15 Books About Black Women's History Everyone Should Read

We're nearing the end of Women's History month, but we want to make sure that the learning ...

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We're nearing the end of Women's History month, but we want to make sure that the learning about Black women's histories continues. We've selected 15 historical texts to help you delve deeper into Black women's past.



Ain't I a Beauty Queen?: Black Women, Beauty, and the Politics of Race by Maxine Craig
Although the new beauty standards seemed to arise overnight, they actually had deep roots within black communities. Tracing her story to 1891, when a black newspaper launched a contest to find the most beautiful woman of the race, Maxine Leeds Craig documents how black women have negotiated the intersection of race, class, politics, and personal appearance in their lives. Craig takes the reader from beauty parlors in the 1940s to late night political meetings in the 1960s to demonstrate the powerful influence of social movements on the experience of daily life. With sources ranging from oral histories of Civil Rights and Black Power Movement activists and men and women who stood on the sidelines to black popular magazines and the black movement press, Ain't I a Beauty Queen? will fascinate those interested in beauty culture, gender, class, and the dynamics of race and social movements.

Ar'n't I a Woman?: Female Slaves in the Plantation South by Deborah Gray White
Living with the dual burdens of racism and sexism, slave women in the plantation South assumed roles within the family and community that contrasted sharply with traditional female roles in the larger American society. This new edition of Ar'n't I a Woman? reviews and updates the scholarship on slave women and the slave family, exploring new ways of understanding the intersection of race and gender and comparing the myths that stereotyped female slaves with the realities of their lives. Above all, this groundbreaking study shows us how black women experienced freedom in the Reconstruction South — their heroic struggle to gain their rights, hold their families together, resist economic and sexual oppression, and maintain their sense of womanhood against all odds.


At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance--A New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power by Danielle McGuire
In this groundbreaking and important book, Danielle McGuire writes about the rape in 1944 of a twenty-four-year-old mother and sharecropper, Recy Taylor, who strolled toward home after an evening of singing and praying at the Rock Hill Holiness Church in Abbeville, Alabama. Seven white men, armed with knives and shotguns, ordered the young woman into their green Chevrolet, raped her, and left her for dead. The president of the local NAACP branch office sent his best investigator and organizer to Abbeville. Her name was Rosa Parks. In taking on this case, Parks launched a movement that ultimately changed the world.

The author gives us the never-before-told history of how the civil rights movement began; how it was in part started in protest against the ritualistic rape of black women by white men who used economic intimidation, sexual violence, and terror to derail the freedom movement; and how those forces persisted unpunished throughout the Jim Crow era when white men assaulted black women to enforce rules of racial and economic hierarchy. Black women’s protests against sexual assault and interracial rape fueled civil rights campaigns throughout the South that began during World War II and went through to the Black Power movement. The Montgomery bus boycott was the baptism, not the birth, of that struggle.


Beauty Shop Politics: African American Women's Activism in the Beauty Industry by Tiffany Gill
Looking through the lens of black business history, Beauty Shop Politics shows how black beauticians in the Jim Crow era parlayed their economic independence and access to a public community space into platforms for activism. Tiffany M. Gill argues that the beauty industry played a crucial role in the creation of the modern black female identity and that the seemingly frivolous space of a beauty salon actually has stimulated social, political, and economic change.


But Some Of Us Are Brave: All the Women Are White, All the Blacks Are Men: Black Women's Studies by Gloria T. Hull
Winner of the Outstanding Women of Colour Award, and the Women Educator's Curriculum Material Award. This ground-breaking collection provides a wealth of materials needed to develop course units on black women, from political theory to literary essays on major writers to work on black women's contributions to the blues. Bibliographies and a collection of syllabi provide readers with essential classroom materials and a map for further research.


Freedom's Daughters: The Unsung Heroines of the Civil Rights Movement from 1830 to 1970 by Lynne Olson
In this groundbreaking and absorbing book, credit finally goes where credit is due -- to the bold women who were crucial to the success of the civil rights movement. From the Montgomery bus boycott to the lunch counter sit-ins to the Freedom Rides, Lynne Olson skillfully tells the long-overlooked story of the extraordinary women who were among the most fearless, resourceful, and tenacious leaders of the civil rights movement.

We all know there is a politics of skin color, but is there a politics of hair? In this book, Noliwe Rooks explores the history and politics of hair and beauty culture in African American communities from the nineteenth century to the 1990s. She discusses the ways in which African American women have located themselves in their own families, communities, and national culture through beauty advertisements, treatments, and styles. Bringing the story into today's beauty shop, listening to other women talk about braids, Afros, straighteners, and what they mean today to grandmothers, mothers, sisters, friends, and boyfriends, she also talks about her own family and has fun along the way. Hair Raising is that rare sort of book that manages both to entertain and to illuminate its subject.


Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty by Dorothy Roberts
This is a no-holds-barred response to the liberal and conservative retreat from an assertive, activist, and socially transformative civil rights agenda of recent years--using a black feminist lens and the issue of  the impact of recent legislation, social policy, and welfare "reform" on black women's--especially poor black women's--control over their bodies' autonomy and their freedom to bear and raise children with respect and dignity in a society whose white mainstream is determined to demonize, even criminalize their lives.   It gives its readers a cogent legal and historical argument for a radically new , and socially transformative, definition of  "liberty" and "equality" for the American polity from a black feminist perspective.


Labor of Love, Labor of Sorrow: Black Women , Work, and the Family, from Slavery to the Present by Jacqueline Jones
The forces that shaped the institution of slavery in the American South endured, albeit in altered form, long after slavery was abolished. Toiling in sweltering Virginia tobacco factories or in the kitchens of white families in Chicago, black women felt a stultifying combination of racial discrimination and sexual prejudice. And yet, in their efforts to sustain family ties, they shared a common purpose with wives and mothers of all classes.

