A Shining Thread of Hope: The History of Black Women in America


At the greatest moments and in the cruelest times, black women have been a crucial part of America's history.  Now, the inspiring history of black women in America is explored in vivid detail by two leaders in the fields of African American and women's history.

A Shining Thread of Hope chronicles the lives of black women from indentured servitude in the early American colonies to the cruelty of antebellum plantations, from the reign of lynch law in the Jim Crow South ...

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A Shining Thread of Hope: The History of Black Women in America

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At the greatest moments and in the cruelest times, black women have been a crucial part of America's history.  Now, the inspiring history of black women in America is explored in vivid detail by two leaders in the fields of African American and women's history.

A Shining Thread of Hope chronicles the lives of black women from indentured servitude in the early American colonies to the cruelty of antebellum plantations, from the reign of lynch law in the Jim Crow South to the triumphs of the Civil Rights era, and it illustrates how the story of black women in America is as much a tale of courage and hope as it is a history of struggle.  On both an individual and a collective level, A Shining Thread of Hope reveals the strength and spirit of black women and brings their stories from the fringes of American history to a central position in our understanding of the forces and events that have shaped this country.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
At its greatest moments and in its cruelest times, black women have been a crucial part of America's history. Now A Shining Thread of Hope explores their roles in vivid detail, illuminating the roots of the present-day black community and ultimately making evident that our understanding of women's history, and indeed of American history, must begin with an understanding of black women's history.

Encompassing both the panoramic story of black women in America and the intimate, evocative details of the lives of individual women, this landmark history chronicles the experiences of black women from indentured servitude in the early American colonies to the cruelty of antebellum plantations, from the reign of lynch law in the Jim Crow South to the triumphs of the civil rights era. Tracing the accomplishments, as well as the suffering, of black women through the Great Migration, the Harlem Renaissance, the Depression, the civil rights movement, and the present day, Hine and Thompson challenge preconceived notions and move black women from the fringes of American history to a central position in our understanding of the forces and events that have shaped this country.

More than a story of struggle, black women's history is very much a story of hope. In the face of great obstacles, black women strengthened their communities through the development of women's groups, charitable organizations, and political groups and contributed to the larger community as writers, activists, educators, artists, and leaders. A Shining Thread of Hope reveals this history, presenting thestrengthand courage of black women, both as individuals and as a collective force for positive change.

From the Publisher
"A Shining Thread of Hope offers inspiration not just to African American women but to all people struggling to overcome injustice.  [It conveys] immense amounts of information in graceful prose."
New York Times Book Review

"Inspiring . . . this lively, well-written, and accessible history celebrates the grit and grace that have helped black American women survive and flourish."
—USA Today

"Remarkably grounded in the complexities of the historical record and of black women's lives, A Shining Thread of Hope examines the mythology of the American mainstream as well as demonstrates a scrupulous appreciation of black women as a powerful but largely unacknowledged force in American society."
Kirkus Reviews

"A welcome, easily accessible, encyclopedic antidote to the prevailing stereotypes about black women.  .  .  .  The history offered here is invaluable reading."
Washington Post Book World

"From time to time, a work of history itself makes history.  A Shining Thread of Hope is such a book, marking a giant step in the creation of a more encompassing portrait of our nation's past."
—Nell Irvin Painter, The News & Observer

