WE ARE YOUR SISTERS: Black Women in the Nineteenth Century by Dorothy--Ed. Sterling

WE ARE YOUR SISTERS: Black Women in the Nineteenth Century

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Short, disjointed first-person accounts of black women in slavery and freedom--compiled by a veteran author and anthologizer of similar material for young people (Lift Every Voice, Speak Out in Thunder Tones). Though the reminiscences of slavery provide seine evidence for all the great theories (Genovese's patriarchy, Gutman's black family), they are most interesting as women's distinctive recollections of everyday events (childhood infractions, work loads, courtships) and of violence and resistance. One slave father instructed his daughter: ""Fight, and if you can't fight, kick; if you can't kick, then bite."" The companion section on free women from 1800-1860 shows how, while white women were organizing missionary and temperance societies to help others, black women were organizing mutual benefit societies to help themselves. One of these, Philadelphia's Daughters of Africa, had over 200 working-class women as members. The war years yield stories of first encounters with Yankees, of following the army camps, of hearing the news of freedom. ""I was in the kitchen getting breakfast. The word came--'All the darkies are free!' I tan 'round and 'round the kitchen hitting my head against the wall, clapping my hands and crying, 'Freedom! Freedom! Freedom!'"" In their first years as freedwomen, former slaves met with disappointments (""freedom ain't give us notin' but pickled hoss meat an'. . . crackers an' not hall enough of dat"") and with Klan violence. Though most Northern black women struggled to find work, the documents included mainly represent the exceptional women: social leaders, political activists, and pioneer professionals (among them a small group of doctors). The epilogue supplies the diaries of four black women--one is Ida B. Welles--but this effort at integration does not overcome the choppy feel of the rest. A sourcebook for those already in the know, a potential jumping-off-point for others. But by itself, somewhat confusing and not necessarily representative.

Pub Date: Jan. 23rd, 1983
ISBN: 0393316297
Publisher: Norton