Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters' First 100 Years

Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters' First 100 Years

4.2 36
by Sarah L. Delany, A. Elizabeth Delany

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In their 200+ combined years, Sadie and Bessie Delany have seen it all. They saw their father, who was born into slavery, become America's first black Episcopal bishop. They saw their mother—a woman of mixed racial parentage who was born free—give birth to ten children, all of whom would become college-educated, successful professionals in a time when


In their 200+ combined years, Sadie and Bessie Delany have seen it all. They saw their father, who was born into slavery, become America's first black Episcopal bishop. They saw their mother—a woman of mixed racial parentage who was born free—give birth to ten children, all of whom would become college-educated, successful professionals in a time when blacks could scarcely expect to receive a high school diploma. They saw the post-Reconstruction South, the Jim Crow laws, Harlem's Golden Age, and the Civil Rights movement—and, in their own feisty, wise, inimitable way, they've got a lot to say about it.

More than a firsthand account of black American history, Having Our Say teaches us about surviving, thriving, and embracing life, no matter what obstacles are in our way.

Editorial Reviews

The daughters of a minister born in slavery and a brilliant woman of mixed ancestry, the story of the Delany sisters begins in Reconstruction and progresses through the rise of Jim Crow, two world wars, the triumphs of black culture during the Harlem Renaissance, the civil and women's rights movements, up to the present...Mann has staged the three relatively brief acts with a keen eye for the jigsaw fit that a hundred years of living together would bring.
NY Times
The most provocative and entertaining family play to reach Broadway in a long time...
...when the show is over, you want it to go on and on...HAVING OUR SAY is a must for audiences of all races.
NY Newsday
In fact, this must be the nicest show and inspirational pep rally in town...what a life these women have led, and how lovely to hear about America's real history from witnesses who are such good company. The Delany sisters may seem too good to be true, but here they are.
NY Post
Do see HAVING OUR SAY—it is a window on a world now lost, full of love, a little pain and a wondrous deal of hope.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In this remarkable and charming oral history, two lively and perspicacious sisters, aged 101 and 103, reflect on their rich family life and their careers as pioneering African American professionals. Brief chapters capture Sadie's warm voice (``Now, I was a `mama's child' '') and Bessie's fiestiness (``I'm alive out of sheer determination, honey!''). The unmarried sisters, who live together, tell of growing up on the campus of a black college in Raleigh, N.C., where their father was an Episcopal priest, and of being too independent for the men who courted them. With parental influence far stronger than that of Jim Crow, they joined professions--Sadie teaching domestic science, Bessie practicing dentistry. In 1920s Harlem they mixed with black activists and later were among the first to integrate the New York City suburb of Mount Vernon. While their account of the last 40 years is sketchy, their observations about everything from black identity to their yoga exercises make them worthwhile company. Freelancer Hearth, who wrote an initial story on the sisters in the New York Times in 1991, has deftly shaped and contextualized their reflections. Photos. 35,000 first printing; first serial to American Heritage; BOMC alternate. (Sept.)
Library Journal
When Sadie and Bessie Delany were 104 and 102 years old, respectively, they told their life stories to journalist Hearth in a remarkable contribution to oral history. As the daughters of a freed slave who became America's first elected black Episcopal bishop, the sisters' careers-in education and dentistry-took them to New York during the Harlem Renaissance. Memoirs like this beg to be told aloud. Narrator Iona Morris does not attempt to characterize the voices; instead, her energetic reading captures the sisters' vigor and sense of humor. An interview with the Delanys and Hearth recorded exclusively for this edition makes a nice bonus. One caveat for libraries, though: the cassette casings are held together with glue rather than screws, making in-house repair difficult. Nonetheless, this belongs in most libraries.-Nann Blaine Hilyard, Fargo P.L., N.D.
Kirkus Reviews
In a memoir that's as much a historical record as a testimony to two extraordinary women, the Delany sisters recall their remarkable lives, spanning more than a century of the African- American experience. Daughters of the nation's first black Episcopal bishop, Sadie and Bessie Delany, born in 1889 and 1891 respectively, are a living record of the seismic changes that have affected black America since Emancipation. Their father was born in slavery; their mother was the daughter of an "issue-free negro" and a white Virginian farmer who, though prohibited by law from marrying his beloved Martha Logan, treated her and his children as his lawful family. Raised in the sheltered environment of St. Augustine's School near Raleigh, where their father was the principal, the two girls were expected, like their eight other siblings, to excel both academically and morally. An idyllic childhood was followed by the introduction of Jim Crow legislation that soon made life in the South intolerable, prompting the sisters to move to Harlem. In New York, Sadie graduated from Pratt and became a high-school teacher, while Bessie, graduating from Columbia, became a dentist. The two were soon prominent in Harlem, befriending the black elite (Booker T. Washington, Cab Calloway, Adam Clayton Powell) and actively fighting racial discrimination. Today, looking back, they continue to reflect the wisdom, humor, and feistiness that enabled them to triumph over racism and sexism—the latter, in their opinion, not as corrosive as the former. The Delanys aren't optimistic about the future of race relations, believing that the momentum of the civil- rights struggle was taken away by the Vietnam War. An upliftingand delightful introduction to two splendid women of remarkable good sense and grace—and a fascinating chapter of history as well. (Thirty b&w photographs—not seen) (First printing of 35,000; first serial to American Heritage)

