A compact, exceptionally diverse introduction to the history of black women in America, rooted in “everyday heroism.”
As Berry (History/Univ. of Texas; The Price for Their Pound of Flesh: The Value of the Enslaved, From Womb to Grave, in the Building of a Nation, 2017, etc.) and Gross (History/Rutgers Univ., New Brunswick; Hannah Mary Tabbs and the Disembodied Torso: A Tale of Race, Sex and Violence in America, 2016, etc.) persuasively argue, black women have “significantly shaped” our nation—and fought for their rights—throughout every period of American history. Yet their contributions often have been overlooked or underappreciated. In the latest book in the publisher’s ReVisioning American History series, the authors offer a selective but wide-ranging search-and-rescue mission for black female activists, trailblazers, and others who have left a mark. In the first chapter, they introduce Isabel de Olvera, who became one of the first black women to set foot on what is now American soil after joining an expedition from Mexico in the early 17th century. From there, Berry and Gross proceed chronologically, opening each chapter with a vignette about a signal figure such as Shirley Chisholm, the daughter of Caribbean immigrants who became the first black female member of Congress. Along the way, the authors frequently discuss members of traditionally underrepresented groups, among them the lesbian blues singer Gladys Bentley and the conjoined twins Millie and Christine McKoy, whose exploitation by mid-19th-century showmen suggests the perils faced by black women with disabilities. The result is a narrative that highlights both setbacks and achievements in many spheres—sports, business, education, the arts, military service, and more. While their overall approach is celebratory, Berry and Gross also deal frankly with morally complex topics, such as women who committed infanticide rather than see a child enslaved. Amid their gains, black women face enduring challenges that include police brutality and other forms of “misogynoir,” or “gendered, anti-Black violence.” For anyone hoping to topple the remaining barriers, this book is a font of inspiration.
A vital book for any library or classroom—and for foot soldiers in the fight for racial justice.