In Labor of Love, Labor of Sorrow, historian Jacqueline Jones offers a powerful account of the changing role of black women, lending a voice to an unsung struggle from the depths of slavery to the ongoing fight for civil rights.


Living for the Revolution: Black Feminist Organizations, 1968–1980 by Kimberly Springer
The first in-depth analysis of the black feminist movement, Living for the Revolution fills in a crucial but overlooked chapter in African American, women’s, and social movement history. Through original oral history interviews with key activists and analysis of previously unexamined organizational records, Kimberly Springer traces the emergence, life, and decline of several black feminist organizations: the Third World Women’s Alliance, Black Women Organized for Action, the National Black Feminist Organization, the National Alliance of Black Feminists, and the Combahee River Collective. The first of these to form was founded in 1968; all five were defunct by 1980. Springer demonstrates that these organizations led the way in articulating an activist vision formed by the intersections of race, gender, class, and sexuality.


The Politics of Public Housing: Black Women's Struggles against Urban Inequality
In this collective biography, Rhonda Y. Williams takes us behind, and beyond, politically expedient labels to provide an incisive and intimate portrait of poor black women in urban America. Drawing on dozens of interviews, Williams challenges the notion that low-income housing was a resounding failure that doomed three consecutive generations of post-war Americans to entrenched poverty. Instead, she recovers a history of grass-roots activism, of political awakening, and of class mobility, all facilitated by the creation of affordable public housing. The stereotyping of black women, especially mothers, has obscured a complicated and nuanced reality too often warped by the political agendas of both the left and the right, and has prevented an accurate understanding of the successes and failures of government anti-poverty policy.


Righteous Discontent: The Women's Movement in the Black Baptist Church, 1880-1920 by Evelyn Higginbotham
What Du Bois noted has gone largely unstudied until now. In this book, Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham gives us our first full account of the crucial role of black women in making the church a powerful institution for social and political change in the black community. Between 1880 and 1920, the black church served as the most effective vehicle by which men and women alike, pushed down by racism and poverty, regrouped and rallied against emotional and physical defeat. Focusing on the National Baptist Convention, the largest religious movement among black Americans, Higginbotham shows us how women were largely responsible for making the church a force for self-help in the black community. In her account, we see how the efforts of women enabled the church to build schools, provide food and clothing to the poor, and offer a host of social welfare services. And we observe the challenges of black women to patriarchal theology. Class, race, and gender dynamics continually interact in Higginbotham's nuanced history. She depicts the cooperation, tension, and negotiation that characterized the relationship between men and women church leaders as well as the interaction of southern black and northern white women's groups.


A Shining Thread of Hope by Darlene Clark Hine and Kathleen Thompson
A Shining Thread of Hope chronicles the lives of black women from indentured servitude in the early American colonies to the cruelty of antebellum plantations, from the reign of lynch law in the Jim Crow South to the triumphs of the Civil Rights era, and it illustrates how the story of black women in America is as much a tale of courage and hope as it is a history of struggle. On both an individual and a collective level, A Shining Thread of Hope reveals the strength and spirit of black women and brings their stories from the fringes of American history to a central position in our understanding of the forces and events that have shaped this country.


Sister Circle: Black Women and Work edited by Sharon Harley
Research on the employment of women and minorities has neglected the specific experience of black women, according to the contributors (scholars in a range of fields from economics to social science) of this collection of essays. They explore the meaning of work in the lives of black women facing the dual limitations of race and sex. They examine how black women's jobs affect their relationships with black men and white women (the lowest on the racial/sexual totem pole) and with their families and communities. The history of black women as workers, evolving from their being slaves and domestic workers to other types of employment in the present, has always seen them overrepresented in the labor force and concentrated at the lower end. The essays also provide a fascinating look at black women in the underground economy--juke joints and numbers running--as well as a survey of writing connecting black women's personal and professional lives.


To 'Joy My Freedom: Southern Black Women's Lives and Labors after the Civil War by Tera Hunter
Hunter follows African-American working women from their newfound optimism and hope at the end of the Civil War to their struggles as free domestic laborers in the homes of their former masters. We witness their drive as they build neighborhoods and networks and their energy as they enjoy leisure hours in dance halls and clubs. We learn of their militance and the way they resisted efforts to keep them economically depressed and medically victimized. Finally, we understand the despair and defeat provoked by Jim Crow laws and segregation and how they spurred large numbers of black laboring women to migrate north.

Hunter weaves a rich and diverse tapestry of the culture and experience of black women workers in the post-Civil War south. Through anecdote and data, analysis and interpretation, she manages to penetrate African-American life and labor and to reveal the centrality of women at the inception--and at the heart--of the new south.
When and Where I Enter: The Impact of Black Women on Race and Sex in America by Paula J. Giddings
When and Where I Enter is an eloquent testimonial to the profound influence of African-American women on race and women's movements throughout American history. Drawing on speeches, diaries, letters, and other original documents, Paula Giddings powerfully portrays how black women have transcended racist and sexist attitudes--often confronting white feminists and black male leaders alike--to initiate social and political reform. From the open disregard for the rights of slave women to examples of today's more covert racism and sexism in civil rights and women'sorganizations, Giddings illuminates the black woman's crusade for equality. In the process, she paints unforgettable portraits of black female leaders, such as anti-lynching activist Ida B. Wells, educator and FDR adviser Mary McLeod Bethune, and the heroic civil rights leader Fannie Lou Hamer, among others, who fought both overt and institutionalized oppression.

Note: Book descriptions are provided by Amazon.com

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