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Tera Hunter follows African-American working women from their newfound optimism and hope at the end of the Civil War to their struggles as free domestic laborers in the homes of their former master. We witness their drive as they build neighborhoods and networks and their energy as they enjoy leisure hours in dance halls and clubs. We learn of their militance and the way they resisted efforts to keep them economically depressed and medically victimized. Finally, we see the despair and defeat provoked by Jim Crow laws and segregation and how they spurred large numbers of black laboring women to migrate north.

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Book Details

ISBN: 9780674893085
ISBN-10: 0674893085
Format: Paperback
(235mm x 155mm x 17mm)
Pages: 322
Imprint: Harvard University Press
Publisher: Harvard University Press
Publish Date: 28-Aug-1998
Country of Publication: United States

Other Editions


US Kirkus Review » Although the subtitle suggests a work of larger scope, this is a modest social history that focuses on black women in Atlanta from the 1860s through WW I. According to Hunter (History/Carnegie Mellon Univ.), black women in post-Civil War Atlanta were primarily domestic servants - laundresses, cooks, nannies, and maids - while the more lucrative and prestigious blue-collar women's jobs were reserved for white women. These jobs were guarded jealously: In 1897, when 20 black women were hired to fold bags at the Fulton Bag and Cotton Mill, the 200 white women who worked in the folding department walked off the job in protest. Despite great difficulties, many black women were, Hunter notes, determined to see their families do better. One northern journalist noted this: "I visited the mill neighborhood of Atlanta to see how the poorer classes of white people lived. I found one very comfortable home occupied by a family of mill employees. They hired a Negro woman to cook for them, and while they sent their children to the mill to work, the cook sent her children to school!" In spite of the enormous odds, black women made some progress toward fairer working and living conditions. One way they did this was by organizing: In 1881, striking black laundresses even managed to coerce the small percentage of white laundresses to join them - an unusual display of interracial cooperation. Black women cooks also made more of their paltry wages by "pan-toting," or taking home kitchen leftovers from their white employers, and laundresses would often borrow the clothing they washed for special occasions. Eventually, though, many black women found these and other measures too meager, and by 1920 hundreds of thousands had moved North in search of equality. A capsule look at the travails and triumphs of black women after emancipation, too narrow in focus to appeal to general readers. (Kirkus Reviews)

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Author Biography - Tera W. Hunter

Tera W. Hunter is Associate Professor of History at Carnegie Mellon University.

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