Your questions about Sisters Testify and African American Women in Defense of Ourselves


We are thrilled that many of you have reached out to us with questions over the past few days about Sisters Testify and African American Women in Defense of Ourselves.  Here are some answers.


What is Sisters Testify and why did you create it?  

Sisters Testify was originally designed as a history archival project to find the signatories of African American Women in Defense of Ourselves. One day I looked at all the names on my framed color poster of the proclamation from 1991 (my name is in the 26th row) and thought “I want to know these people”.  

In many ways, signing that proclamation was an act of bravery.  The hearings to confirm Clarence Thomas were not only about gender.  They were also about race.  Many believed that black came before woman; that we needed someone black on the Supreme Court to replace Justice Thurgood Marshall and that gender issues were private and could wait. The signatories said no, hear us, we will not wait, race and gender go together.    

The signatories came from different places, shared space together briefly in The New York Times, and then continued on our individual trajectories.  I wanted to know about other acts of bravery and what impact the collective group might have had on others.

The recent uptick in interest shows the ongoing need for these stories to be told.  They remind us that individual discrete actions, some might even call them simple actions, can effect change. 

We are collecting  stories by survey on the Sisters Testify site and by email (helloatsisterstestifydotcom).


What is African American Women in Defense of Ourselves?

An organization founded by Barbara Ransby, Deborah King, and Elsa Barkley Brown.  In October 1991, they reached over 1,600 people who contributed money and signed their names to an open letter that ran in eight national newspapers:  *New York Times*, *New York Amsterdam News*, *San Francisco Sun Reporter*,* Capitol Spotlight*, *Los Angeles Sentinel*, *Chicago Defender*, *Atlanta Inquirer*, and *Carolinan*.  The signatories and their supporters raised $50,000 in less than six weeks.  Remember, in 1991 we did not have cell phones, ubiquitous email, texting, video chats, Facebook or Twitter. It was one of the first modern social media mobilizations.  It was crowdfunding before crowdfunding. African American Women in Defense of Ourselves remained active for five additional years.


Do you have a digital version of all the names?

Yes.  I typed every name, city and state into a spreadsheet.  Then my team and I went to work to find contact information for everyone.  We’ve sent emails, postcards, and reached out in some cases through social media.  


Do you have a digital version of all the names that you can make available?

I have been very concerned about privacy and I haven’t made a digital version of the names available, let alone contact information.  Signing the proclamation in 1991 does not mean that a signatory wants her name spread throughout the world digitally today. We live in an era of online and physical threats — I do not want Sisters Testify to be a vehicle to harass those who are not in the public eye.  I am also mindful that circumstances in life change. Could it be possible that some signatories may regret that they signed, or may not be in the safest place to have the association made without their knowledge? 

That said, community makes the world fun — so I’m open to ideas for how to create an opt-in community for signatories.  


What comes next?

The project has been steadily progressing over the past few years. The work to refine our contact list continues to this day. We have a podcast series in the early stages of production.

More immediately, we are planning a Twitter Chat on October 11, 2018 to coincide with the 27th anniversary of the first day of the second set of confirmation hearings for Justice Thomas.  


What is the Sisters Testify primary “call to action”?  

First, please complete our survey.  We want to hear from signatories, but we also want to hear from those who didn’t sign.  

Second, keep pushing fairness in any way you can.  Even seemingly small actions, like signing your name on a proclamation, can reverberate through the decades.

3 comments on “Your questions about Sisters Testify and African American Women in Defense of Ourselves

  • How many of the 1600 have you been able to locate so far?….
    I’ve moved around quite a lot since I signed.
    Willi Coleman …a testifier

  • Dear Sisters,
    Where can I get a copy of the petition?
    I’d love to pass it on to my daughters. Thanks, love and solidarity,
    Whitney Tymas

    • Hello Ms. Tymas,

      One of our Twitter followers, @jhsting32, told us how to order a reprint from The New York Times. Go to In the Details box explain that you are looking for the full page ad of African American Women In Defense Of Ourselves which ran on November 17, 1991 in the Campus Life section. The date to enter is 11/17/1991 and the page is 53. Back in the fall, The New York Times shipped for free if you used the code “THANKYOU”. I’m not sure if the code still works, but try it!

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