Library Journal
In an extraordinary narrative personalized for easy reading, Hine (Michigan State Univ.), perhaps the leading historian of U.S. black women, and Thompson, editor-in-chief of Facts on File's Encyclopedia of Black Women (LJ 4/15/97), convey the plight and pluck of African American women from their arrival at Jamestown, VA, in 1619 to what the authors describe as a new era at the dawn of the year 2000. Celebrating black women's historical strength, Hine and Thompson accentuate resistance and survival in their 12 chapters. They focus on flesh-and-blood women whose stories of persistence, protest, and progress flow together with famous and unfamiliar names sharing an unbreakable thread spun by faithful and industrious self-reliance. Without peer as a single-volume history of being black and female in America, this book is an inviting opening to the fast-growing scholarship on African American women to which Hine has so richly contributed. Highly recommended for collections on blacks, women, or U.S. history. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 10/1/97.]Brenda M. Brock, Univ. at Buffalo, NY, & Thomas J. Davis, Arizona State Univ., Tempe
Kirkus Reviews
The dean of a new generation of historians of black women in America and the editor of a notable reference work have produced a vivid narrative that illuminates the usually marginalized, neglected history of women of African descent in the New World and recasts it as a distinctive American legacy. Hine (Michigan State Univ.) and Thompson (Encyclopedia of Black Women) show how the accomplishments, cultural expressions, and various acts of resistance of black women in American history comprise "a shining thread of hope" essential to the coherence of America's social fabric and continuing aspirations as a nation. The authors draw on the work of scholars who, like Hine, are themselves black women and have not only purposefully mined the sparse historical record of black women who participated in mainstream American public life, but also brought to light community builders whose names are not widely known outside the obscure records of black organizations or black oral tradition. From an anonymous woman among the first documented black people in America, the 20 Africans who landed in Jamestown in 1619, to contemporary giants in popular culture and the arts, this book gives context to a succession of firsts by tracing the forces of gender, class, and race African-American women contended with in building an original culture and resilient communities, commingling African traditions and American innovations. Paradoxically rising above a grim story of oppression and struggle with humor and hope, moving beyond the singular exploits of towering figures like Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth, this volume is remarkably grounded in the complexities of the historical record and of black women'slives. A Shining Thread of Hope examines the mythology of the American mainstream as well as demonstrates a scrupulous appreciation of black women as a powerful but largely unacknowledged force in American society. (24 pages b&w photos, not seen) (Author tour)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780767901116
  • Publisher: Crown/Archetype
  • Publication date: 1/28/1999
  • Edition description: REPRINT
  • Pages: 368
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Darlene Clark Hine is John A.  Hannah Professor of American History at Michigan State University and the coeditor of Black Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia.

Kathleen Thompson is editor-in-chief of the Encyclopedia of Black Women.

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Read an Excerpt

Every small town has its honored citizens.  You can find their names on plaques in the library and in the history of the town, bound in leather and getting dusty on the shelves.  Parks are created in tribute to them, and streets are named after them, and the people of the town remember them, even if they don't always know why.

Deerfield, Massachusetts, remembers Lucy Terry Prince.  She came to the town when she was only about five years old.  Ebenezer Wells bought her off a slave ship to help him with his housework.  She was baptized in the First Church of Deerfield on June 15, 1735.  The town history remembers that, when she was grown up, "she was noted for her wit and shrewdness" and the boys of the town flocked to her house "to hear her talk," so we can assume that she learned her new language quickly and was a sociable child.  When she was fourteen, she was admitted to "the fellowship of the church."  When she was sixteen, nearby Indians attacked that part of Deerfield known as "The Bars," and teenaged Lucy wrote a poem commemorating the event.  We don't know whether it was her first effort, but it was the first and only poem of hers that was preserved.


August, 'twas the twenty-fifth,
Seventeen hundred forty-six,
The Indians did in ambush lay
Some very valient men to slay,
Samuel Allen like a hero fout,
And though he was so brave and bold,
His face no more shall we behold.

Eleazer Hawks was killed outright,
Before he had time to fight—
Before he did the Indians see,
Was shot and killed immediately.

Oliver Amsden he was slain,
Which caused his friends much grief and pain
Simeon Amsden they found dead
Not many rods distant from his head.

Adonijah Gillett, we do hear,
Did lose his life which was so dear.
John Sadler fled across the water,
And thus escaped the dreadful slaughter.

Eunice Allen see the Indians coming,
And hopes to save herself by running;
And had not her petticoats stopped her,
The awful creatures had not catched her,
Nor tommy hawked her on the head.
Young Samuel Allen, Oh, lack-a-day!
Was taken and carried to Canada.

The adolescent Lucy Terry's feelings for her neighbors were clearly not tainted with a sense of racial inferiority or even self-consciousness.  The tone of the poem makes it obvious that young Lucy Terry considered the white people she described to be friends and neighbors.  In fact, probably the most appealing quality of the poem is the evident affection the poet feels for her subjects.  And the poem itself was treasured in Deerfield.  Handed down from generation to generation, it was published in 1855 in History of Western Massachusetts by Josiah Gilbert Holland.

