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Achebe Betty Powell papers

Identifier: SSC-MS-00834

Scope and Contents

The Achebe Betty Powell papers document Powell’s work as an activist, as well as her anti-racism consulting work with Betty Powell Associates. The bulk of materials in this collection relate to Powell’s consulting work between 1989 and 2023. Little information can be found relating to Powell’s activist involvement in the 1970s.

Materials include anti-racism and diversity training manuals, correspondence, research, notes, and publications. Powell took extensive notes relating to her work as a consultant, as well as her activism and personal life. These notes can be found in series 5.

Powell’s client files, particularly her manuals and guidelines on anti-racism training, may be of particular interest.

Dates of Materials

  • Creation: 1972 - 2023


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

To the extent that they owned copyright, Lisa Foster-Bryant has assigned to the public domain all intellectual property rights they control and/or own in these materials. This agreement is governed by a CC0 (Creative Commons 1.0 Universal) public domain dedication. Copyright in other items in this collection may be held by their respective creators. For instances which may regard materials in the collection not created by Achebe Betty Powell, researchers are responsible for determining who may hold materials' copyrights and obtaining approval from them. Researchers do not need anything further from Smith College Special Collections to move forward with their use.

Biographical / Historical

Achebe Betty Powell (June 14, 1940 - February 21, 2023) was a groundbreaking and influential leader in the LGBTQ+ and Civil Rights movements. Betty Jean (Kelly) Powell was born and grew up in Florida, although she also lived in Germany for three years as a teenager with her father, who was in the military. In Germany, Powell became passionate about the French language and after receiving her B.A. in French Language and Literature from The College of St. Catherine in Minnesota she moved to New York and earned an M.A. in French Language and Literature from Fordham University in 1964. A focus of Powell’s graduate work was urban education, and after graduating she worked as a high school French teacher in New York City and a professor of linguistics and French at Brooklyn College. She later worked as a social worker and served as director of the feminist Kitchen Table Press before founding her own diversity and anti-racism training consulting business, Betty Powell Associates, in 1989. As a consultant Powell worked with numerous domestic and international organizations, including universities, law firms, religious groups, and health service providers as well as multiple international feminist groups.

Powell became an activist in highschool, when she joined the National Conference of Christians and Jews, and in 1962 she joined the Civil Rights Movement. Powell was a foundational member in many activist organizations. In 1973 she co-founded the Gay Academic Union; the National Black Feminist Organization; and the National LGTBQ Task Force. She was also a founding member of The National Coalition of Black Lesbians and Gays, formed in 1978, and the National Gay Task Force, of which Powell was the first Black lesbian member of the board of directors and was co-chair for several years. Powell was also a founding member of Salsa Soul Sisters in 1974, the oldest Black lesbian group in the United States, and in 1977 she co-founded the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice, of which she remained an active participant until her death.

In 1977, Powell attended the first meeting of LGBTQ leaders at the White House with President Carter and that same year was featured in the documentary “Word is Out.” Powell also served on the Multicultural Advisory Committee to the New York City Board of Education and the New York State Human Rights Commission. Powell’s social activism and community involvement continued throughout her life and she was a frequent speaker and participant for panels, political events, and interviews until her death.

Powell was briefly married to Bill Powell in the 1960s and became involved in feminist and LGBTQ movements after her divorce. Linda Fraser was her partner for over 30 years until her death. Powell changed her name from Betty Jean Powell to Achebe Betty Powell when she was 65. She was an avid and active lover of music, arts, and culture as well as tennis; she was an active participant of cultural events in New York, where she lived for most of her adult life. Powell passed away on February 21, 2023 in Brooklyn at the age of 82 from Covid-19.

Source: “Achebe Betty Powell, Inspiring LGBTQ+ Leader Passes Away.” Erie Gay News. Accessed July 24, 2023. Source: “Astraea At 40.” Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice. Accessed July 24, 2023.

Source: Cassell, Heather. “Achebe Betty Powell, 82, co-founder of the National LGBTQ Task Force and Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice, dies.” Linkedin. Accessed July 24, 2023.

Source: “Our Trainers.” Cultural Bridges to Justice. Accessed July 24, 2023.

Source: “Salsa Soul Sisters.” National Museum of African American History and Culture, Smithsonian. Accessed July 24, 2023.

Source: Simonette, Matt. “Passages: Longtime activist Achebe (Betty) Powell passes away.” Windy City Times. February 23, 2023.

Source: “Voices of Feminism Oral History Project: Achebe Betty Powell.” Smith College Libraries. Accessed July 24, 2023.


21.083 linear feet (39 containers)

Language of Materials



Achebe Betty Powell (June 14, 1940 - February 21, 2023) was a groundbreaking and influential leader in the LGBTQ+ and Civil Rights movements. She devoted her life to activism and was an active antiracism and diversity trainer through her consulting firm, Betty Powell Associates. This collection primarily documents Powell’s consulting work between 1989 and 2023, although there are also materials relating to Powell’s activist work and personal life during that period.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donated by Lisa Foster-Bryant, niece of Achebe Betty Powell, July 2023.


During accessioning widely-available publications; playbills and pamphlets; website printouts; employee timesheets; reports, books, publications, and pamphlets not directly related to Powell’s work and activism; research material; training materials not created by Powell or her associates; oversized brainstorming notes from a workshop circa 2010; email and note fragments; and duplicates were discarded. The total extent of discarded material was approximately 8 linear feet.

Processing Information

Accessioned by Grace Phippard and Claire Clusin, 2023. The collection arrived very loosely organized in boxes without a consistent order; the archivists created series based on the types of materials found.

Finding aid to the Achebe Betty Powell papers
Grace Phippard and Claire Clusin
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Sophia Smith Collection of Women's History Repository

Neilson Library
7 Neilson Drive
Northampton MA 01063