Stepping Forward: Black Women in Africa and the Americas

By Bay, Edna G. | African Studies Review, December 2003 | Go to article overview

Stepping Forward: Black Women in Africa and the Americas


Bay, Edna G., African Studies Review


Catherine Higgs, Barbara A. Moss, and Earline Rae Ferguson, eds. Stepping Forward: Black Women in Africa and the America*. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2002. xxiii + 36 16 6 pp. Maps. Tables. Index. $55.00. Cloth. $26.95. Paper.

Based on presentations at a 9 1999 conference at the University of Tennessee, the contributions to this multidisciplinary collection of essays make Stepping Forward a far better book than its vague title suggests. The editors explain that their approach was to explore comparisons between women in Africa and women of African descent in the diaspora. The result is a series of paired articles, each pair consisting of an African example drawn from a settler territory and a counterpart centered on the U.S. or the Caribbean. The African examples include one article each from Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Zimbabwe, and three each from Kenya and South Africa. Most are by historians, with the remainder drawn from the disciplines of literature, the arts, law, and the social sciences; the contributors include young scholars as well as senior academics.

The essays are generally well researched but, as in most collections, they are of mixed quality. Some repeat arguments well known in the literature: that African colonial education was directed toward the training of a subaltern class of male civil servants, for example, or that media representations of black women in the U.S. include negative stereotypes. Many more are innovative and even provocative. Nemata Blyden offers a fascinating biography of Liberia's Anna Erskine, a nineteenth-century African American woman who empathized with indigenous people, sought education for women, and dared to enter into a long-term intimate relationship with Edward Wilmot Blyden. Catherine Higgs provides an absorbing account of rival black women's self-help organizations in Cape Province, South Africa, from 1922 to 1952 that considers issues of education and status, class and ethnicity, effects of male outmigration, and even marital infidelity! …

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