In 1756, when she was about twenty-six, Lucy Terry married Abijah Prince.  At this time, she was free, although it is not certain by what means.  Wells may have freed her, or Prince may have bought her freedom.  He was an established man, having served four years in the militia during the French and Indian Wars and, perhaps because of his service, having acquired his freedom and three parcels of land in Northfield, Massachusetts.  He was older than his new wife by about twenty-five years.  Sometime during the 1760s, he and Lucy acquired a farm near Guilford, Vermont, and moved their family there.  Later, Abijah Prince was one of the founders of the town of Sunderland, Vermont.  The Princes seemed to fit in well at Guilford, a town of culture and learning, with a library and musical societies.  However, in 1785, the Noyse family—white neighbors of the Princes—threatened them with violence.  Lucy and Abijah appealed to Governor Thomas Chittenden for protection, and he ordered the selectmen of the town to see to it that the Princes were bothered no more.

The Princes had seven children.  Lucy applied for the admission of one of her sons, Abijah, Jr., to Williams College.  George Sheldon, historian of Deerfield, writes, "He was rejected on account of his race.  The indignant mother pressed her claim before the trustees in an earnest and eloquent speech of three hours, quoting an abundance of law and Gospel, chapter and verse, in support of it, but all in vain.  The name of no son of Lucy Prince graces the catalogue of Williams College."  In a later case, Lucy Prince won the day.  A Colonel Eli Bronson tried to steal a lot belonging to the Princes in Sunderland, near the home of Ethan Allen.  The case ended up in the Supreme Court of the United States.  According to Sheldon, "our Lucy argued the case at length before the court.  Justice Chase said that Lucy made a better argument than he had heard from any lawyer at the Vermont bar."

Lucy Terry Prince died in 1821.  Her obituary in the Franklin Herald stated, "In this remarkable woman there was an assemblage of qualities rarely to be found among her sex.  Her volubility was exceeded by none, and in general the fluency of her speech captivated all around her, and was not destitute of instruction and edification.  She was much respected among her acquaintance, who treated her with a degree of deference."  The obituary writer, please note, considered Prince's wisdom and eloquence extraordinary for a woman, not for an African American.

Why have we told the story of Lucy Terry Prince at such length and in such detail?  Because the meaning is in the details, in the respect she was given by her neighbors, in the affection she held for them, in her expectation that her son would be admitted to Williams College.  Lucy Terry Prince was a citizen.  Like many white citizens of the colonies, she had come to these shores as an unfree laborer, but she had passed into freedom and earned a place of prominence in her community.  There is meaning also, though of a different kind, in the threat of violence from white neighbors in 1785 and the fact that Williams College rejected Abijah, Jr.

This remarkable woman lived for close to a century.  During her lifetime, America changed.  Race changed in America.  By the year of Prince's death, slavery had been abolished in the North, and in the South it had become an institution of horrifying cruelty.  If Lucy Terry Prince had been brought to this country and sold to a southern plantation owner in 1800, she would have occupied a status little higher than livestock.  She would have entered into a world where beating a woman until she bled was considered routine labor management and selling away a child was good business practice.  She would probably have married, but her marriage would not have been legal, and her husband might well have been sold.  In that case, she would doubtless have been required to accept another man in her bed.  She would almost certainly never have learned to read or write.  She would almost certainly never have known freedom.

Slavery is slavery.  The lack of freedom in itself, regardless of conditions, is an offense to human dignity.  And conditions could sometimes be intolerable, even in the North and even in colonial days.  Still, the possibility existed in the early years of this land for those who came here as slaves to become simply another part of the patchwork.  White America destroyed that possibility.  Slavery became not just unfree labor but one of the two great stains, along with the destruction of Native American culture, on this nation's honor.

Most Americans, when they think of the history of black women, think of that terrible stain.  They do not think of Lucy Terry Prince.  Or Phillis Wheatley, the second woman to publish a book in America, in 1773.  Or Elizabeth Freeman, who sued for her freedom in 1781 and won, basing her case on the new constitution of Massachusetts.  Or Elleanor Eldridge, who owned a wallpaper business and sold the best cheese in the town of Warwick, Rhode Island.  These women make what happened in the antebellum years not just a disgrace but an American tragedy.  They also make the rest of the history of black women understandable.  The extraordinary achievements of black women in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries did not grow out of degradation but out of a legacy of courage, resourcefulness, initiative, and dignity that goes back to 1619.

