Talk with You like a Woman: African American Women, Justice, and Reform in New York, 1890-1935

Talk with You like a Woman: African American Women, Justice, and Reform in New York, 1890-1935

Talk with You like a Woman: African American Women, Justice, and Reform in New York, 1890-1935

Talk with You like a Woman: African American Women, Justice, and Reform in New York, 1890-1935

Synopsis

With this book, Cheryl Hicks brings to light the voices and viewpoints of black working-class women, especially southern migrants, who were the subjects of urban and penal reform in early twentieth-century New York. Hicks compares the ideals of racial uplift and reform programs of middle-class white and black activists to the experiences and perspectives of those whom they sought to protect and, often, control.

In need of support as they navigated the discriminatory labor and housing markets and contended with poverty, maternity, and domestic violence, black women instead found themselves subject to hostility from black leaders, urban reformers, and the police. Still, these black working-class women struggled to uphold their own standards of respectable womanhood. Through their actions as well as their words, they challenged prevailing views regarding black women and morality in urban America. Drawing on extensive archival research, Hicks explores the complexities of black working-class women's lives and illuminates the impact of racism and sexism on early twentieth-century urban reform and criminal justice initiatives.

Excerpt

The “other side” has not been represented by one who “lives there.” And not many
can more sensibly realize and more accurately tell the weight and the fret of the
“long dull pain” than the open-eyed but hitherto voiceless Black Woman of America.

—Anna Julia Cooper, 1892

It afford me to write to you … This is business I want to talk with you like a woman.

—Lucy Cox, letter to superintendent of Bedford reformatory, 1924

Anna Julia Cooper and Lucy Cox both struggled to be understood as women of intelligence and vision, yet their differing positions shaped how they voiced their grievances regarding the treatment of black women in America. Cooper, born into slavery in 1858 in Raleigh, North Carolina, exemplified racial advancement after emancipation. Influenced by the Reconstruction era and the dictates of the dominant nineteenth-century gender ideology, she was one of a handful of black women to graduate from Oberlin with bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Eventually earning a Ph.D. in 1925 at the Sorbonne in Paris, she had a long career as an activist and educator in Washington, DC. Cooper consistently questioned the sexism and racism she encountered and is best known for her germinal 1892 black feminist text, A Voice from the South. In contrast, Lucy Cox, born in Tarboro, North Carolina, in 1898, represented a segment of the black working class that, despite myriad obstacles, sought to improve their lives through education. Although both of her parents died by the time she was fifteen, they taught Cox the value of learning. Unlike most young women in her socioeconomic position, she completed the eighth grade. However, her studies at the Colored State Normal School in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, which trained black . . .

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