"We, Too Are Americans": African American Women in Detroit and Richmond, 1940-54
Thomas, Richard W., The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography
"We, Too Are Americans": African American Women in Detroit and Richmond, 1940-54 * Megan Taylor Shockley * Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2004 * vii, 256 pp. * $39.95
Megan Taylor Shockley's study of African American women in Detroit and Richmond, 1940-54, argues that this group's activities during this period played a key role in launching the modern civil rights movement. She correctly points out that many historians while acknowledging "the positive impact of World War II on the civil rights movement and the establishment of full citizenship for all African Americans . . . have largely ignored the impact of black women on the redefinition of citizenship, focusing instead on the experiences of black soldiers" (p. 10).
Through the lens of a cross-regional and cross-class analysis, Shockley explains how African American women in Detroit and Richmond redefined and claimed citizenship, which "transformed their relationship with the state and gained equality" (p. 2). In the process, African American women developed a new discourse of citizenship"responsible patriotism"-based upon their contributions to and their negotiations with the state during the war and postwar period. This war discourse put forth by African American women pushed the claim that the goal of the war was to save democracy and that all citizens should be involved in the victory effort-therefore blacks should have the right to claims of citizens in a free democracy. This powerful ideological stance by African American women during the war "marked a new phase in the civil rights movement" (p. 10).
Middle- and working-class African American women in both cities used different strategies to push for equality. The former worked mainly through their sororities and clubs, and the latter worked through their unions and "oppositional culture." Although both classes worked for the same ends, middle-class women tended to look down on their working-class sisters. They viewed working-class culture as "pathological," which often blinded them to the economic conditions of working-class women.
Among the major contributions of this study is its comparative approach to racial oppression and African American activism in each region. …