In the last two decades, the history of these women has been, and is being, uncovered in a completely unprecedented way.  Historians are digging into the records of towns like Deerfield, Massachusetts, into court records and slave inventories and long-lost narratives.  Much of the history of black women was lost forever because it was considered by almost everyone to be unimportant, but a great deal still remains and is being brought to light.  We can see now that the courage, strength, and resourcefulness contemporary readers have come to expect from characters in the novels of Toni Morrison and Alice Walker and in the poetry of Maya Angelou, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Rita Dove are genuine.  They existed in the characters and lives of thousands of black women from colonial America through the American Revolution to the terrible years of antebellum slavery.  They are revealed in stories of Civil War spies and of resistance during the Jim Crow years, stories that move black women from the fringes of American history.  A new look at the Civil Rights movement and an examination of the triumphs of recent years show what black women have to teach all Americans about survival.  The history of black women in America is a remarkable story, covering almost four centuries, but there are themes that run through it from beginning to end.

The emphasis by black women on community developed in the slave quarters where they taught their children—and especially their daughters—different codes of conduct for their fellow slaves and for the white masters.  It grew in the mutual benefit societies formed by free African Americans, especially women, in the eighteenth century.  It continued through the abolitionist societies and black churches of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.  Then, out of the churches, mutual benefit societies, and literary societies came the black women's club movement of the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century.  Faced with a total lack of services from the U.S. government, black women in the clubs raised money to build hospitals, fund college scholarships, and take care of the aged and the children of the community.  Because of this emphasis on community and the skills learned in these organizations, black women became the foundation of the Civil Rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s.  For the first time in history, a political movement relied on the organizing skills of women.

Interwoven with the theme of community is the priority placed on education.  Again, the story begins in the slave quarters, where black women formed underground schools to teach reading and writing.  It was illegal in most places in the South to teach a black person to read, but they managed it.  That story goes on through the academies for free black children founded by young black women, some of them only teenagers.  Then, after the Civil War, there were the floods of northern black women moving into the South to teach former slaves.  There were the thousands of black women who functioned as leaders of their communities and who, during school desegregation and the combining of black and white schools, were the first to be fired.  Today there are the forty or more black women who are college presidents and the black washerwoman who recently used her life savings to endow a scholarship at a southern university.

Against this background the third major theme glows with truth, especially in today's world.  Black women's history teaches us that, as important as the community is, each individual's sense of worth and dignity must live inside that person.  It must be nurtured and made strong, apart from the valuation of the world.

These are all themes that will shape our chronological narrative.  And, oddly enough, given the tremendous sufferings of black women, another primary theme is triumph.  Quite simply, the way black women approach life works.  It cannot overcome all obstacles, but it has enabled black women to shape the raw materials of their lives into an extraordinary succession of victories, small and large.  From the beginning, they have done more than find ways to feed a family with little or nothing in the house.  They have found ways to educate children, resist the oppressions of slavery, support their churches, build hospitals, register voters, and get elected to the United States Senate.  Theirs is more than a story of oppression and struggle.  It is a story of hope.

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Table of Contents

Prologue 1
Ch. 1 A New and Alien World: Seventeenth and eighteenth centuries 7
Ch. 2 A Tale of Three Cities: Late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries 31
Ch. 3 Survival and Other Forms of Resistance: Antebellum years on slave plantations 65
Ch. 4 Resistance Becomes Rebellion: Antebellum years among free African Americans 102
Ch. 5 The War for Freedom: The Civil War 125
Ch. 6 Free Women in Search of Freedom: Reconstruction 147
Ch. 7 Blossoming in Hard Soil: Late nineteenth century 165
Ch. 8 No Mountain Too High: Early twentieth century 192
Ch. 9 They Carried Their Freedom Bags: The Great Migration 213
Ch. 10 The Great Depression: 1930 through World War II 240
Ch. 11 Towards Freedom: Post-war through 1960s 266
Ch. 12 The Caged Bird Sings: 1970s and 1980s 295
Epilogue: A New Era for Black Women 309
The Collaboration 315
Acknowledgments 320
Endnotes 321
Bibliography 333
Index 339
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Interviews & Essays

On Wednesday, February 18th, barnesandnoble.com welcomed Darlene Clark Hine and Kathleen Thompson to discuss A SHINING THREAD OF HOPE.

Moderator: Welcome, Darlene Clark Hine and Kathleen Thompson! Thank you for joining us this Wednesday evening to discuss A SHINING THREAD OF HOPE!

Darlene Clark Hine: Thank you. It's a pleasure to be here!

Darlene Clark Hine: Thank you!

