Parallel Pathways and Vertical Limits: The Rhetorical Trope Of “First Black Wifery” In Coretta Scott King’s and Winnie Madikizela-Mandela’s Autobiographies
Tasha Maleka Hawthrone
Ann V. Adams
Thesis DT 3.5 2003 H397
vi, 96 leaves: ill.; 29 cm.
Despite the long-standing history of black women’s assumption of political agency, much work by black feminist scholars reveals that black women still continue to be invisible in public discourse. This project seeks to explore the ways in which Coretta Scott King and Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, two former wives (as widow and divorcée) of prominent black male figures, situate and negotiate themselves as political actors. This project introduces the rhetorical trope of “First Black Wifery” as a concept that allows these two women to stand simultaneously on the notoriety and fame of their former spouses while carving out an independent niche for themselves as independent political actors.
Through a black feminist theoretical framework and using close textual analyses if Coretta Scott King’s and Winnie Madikizela-Mandela’s autobiographies, as well as other speeches and interviews, I reveal how these two women advantageously adhere to and eschew notions of respectability and expectation of femininity and wifehood, which make up what I theorize as “first black Wifery.”
In the end, both Coretta Scott King and Winnie Madikizela present themselves as black feminists. However, the strategies that they have used to write themselves into history, as partners of prominent men, are different. Coretta Scott King enlarges the public’s understanding of MLK’s vision while riding the strength of his legacy to advocate for broader-ranging freedoms. Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, on the other hand, clearly distances herself from her former husband and charts her own course and her own vision for South Africa.