Comprehensive survey of the role of African-American women throughout the history of American religion.
Collier-Thomas (History/Temple Univ.; Sisters in the Struggle: African-American Women in the Civil Rights-Black Power Movement, 2001, etc.) does an admirable job revealing and preserving the stories of the women as a group and, more importantly, as individuals. Her subject matter is wide-ranging, both historically and geographically, but her methodical approach brings this remarkable story together. The author begins with a discussion of the role of religion in women’s lives during the era of slavery, both for slave women and free women. She then explores the early era of women’s leadership in the Black church, highlighting extraordinary figures as well as the countless women who toiled without fanfare and who are now barely remembered. Collier-Thomas does a service by listing the names of the countless unheralded women throughout the book. The struggle to gain leadership, whether in the pulpit or in the ability to govern the affairs of their own organizations, is a recurring theme throughout. Moving into the 20th century, Collier-Thomas focuses on an alphabet soup of organizations founded and led by African-American women, dedicated to missions, poor relief, evangelization, suffrage, etc. Such social involvement and organizational acumen provides a preview of the civil-rights battles described later in the book. The author focuses almost exclusively on Black Methodists and Baptists until the later stages of the narrative, but this simply mirrors the demographic reality. As she paraphrases one African-American woman from 1964, “colored people were supposed to be either Baptist or Methodist.” Indeed, writes the author, early in the 20th century, 90 percent of them were. The book’s title is at first enigmatic, but in the final analysis makes sense—Jesus, jobs and justice are what most of these brave women were concerned with throughout history.
An important American story well told.