Marcie from Chicago, IL: I have heard people say that Oprah Winfrey is the most powerful person in America -- whatever she says about books, food (mad cow disease) influences at least the shape of American consumerism. Can you tell us about how you mention her in your book? What does Oprah say or represent about the black women in America today?

Darlene Clark Hine: In the book, we talk about Oprah Winfrey as being a "Successful Black Woman," and we emphasize that she is especially appealing to white America. So, we celebrate her, we acknowledge her, but we go on to talk about lesser-known black women who are even more revered by black women in their communities, such as, to give an example, Osceola McCarthy, Gwendolyn Brooks, Rosa Parks, Ruby Dee, and Marva Collins. The point is, we want to emphasize that being a successful black woman can be defined in a plethora of ways.

Darlene Clark Hine: We do talk about Oprah in the later chapters of the book, and we refer to her as a symbol of a new image of a black woman, which we call the "Successful Black Woman" (SBW) because her success has made people rethink stereotypes about what black women are capable of doing. And she represents many thousands of black women becoming successful in the corporate world, in education, and other areas of American life. There is some danger, of course, that this image will become a new stereotype, with its own problems and implications. But for now, it is important to celebrate the success of these women, and recognize that it came from the community of black women over four centuries.

Mark from NYC: Who do you consider to be the most influential and admirable role models for black women today? In history?

Darlene Clark Hine: Today, who are the most influential black role models for women? I would name people like Toni Morrison, because of her creativity, Alice Walker, because of her talent and commitment and activism. As far as politics is concerned, I would name Maxine Waters. As far as women who are in the public eye in terms of talent and ability and what have you, with the media, people like Carol Simpson -- she's with ABC -- Charlayne Hunter-Gault, and as far as the past is concerned, I would name people like Madame C. J. Walker, because of her entrepreneurial work and genius. As a matter of fact, there is a postage stamp that was issued this month to recognize her achievement as the first self-made black woman millionairess, and she died in 1919. My personal heroines are women such as Harriet Tubman, because she was relentless in trying to end slavery, and in helping her community of black slaves. And finally, I admire Maria Stuart, Phillis Wheatley, and Mary Ann Shadd Cary.

Milt Jackson from Atlanta, GA: As an Atlanta native, I'm curious, Kathleen, what it is like to work with the Turner Broadcasting Group? I understand you did a historical accompaniment to one of their series? Thank you.

Darlene Clark Hine: Yes, I did the "Portrait of America" series, which was done in the 1980s. They were very cooperative with my work, and helpful. I didn't have much direct contact with anyone such as Ted Turner, but I found the project very worthwhile and stimulating because it was helping to redefine the concept of "Americanism," or patriotism.

Alison from Brooklyn: What strides would you like to see the black woman make in the coming new century? What is impeding her progress?

Darlene Clark Hine: I think that continued demonization of black women, intractable negative stereotypes, barriers to education and good jobs are impeding some black women, but above all, I think the combination of racism and sexism that creates tremendous oppression for working poor black women is a major challenge. Now, some of the things that I would like to see happen in the future: I would like black women to become even more greatly involved in politics. I would like to see more black women pursue advanced degrees and become professors as well as involved in the other professions. I would also like to see increased entrepreneurial engagement, because at the heart of it all, I am concerned about the relentless poverty that traps so many black women. And finally, I think black women and black men need to work as partners to end domestic abuse and violence and to create greater access to health care for children as well as for the entire black community.

Monique from Philadelphia, PA: Are either of you two fans of either Bebe Moore Campbell or Toni Morrison?

Darlene Clark Hine: I would say that we are both fans of both of those women. I think Toni Morrison is one of the most important American writers of the century. I particularly admire the depth of her storytelling ability, and her very powerful point of view. I am not as familiar with Bebe Moore Campbell; I know Darlene is, so maybe I'll leave that for her to talk about.

Bill from Michigan: I was wondering if either of you had read Alex Kotlowitz's latest book, THE OTHER SIDE OF THE RIVER. I thought it was an interesting way of representing race relations in America because he left so much unresolved, presenting the story without a clean resolution at the end. What did you think of it?

Darlene Clark Hine: I haven't read it, I have only heard him talking about it, and I'm aware of the incidents that he described in the book, because I live here in Michigan, but what I thought was most fascinating were the differing perspectives between blacks and whites on the prevalence of racism within those communities. The white citizens in St. Joseph (the white town) seem to think that racism is not a problem, whereas any visitor to Benton Harbor would be struck by the disparity in the economic well-being between these two communities and would clearly see that black people think that racism is a major problem!

