed activist and author Janet Dewart Bell, the author of Lighting the Fires of Freedom, which was nominated for an NAACP Image Award, explores this tradition in Blackbirds Singing.

Gathering an array of recognized names as well as new discoveries, Bell curates two centuries of stirring public addresses by Black women, from Harriet Tubman and Ella Baker to Barbara Lee and Barbara Jordan. These magnificent speakers explore ethics, morality, courage, authenticity, and leadership, highlighting Black women speaking truth to power in service of freedom and justice.

With an expansive historical lens, Blackbirds Singing celebrates the tradition of Black women’s political speech and labor, allowing the voices and powerful visions of African American women to speak across generations building power for the world.


“Enlightening, energizing and enriching. . . . This is a collection to cherish.”
Ms. magazine
“Helps to complete history, explain the present, and guide us to the future—through the voices and wisdom of some of the Black women who co-created the Civil Rights Movement.”
—Gloria Steinem
“A book to read, reread, use as a reference, share, explain, and inspire the continuing struggles of Black women to achieve wholeness for themselves, their communities, and their society.”
Library Journal (starred review)
“A critical contribution to the historical and present-day story of #BlackGirlMagic.”
—Rashad Robinson, president, Color of Change
“A must-read.”
—Christina M. Greer, associate professor of political science, Fordham University

Books by Janet Dewart Bell

Lighting the Fires of Freedom
African American Women in the Civil Rights Movement

Janet Dewart Bell

Race, Rights, and Redemption
The Derrick Bell Lectures on the Law and Critical Race Theory

Janet Dewart Bell, Vincent M. Southerland

Goodreads Reviews