Why did they die? On Combahee and the serialization of black death

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Between January and May of 1979, twelve similarly situated black women were murdered in Boston, Massachusetts. Just two years past the writing of what would become their canonical feminist statement, the Combahee River Collective (CRC) mobilized around the series of deaths along with other grassroots organizations and members of the local community. The CRC’s most significant intervention in that crisis was the creation and circulation of a pamphlet that was initially titled, “Six Black Women: Why Did They Die?” that was meant to (1) help women within the affected area know how to better protect themselves, (2) name the conditions that had produced the women’s deaths and the city’s subsequent failure to acknowledge or contend with their deaths in any meaningful way, and (3) evince the value of black women’s lives. The serial murders of black women have continued on unabated since 1979, and this article uses the occasion of the Boston murders to discuss how the CRC’s writing and activism enable a theorization of the serialization of black death that expands meaningfully on the scholarship around serial murder.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)328-341
Number of pages14
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 3 2017


  • Black feminism
  • Black women
  • Combahee River Collective
  • Death
  • Racialized gender violence
  • Serial murder
  • Serialization of black death


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