From the Publisher
"I felt proud to be an American citizen reading Having Our Say...the two voices, beautifully blended...evoke an epic history...often cruel and brutal, but always deeply humane."
The New York Times Book Review

"The Lord won't hold it against me that I'm colored because he made me that way! He thinks I am beautiful! And so do I even with all my wrinkles!"
— Bessie Delany, at age 102

"This Jim Crow mess was pure foolishness. It's not law anymore, but it's still in some people's hearts. I just laugh it off, child. I never let prejudice stop me from what I wanted to do in this life."
— Sadie Delany, at age 104

"This book is destined to become a classic! The Delany sisters—leave to us the best of legacies-two sets of dancing footprints for us to  follow all our days ahead."
— Clarissa Pinkola Estés, author of Women Who Run With the Wolves

"An unforgettable testimony to the dignity and courage of African-American women."
— Shirlee Taylor Haizlip

Product Details

San Val
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
4.20(w) x 7.12(h) x 1.10(d)
Age Range:
12 - 17 Years

What People are saying about this

Clarissa Pinkola Estes
This book is destined to become a classic!
—(Clarissa Pinkola Estes, author of Women Who Run With The Wolves)

Meet the Author

Dr. Elizabeth Delany and Sarah Delany were born in Raleigh, North Carolina, on the campus of St. Augustine's College. Their father, born into slavery and freed by the Emancipation, was an administrator at the college and  America's first elected black Episcopal bishop. Sarah received her bachelor's and master's degrees from Teachers College at Columbia University and was New York City's first appointed black home economics teacher on the high school level.  Elizabeth received her degree in dentistry from Columbia University and was the second black woman licensed to practice dentistry in New York City. The sisters retired to Mt. Vernon, New York,  where Sarah, 108, still lives today. Dr. Elizabeth Delany died in September 1995, at the age of 104.

Amy Hill Hearth is a Westchester correspondent for The New York Times.

