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Ideas of authenticity and respectability were central to the construction of black identities within black cultural and political resistance movements of the early twentieth century. Unfortunately both concepts have also been used to demonize black middle-class women whose endeavors towards racial uplift are too frequently dismissed as assimilationist and whose class status has apparently disqualified them from performing "authentic" blackness and exhibiting race pride.
Kate Dossett challenges these conceptualizations in a thorough examination of prominent black women leaders' political thought and cultural production in the years between the founding of the National Association of Colored Women in 1896 and the National Council of Negro Women in 1935. Through an analysis of black women's political activism, entrepreneurship and literary endeavor, Dossett argues that black women made significant contributions toward the development of a black feminist tradition which enabled them to challenge the apparent dichotomy between black nationalism and integrationism.
By exploring the connections between women like the pioneering black hairdresser Madam C. J. Walker and her daughter, A'Lelia, as well as clubwoman Mary McLeod Bethune and United Negro Improvement Association activist Amy Jacques Garvey, Dossett also makes a distinctive contribution to the field of women's history by positioning black women at the forefront of both intellectual and practical endeavors in the struggle for black autonomy.