BLACK WOMEN IN WHITE AMERICA: A Documentary History by Gerda -- Ed. Lerner


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A collection of first-person accounts of the lives, work, public activity, and self-organization of American black women. The prefatory materials are sometimes skimpy -- failing to differentiate times and places when slave childbearing was encouraged and when not, or to characterize racial arrangements in postbellum Northern schools. The selections are short and expressive, emphasizing not only agonies but resistance. Thus, in the section on sexual oppression and terror, Ida Barnett campaigns against lynching and Mary Terrell argues eloquently that ""rape is simply the pretext and not the cause"" of it. The section on ""Making a Living"" stresses union organizing, especially among domestic workers, but neglects migrant workers and sharecroppers. Partly for historical reasons but also by editorial choice, ""moderates"" predominate among organizers and politically-minded women -- e.g. NAACPers, self-help and community workers and women's club types; there is an old leftist, Charlotta Bass, and old-and-new-style cultural nationalists, but hardly anything on black women Populists (and though Lerner has done several interviews, nothing from distaff Panthers or Angela Davis, for example). The book seeks to contest the concept of matriarchs at the head of disintegrating families, conveying the tremendous strength and intelligence of unknown or little-known people. The editor's benign approval of any and all forms of collective or individual effort may be irritating to those looking for strategic perspectives and historical judgments beyond black-is-beautiful-and-so-is-sisterhood, but the book -- reportedly the first of its kind, though doubtless not the last -- has worth as archival spadework.

Pub Date: April 30th, 1972
ISBN: 0679743146
Publisher: Pantheon