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Having Our Say 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 36 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Having Our Say was very intriguing and eye opening. The Delany sisters were strong black women who not only dealt with racism but also sexism. Sadie and Bessie were two inseparable sisters who grew up together and grew old together to the ages of 104 and 109. Sadie, the sweetheart of the two, had expressed the most important message in her words. “Life is short, and it’s up to you to make it sweet” (173). The message is almost ironic considering their lives were much extended compared to the average person, especially under the circumstances that they obtained as black women. Living in the times that they did was very bitter and rough to manage through, yet Sweet Sadie and Bessie trudged right on through it with triumph. Another message was also found in context from Sadie and Bessie’s father. “Your mission is to help somebody. Your job is to help people” (115). To take the high road, to help somebody, anybody, even if they don’t deserve it, is the message here. Having Our Say is definitely worth reading and people should read it! I can see myself rereading this book in the future; it is such an eye opening reading that takes your breath away with every flip of a page. The way it is written are the Delany sister’s words and you can tell whether Sadie or Bessie is speaking because of their dialect. Also, it is very interesting to hear from a black women’s perspective of the change of society over their life span; the transition from slavery to independence as individual women. Some wonderful aspects of this reading were how they described their situations; as old as they were, it didn’t seem like they were telling the story as if it happened years ago, but just as if it was yesterday. Also, the book was sectioned out between what Sadie had to say and what Bessie had to say, and the book flowed nice and easy along with the progression with society. There were very few things that I disliked about this book. Overall, this book is wonderful, content, dialect, characterization, everything made it worth the time read and is definitely top notch.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I had to read the book for class, but I really enjoyed it. I learned a lot about the history of the United States. I also learned a lot about how to live life to the fullest!
Seeker-Pat More than 1 year ago
The history found in this book could not have been as effective in any other way than through the words of these strong women. There's not one boring page. Centenarians of all backgrounds can teach us so much.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I laughed and cried my way through this book! By the end I was in love with these sisters. This book is wonderful. Enjoy!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed reading this book it gave me more of an insight on what it was like growing up during civil war time and through out the civil rights movement. I would also like to add that reading this book has made the Delany sisters, Bessie and Sadie someone I admire simply because they didn't hold grudges and they constantly thanked God and made it through, Their just a great sisters and I admire that type of sibling bonding.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very easy read refreshing
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read this years ago. Then I read it again. (I rarely read any book twice.) I'm putting it on my nook wish list to read again. It so much fun and gives great lessons on creative perseverence. Yes, it deals with racism. Racism was. Racism is . . . Both toward African Americans, whites and other races. Do not let the racism issue cause you to miss a deligtful book!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Eye Opening Book! Having Our Say was an amazing read, it was full of humor and connections. One of the reoccurring themes throughout the book was racism and carving out their lives throughout that time. The sisters lived for more than a century and they put their thoughts and ideas in this book. What I liked about this book was it wasn't a boring bibliography, Bessie and Sadie had words of wisdom that really made me think and have different points of view on history. It was very well written with intelligence and very clever, the sisters told much about how their parents raised them to be clean cut Americans with a good education and how they were grew up. They described their downfalls and achievements, what is was really like to grow up and get jobs in society. Challenges they encountered was the Jim Crow Laws, being a woman, being African-American, and supporting their family. It was a book that always kept you on your toes and I couldn't put it down. The only dislike I had was they didn't describe of outside situations. If you enjoy books with humor, adventure and perseverance I highly recommend this book. Family is very important to the Delaney family, no matter what everyone sticks together, even after everyone moves out! Ten children in the family, a devoted father, and a caring mother raised every child to be successful and change history. It shows the support everyone had and you can accomplish anything if you are dedicated to your cause. As the sisters got older on the outside, they stayed youthful on the inside, they always had adventures and stories to tell whatever age they were! It shows what strong woman are made of! Bessie and Sadie always have something to say, whether it was sassy or sweet, they defiantly had their say.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Maddie_Harrod More than 1 year ago