Darlene Clark Hine: I haven't read it. Sorry!

Bethann from Galveston, TX: What do you think are the most misleading images of the modern African-American woman today?

Darlene Clark Hine: That would take a very long answer, but in the interest of time, I will talk about a few of the negative stereotypes and generalizations about black women that are exploded in our book, A SHINING THREAD OF HOPE. From slavery times through the present, these have been the negative stereotypes and images: the Mammy, Sapphire, Jezebel, and in the present, we have these updated ones, the Welfare Queen, the Castrating Matriarch, immoral sexpots, and in some rap music lyrics, the "bitches and the ho's." And you may add the overwhelming sense or image in our society of black women is that they want something for nothing. Now, I have never met a black girl who's said that when she grew up she wanted to be a poor black woman. The reality is that black women have always worked and have worked very hard from slavery times to the present and have consistently been paid less money than any other group in society, and yet, they have borne the responsibility of keeping families together, serving their communities, creating institutions such as schools, orphanages, hospitals and clinics, and supporting religious organizations, and black women were the ones who launched the civil rights movement and who labored behind the scenes to sustain that movement throughout the course of the '50s and '60s. So, the reality is vastly different from the stereotypes.

Darlene Clark Hine: I would say most of the images that we see in the media are misleading. And images of black women in this culture have always been false to the reality. Black women have had to fight against the images of the Mammy, the Temptress, the Tragic Mulatto; all of these were created as a part of the southern attempt to defend the behavior in slavery and have been a part of our culture ever since. Today, we've added the Welfare Queen and the Matriarchal Superwoman. The reality is that black women are a diverse group of individuals who have fought for centuries for the respect they deserve. And who have accomplished remarkable things against incredible obstacles. Today, for example, more single black mothers live below the poverty level than single white mothers, but far more single white mothers are on welfare. This is in part because of the strong community of black women, and the flexible concept of family that black women have always cultivated. I think that if we could shatter the stereotypes, there would be the possibility for much greater alliances between black women and white women, and we could accomplish remarkable things.

Rachel from Rochester, NY: I was leafing through the end of your book, and I loved what you said about how most people think that once you've told the history of African Americans and the story of women, you've covered black women. But that this is not true.... Could you tell everyone a little bit about this? How are black women different?

Darlene Clark Hine: To begin with, of course, black women have had to battle both race and gender -- with class almost always in the mix. And that double impression has made their situation more difficult. But beyond that, the position of black women in slavery as sexual workers as well as manual laborers after 1807, when slaves were no longer imported into this country, meant that the oppressions of slavery threatened the most intimate parts of a woman's life. She was robbed of sexual choice, sexual integrity, and often robbed of her children. She also resisted this oppression, to a degree that has never been recognized. As it would be for any woman, forced sexual intercourse for slave women was rape. They fought physically; they fought with deception; sometimes they died to protect that particular part of themselves; and that was resistance not just against the conditions of their slavery, but against the very idea that their personhood could be owned. There are other ways in which the experience of racial oppression was different for women than men, and how sexual oppression was different for black women and white women. Many of them contributed to the particular values and survival skills black women developed and became black women's culture, a culture in which strength in the inner self balances service and loyalty to the community in a way that is virtually unique to black women.

Jenny from Vermont: How exactly did your collaboration work in this book? From what I read in your bios, your areas of expertise seem to overlap but aren't exactly the same. Did you each work on different chapters of the research and writing?

Darlene Clark Hine: The ways in which black women's history differs from [that of] black men and from white women are quite numerous. Number one, black women have had to struggle against racism and sexism; they had neither the privilege of maleness nor the advantages of whiteness to ease their conditions in America. During slavery, black women were exploited for their productive capacities as laborers in fields and farms and in the households, and simultaneously were exploited for their reproductive capacities and were sexually abused and raped. After 1807, black women were responsible for reproducing the entire slave labor force and had to struggle to maintain or aquire or achieve any control over their sexual being. As women, the enslaved black women did not have the protection of the laws. White women were still regarded as women and as human beings under law. Black women had no rights that any man was bound to respect. And so, the combination of this sexual oppression and the racial exploitation and oppression makes it imperative that we study the distinct ways in which black women created belief systems and a culture that allowed them to survive and to prevail. Thus, it is very important, as we point out in the book, to understand the interior consciousness, the inner lives, of black women.

