This dissertation examines the National Black Women's Health Project (NBWHP), the first organization devoted solely to the health of black women. The Project was a unique organization because it was one of the first which argued black women, because of the multiple jeopardies of racism, classism, and sexism, must fight the forces negatively impacting their emotional, physical, and spiritual health. These forces, Project members argued, included their white counterparts in groups such as the National Women's Health Network, the Project's mother organization. Troubled by the lack of information on black women's health issues, NBWHP founder Byllye Avery sought to remedy the situation by hosting a national conference on black women’s health issues at Spelman College in 1983. It was at this conference that black women demanded the formation of an independent health organization, not just a program of a predominantly white health group, a group which too often glossed over the health concerns of women of color.
NBWHP leaders insisted they needed their own organization which addressed their health issues. Many of the founders had been involved on some level with white women's health organizations, and most continued to have friendly relationships with white activists. However, none of the founders felt that the larger Women's Health Movement did enough to improve the health status of black women The movement did not adequately integrate women of color's health care issues into their programs. Their insistence that there was a universal female experience erased the unique health concerns of women of color. Black women, through the guidance of the NBWHP, began writing their own agenda and developing their own programs.
In crafting a new agenda, the Project created a space where women of color could articulate their own needs and ideas. This space was necessary for black women to analyze their experiences and develop responsive programs. As NBWHP members noted again and again, black women's lives were quite different from white women. The movement's emphasis on self-exam, for example, was not as important to black women who fought for their lives on a daily basis. Their priorities simply did not match. White health feminists wanted an inclusive movement, but it did not appear that interracial organization in women's health groups helped achieve this goal.
Project members were not interested in separation, however, which suggested a clean break from other organizations. Rather, the Project sought independence from white organizations. Independence meant that Project members could write their own agenda, but it left room for inter-organizational alliances. For Project members and other women of color, inclusion did not mean that they had to join white women's groups. On the contrary, inclusion meant that all women, regardless of their race, would be able to organize themselves while building alliances and coalitions with each other. The explosion of health activism amongst women of color after the Project's founding shows that the time was ripe for women of color to organize themselves around their group's health issues, making the movement more inclusive and responsive in the process.