Having Our Say is a book of wonderful history. The Delany sisters are truly unique ladies and the story they tell is spectacular. They lived a long time and went though a lot of different events in their lives and managed to tell it with excellence. These two ladies grew old together and shared all of their memoires with the reader. They have lots to share with the world and it certainly is a good thing they got the chance. The sisters did great things with their lives despite being put down and judged based upon the fact that they were a different race and different gender than other people. They overcame adversity and shined as bright as anyone else in their professions. Bessie worked as a dentist for many years along side her brother in the practice they started together and became the second black woman allowed to practice dentistry in New York City. Sarah worked as a teacher in New York City and was the first black home economics teacher appointed to that position at a high school level. The Delany sisters accomplished many things in the time they were alive and I am so glad they told the world about it. This book was written with such excellence that if you are a fan of non-fiction books I believe that you would really enjoy the book. These two sassy women managed to put a century's worth of events into one novel and I had such a great time reading it. The way they describe their lives is one of a kind and could not be told better. Both of the sisters have an interesting view on life and they use those views to tell the same story two different ways. The reader will get wrapped up in the lives of the Delany sisters by reading this book. It is an exceptional read and the way certain events are described makes you never want to put the book down. The word choice used to tell the stories of their lives is fantastic. They convey their lives in such a way that you fall in love with these two sisters. I laughed and cried my way though this book and would read it again and end up liking it more than I do now. They have a way of telling the past that makes you feel like you are experiencing these events with them. These two women are sassy, fun, and hilarious. The lives they lived were quite unique and the fact that they got through them with a positive attitude in the end is amazing. They dealt with many hardships and many joys and after all was sad and done looked back at their lives with immense happiness. I am inspired by these two ladies. The Delany sisters have lived such incredible lives. They wrote this book about there crazy and amazing lives so they could have their say. They have told their story and it will never be forgotten.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Having Our Say was absolutely wonderful! These two vibrant women make your heart warm. Sarah Louise and Annie Elizabeth Delaney (more commonly known as Sadie and Bessie) lived to be 104 and 109, living through more than a century worth of world changing events. Having Our Say is their exact narration of the tremendous lives they lived.well at least the first 100 years of them. Bessie and Sadie switch off and join together in telling stories from their childhood through their adolescent years exactly how they saw and felt them happen. It definitely deserves a "LOL!" Even at the ripe age of 101 and 103, when the book was written, these two ladies with the spunk and sass they had would make anyone laugh! I learned that I've got to keep smiling through the good and the bad. Keeping a kick to you is definitely the key to longevity! The Delaney sisters were living proof of it. I must say, I am so thankful that Sadie and Bessie "had their say" and shared with the world the lives of the most conspicuous but most marvelous people we'll ever see. I highly recommend this book to anyone! Although I do think it would appeal to women more than the men, it is historical documentation through a personal perspective. The author did a remarkable job documenting and organizing the book, but Sadie and Bessie's colorful words and descriptions are what make Having Our Say come alive. Being an adolescent in a much different time and situation, it was hard to relate to the book at times, which made it lag, personally, in parts. That being said, Having Our Say gave me a new outlook on so many experiences and had messages applicable to anyone. Such as I have always said "African American" to be polite but they consider themselves brown or Negro not "African American." They are just as much American as we are! Things I can only read about and try to grasp the concept of, these sisters let me feel and actually imagine what it was like and felt like to be discriminated against as an African American. Most importantly, the Delaney sisters overcame the least of ideal circumstances and made the most of every day they lived. Becoming an impactful New York City high school teacher and successful dentist, in the hardest of times sends a message that any person of any age should follow. The circumstances I face are not what define me, but rather what I do with them is that which makes all the difference, even living to be over 100!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Having Our Say is a novel written by Amy Hearth with the help of Sadie and Bessie Delany. These two extraordinary women tell their story about how their family survived through segregation and racism in the South. Sadie and Bessie encountered racism early in their lives while the Jim Crow laws were in play. Throughout the South, it was required that blacks and whites were separated and had their own facilities. For example, the spring water at the park is divided with one side for blacks and one for whites, and the grocery store where they used to buy food will not serve them any more. Even with all the obstacles, all of the Delany children go to college to become teachers or other professions that deal with helping others. The two main characters of the novel would be Sadie and Bessie Delany. Sarah Louise Delany, also known as Sadie, was the second child who was born out of her other brothers and sisters. Sadie, who lived until the age of 103 years old, was a very respectful women who protested against discrimination in a quiet but determined fashion. Sadie became the first black women to teach domestic science at several public high schools in New York. The second main character was Annie Elizabeth Delany, also known as Bessie, was the third born baby after Sadie. Bessie, who lived at the age of 101 years old, was very different from Sadie because she was darker and had a more difficult time dealing with segregation. Bessie was very outspoken and was a strong supporter for civil rights and never gave in for what was right. She grew up to be a well known and respected dentist in New York City.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
The Book Having Our Say was a wonderful book to read. When I was reading it i learned more and more about the early 1900s and what kinds of things happened during that time period. Elizabeth and Sarah shared their wonderful stories from when they were kids about how they dealt with the Jim Crow laws and the discrimination againts blacks. As the two of the sisters grew older they also had to deal with the rights of Blacks and of Women. In Having Our Say, you can really see how they dealt with all these situations in their lives.
Guest More than 1 year ago