Darlene Clark Hine: It is difficult to describe a collaboration. Darlene has a very profound knowledge of black women's history that goes back 25 years. I have worked in this field for about seven years, so I came to the collaboration with a fairly good background knowledge, but Darlene often guided the structure of the book and individual chapters, knew where to look for information when we needed it, had very important theoretical insights. I brought a different perspective, a lot of experience writing about women's issues, and a sense of storytelling, because I am also a playwright. So I helped shape the story aspect of the narrative. After we talked and did the research, I wrote the first draft of each of the chapters; Darlene revised those drafts, found gaps that we needed to fill, and corrected me if I sacrificed accuracy for the sake of the story. In the end we both went over the whole manuscript together, one more time, and I did the final polish on the prose because I have more experience writing for the general public, and we wanted this book to be very accessible. That's as accurately as I can describe it! The personal part of the collaboration developed over the two years that we worked on this book, in a way that has changed not only my view of history, but of life. And we have become very good friends.

Mary from Chicago: Do you think that the fact (is it even a fact?) that the black women's club movement involved women of all classes was influential in that movement developing such a strong political identity? And was this different from the white women's club movement?

Darlene Clark Hine: That's a good question. In our book, we pay a great deal of attention to the importance of the black women's club movement beginning in the 1890s because the National Association of Colored Women became the largest, most resourceful, organized body within the black community. By 1914, for example, the NACW had 50,000 members. Those club women concentrated on creating social welfare agencies, services, and institutions for those most in need within their communities. In 1935, the national council of negro women formed by Mary McLeod Bethune adopted a very straightforward political agenda. This organization grew to 3 million members by the 1960s, and one of the chief goals was to get black women the right to vote. And here's the critical point: These women's clubs and organizations became the training ground for the development of political organizing and mobilizing skills, and these skills that black women perfected within their own clubs helped to move the civil rights movement to a point where it acheived major successes in the political arena, culminating in the voting rights act of 1965, and since 1965, we have witnessed an explosion of black women holding political office.

Paula Michaels from North Shore: Hello, Ms. Clark and Ms. Thomspon -- I have a six-year-old daughter, and I would like to introduce her to a few strong, black female role models -- can you recommend a few?

Darlene Clark Hine: I could recommend thousands! Let me start with Susie King Baker-Taylor. She was born a slave, was able to learn to read in a secret school; she walked to school with her books wrapped in paper to look like a parcel so no one would know; when she was 14, the Civil War broke out. She fled to the Union Army and ended up becoming a teacher to a black regiment of soldiers. She went from there to being a nurse for that regiment, and for the rest of the Civil War until she was about 17, she bandaged wounds and assisted doctors and did everything she could to make life more comfortable for the men fighting. Many years later she wrote a memoir of her experiences in the war, and that was republished recently. You should be able to find it in the library. It is very simply and clearly written. There are other models, like Maggie Lena Walker, who was the first woman bank president in the U.S. -- not just the first black woman, but the first woman to be a bank president at the turn of the century. Almost any of the women who taught in black schools over the centuries would be a wonderful role model. Katy Ferguson -- in the 1700s in New York City, when she was still in her late teens, she opened America's first Sunday school, in the poor neighborhood where she lived. She did not read herself, so she taught her students the Bible, large parts of which she had memorized, and skills that they would need to get through life. Her students were both black and white poor children, and over the years she took 40 of them into her home until she could find homes and families for them. She did all of this on the salary she made laundering fine lace. The stories of all these women are in the encyclopedia that Darlene edited, called BLACK WOMEN IN AMERICA, which should be in your library.

Annabelle from Santa Fe, New Mexico: How did your research for this book differ from other projects you have worked on? In order to write a comprehensive history, you must have had to reach into areas of history that were not entirely well documented -- for example, in times of slavery, not everything could be recorded, as most slaves did not know how to read and write. What were your sources for these periods? How did you weed through them to find out what was historically relevant?

