TO 'JOY MY FREEDOM by Tera W. Hunter


Southern Black Women's Lives and Labors After the Civil War
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 Although the subtitle suggests a work of larger scope, this is a modest social history that focuses on black women in Atlanta from the 1860s through WW I. According to Hunter (History/Carnegie Mellon Univ.), black women in postCivil War Atlanta were primarily domestic servants- -laundresses, cooks, nannies, and maids--while the more lucrative and prestigious blue-collar women's jobs were reserved for white women. These jobs were guarded jealously: In 1897, when 20 black women were hired to fold bags at the Fulton Bag and Cotton Mill, the 200 white women who worked in the folding department walked off the job in protest. Despite great difficulties, many black women were, Hunter notes, determined to see their families do better. One northern journalist noted this: ``I visited the mill neighborhood of Atlanta to see how the poorer classes of white people lived. I found one very comfortable home occupied by a family of mill employees. They hired a Negro woman to cook for them, and while they sent their children to the mill to work, the cook sent her children to school!'' In spite of the enormous odds, black women made some progress toward fairer working and living conditions. One way they did this was by organizing: In 1881, striking black laundresses even managed to coerce the small percentage of white laundresses to join them--an unusual display of interracial cooperation. Black women cooks also made more of their paltry wages by ``pan-toting,'' or taking home kitchen leftovers from their white employers, and laundresses would often borrow the clothing they washed for special occasions. Eventually, though, many black women found these and other measures too meager, and by 1920 hundreds of thousands had moved North in search of equality. A capsule look at the travails and triumphs of black women after emancipation, too narrow in focus to appeal to general readers. (15 photos, 2 maps, not seen)

Pub Date: May 20th, 1997
ISBN: 0-674-89309-3
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Harvard Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1997