These old women are truly icons of their times. I found their stories both amusing and sad. We have a ways to go in this country. These women proved that there is hope and that we can make it if we remain focused.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Having Our Say is a positive and inspiring biography of two great women and is recommended to all readers. Sarah and Elizabeth Delany had lived to be over 100 years old, the book looked back throughout their lives and the experiences they had as two black women living during the early nineteen hundreds. The perspectives of the two sisters provided the book with a fun and fascinating tone. Each story is enhanced with the sister¿s personalities which created a more authentic feel. The sister¿s first-hand reactions are a great way to learn about the 20th century because it gives a very genuine glimpse of the discrimination that was occurring during that time. Both sisters encountered racism throughout their lives, Sarah developed a quiet and more shy personality to cope with the racism, often playing dumb or acting innocent. The younger sister, Elizabeth grew to be much more aggressive and outspoken. The sister¿s success in life was one of many examples in this book that indicated how strong the women were. Even when faced with continuous experiences of intolerance the sisters remained dedicated to their independence. Having Our Say provides a lot of historical information in a unique and spirited style and would make a great addition in anyone¿s library.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Having Our Say, by Bessie and Sadie Delaney, is a highly educational and historical account written by two black sisters growing up in a severely racist society. The black women share experiences and memories from their life in a charming, informal, and often humorous way. I learned a lot about what life was like for black people from the late 1800¿s until the mid 1990¿s. For example, I learned how oblivious young children were to segregation laws. Sadie Delany recalled using a ¿Whites Only¿ drinking fountain because she saw no reason not to. Many children could not comprehend racism. I also learned how easy it was for a black person to be lynched and how unfair the circumstances could be. Sadie was almost lynched after speaking out against a drunken white man. I was surprised that no other whites in the train station even attempted to protect her. I learned how cruel even upstanding citizens could. Bessie encountered experienced prejudice from teachers and students alike during her schooling. In contrast, the generosity and unity of black citizens, especially in the chapters about Bessie¿s dentistry services (which were often provided for free) was a wonderful thing to learn about. Having Our Say was not necessarily a gripping adventure tale, but I don¿t think lack of adventure lowered the quality of the book. Several other reviewers described the book as 'draggin on' and 'dull'. However, I did not find myself bored while reading this book. A person who enjoys only constant action in a piece of literature would probably not be engaged by this ¿calmer¿ book. I do have one complaint regarding the writing style of this book - the chapters switch back and forth between who is writing them. Bessie and Sadie take turns narrating the account and so I sometimes found it confusing to keep track of who Overall, Having Our Say is laidback, educational, entertaining and clever. It was a lovely book overall and I would definitely recommend it to all readers.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The Delany sisters' story is almost like the history of America in the nineteenth century. It is about the real history that they had to go through as African American. The Delanys had strong faith in God and were good American citizens, as they say. They were true to America. They loved America even though it didn't love them back. The Delanys had made good impressions about African American. We think that we lost most of the senses of racism, but we still do have. This is an appropriate book to read to have a second thought of racism. People who are racist don't realize that we all are same. We all love our country, we all want to be treated well, and we all like to do things that we want to do. We all are same but just with different coverings. If you want to know about these wonderful Delany sisters and what happened in the real history, I recommend you to read this book. It is not a very long book nor a boring text book type of book. Once you are in the book with the Delany sisters, you will be eager to read more and start to love them.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The book Having Our Say is a very historical book. You can learn many things from it. But the overall book is not that great. Some events drag on and on. There aren't very many exciting events.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Having Our Say is basically a recollection by two sisters, Sadie and Bessie Delaney (aged 102 and 104) of their lives. They began their tale way back with their great grandfather and great grandmother who were slaves and progress onward with their family history from there. Their lives seem to be full of great adventures and accomplishments as they recall them back to you, for example Bessie becoming the second black woman licensed to practice dentistry in New York. Many historical events are chronicled through this moving historical record such as the Golden Age of Harlem and the Post Reconstructive South. The sisters go through many things such as Sadie almost getting lynched but they never allow them to bring them down. Even at age 102 and 104, which is the age they began to write the book they are still full of joy and encouragement for life. The one thing I liked about the book was learning about some of our nation¿s lesser-known history from a different perspective. Since, it¿s a true story a lot of historical events were mentioned and I found out how it really was for black people during their younger years. One particular event that sticks out is when Sadie gets dared to drink from the whites only fountain and does it, though her father catches her. Its hard to believe that America was really like that in the past. This book was really a learning experience and I found out about things I wouldn¿t have otherwise. The thing I disliked this book was its lack of action. It sometimes got very boring because it seemed to be relaying things no one cared about. Points in the book were often focused on to long until it lost your attention. For example, five pages would be used to describe the detail of some very minor thing. I wouldn¿t recommend it to people who love a book with mystery or suspense because this book has none. Its almost like your going to know what happens before it does.