Darlene Clark Hine: We used a lot of oral interviews that had been conducted by unemployed writers during the New Deal. There are a series -- hundreds -- of interviews with ex-slaves as part of the WPA, and so the WPA slave interviews provided us with a lot of information. We also were able to find slave narratives that were written by black women, such as Harriet Jacobs's INCIDENTS IN THE LIFE OF A SLAVE GIRL and Elizabeth Keckley's BEHIND THE SCENES. She was the dressmaker to Mary Todd Lincoln, and she wrote her memoirs about her slave experience of 30 years. We also used Suzy King Baker-Taylor's MEMOIRS OF AN ARMY NURSE DURING THE CIVIL WAR, and she had been born a slave and became a nurse during the war. She published her memoirs after the war ended. There were many literate slaves who had to keep their literacy secret because masters would kill them or punish them if they learned that they knew how to read and write. In addition to these sources, many of the plantation owners kept records about their slaves, and we were able to use some of those records. In interpreting those kinds of records, we could understand ways in which slaves resisted by the kind of punishment they received. Sometimes, slave-masters wrote in their own diaries about their rebellious, obstinate slaves. The point is, because this history is so elusive, we had to piece this story together by using every fragment we could find. So, newspaper accounts, wills, diaries, broadsides, and photographs became very valuable source materials.

Darlene Clark Hine: For the past two decades, there has been a tremendous amount of research by black women historians about various periods in black women's history. We owe a great deal to those historians and read their books until our eyes were tired. We also searched into primary sources that ranged fromt the material gathered by the BLACK WOMEN IN THE MIDDLE WEST PROJECT, which gathered all kinds of documentation from ordinary black families, to the oral histories taken by the federal writers' project during the Depression, when out-of-work writers all over the South were commissioned to interview people who lived during the times of slavery. We also gathered facts from histories of both African Americans and women, finding one piece of information on black women per 100 pages, or reexamining, from a different perspective, the numbers and facts that were already known. To make the story more real, we gathered the voices of black women as we found them in letters, slave narratives, and even poems. Our photo researcher, Hilary MacAustin, searched in museums and archives all over the Midwest and the East Coast and found 600 photographic images, from which we chose the 67 in this book. The accuracy of everything we found with great difficulty -- it was a very long process, and we tried to view everything with skepticism, unitl we found some corroboration.

Carolyn from Bethpage, NY: I am not sure if this is a naive question, but I couldn't help but wonder how your work was received, as a white woman editing the ENCYCLOPEDIA OF BLACK WOMEN, and now coauthoring this book? Has this ever risen as an issue? Thank you.

Darlene Clark Hine: It has been remarkably not an issue among the black women with whom I've come in contact. It has been an occasional issue with white people. I hope that I have always treated the material with sufficient respect and not presumed personal knowledge or experience I have not had. I would never have written this book without Darlene, because I believe that it must be told with that knowledge and experience of a black woman's life that only a black woman could bring to the project. I also believe that understanding comes from knowledge. And just as I understand more than I did before I began working in this field, I hope that this book will help others of various cultural background to a better understanding as well.

Nan from Philadelphia, PA: What is the difference, in this particular realm of study, between folklore and history? What I mean is, how does "oral history" stand up to the requirements of "history proper"? Thank you for your time.

Darlene Clark Hine: Oral histories provide us with a perspective and insight and help to give a personal touch or flavoring to the historical narrative. They are not substitutions for proven facts. We know, for example, that the Civil War happened in the 1860s, right? But if we want to know how black women dealt with the crisis of war, or took advantage of that war to strike a blow for freedom, then we have to read those recollections, those remembrances, and if hundreds of women are saying similar or identical things, then we can assume that that is a legitimate bit of information, and include it in our work. For example, we know that Harriet Tubman, who was not able to read and write, actually served as a spy for the Union forces in South Carolina because General Saxton wrote about her activities! Now, we take the written document and we can compare it to her oral recollections that were recorded by someone else years later, and verify that she indeed did play a role in the Civil War. So, the point we want to underscore is that a historian must always verify to the best of her ability the oral recollections with written eyewitness accounts.

Gail from Santa Barbara, CA: How has your book been received by other leading voices in the field? I read on the back of the jacket that Cornel West called it a "canonical text for American historians." Has your history sparked any controversy or disapproval?

Darlene Clark Hine: The book has been very well received. Other scholars in the field have been very generous with their help while the book was being written, and after it was published, with offers of help in getting it to as large an audience as possible.

Moderator: Thanks for joining us, Kathleen! Best of luck!

Darlene Clark Hine: Thank you so much for having me. This was wonderful.

Moderator: Thanks for joining us, Darlene! It was wonderful chatting with you.

Darlene Clark Hine: Thank you, a pleasure to be here! And thank all the people for their wonderful questions!

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