In the rural south in the years 1880- 1995, women worked with the new hope that their sons and daughters would one day escape from the southern staple-crop economy, with its connected hardships and saddened opportunities. Maud Lee Bryant whom was a farm wife from North Carolina stated: “My main object of working was wanting the children to have a better way of living, that the world might be just a little better because the Lord had me here for something, and I tried to make good out of it, that was my aim”. Although in these woman’s words I find a great amount of pain, her strength is very visible.
It is obvious that no matter how hard her life is, she tries to see her hardships as opportunities instead of feeling sorry for herself. A large amount of sharecroppers rarely stayed on the same plantation for more than a year or two for the reason being that their quest for household and group anatomy represented the tangible legacy of slavery. Although black families worked large amounts of hours they achieved neither consumer status nor total self-sufficiency due to the repressive labor system they worked for.
It is right to say that black women were living a life of irony, although black women would pick cotton all day, they were never able to wear a cotton dress because of their low income and although they would work in agriculture as well, they barely survived on inadequate protein-deficient diets. Although blacks represented one-third of the southern population and 40 percent of its farmers and farm laborers, they were by no means the only penniless agricultural group.
In 1910, nine-tenths of all southern black who made their living from the soil worked as tenants, sharecroppers, or contract laborers and most barely eked out enough in cotton to pay for rent, food, and supplies. During these years, a system by which a dominant group, whites, passed laws that were designed to humiliate a subordinate group, blacks, in public ways and in public places including: schools, parks, theaters, and public transportation.
These new ideals of separation, combined with the systematic disfranchisement of black en, were enforced with state-sanctioned terrorism. By the late nineteenth century, whites of all classes had joined together to demonize black men as a group, and label all black women as immoral and sexually promiscuous. Between 1879 and 1881 as many as twenty thousand rural blacks fled the “young hell” of the lower South in search of the “promised land” of Kansas. The Kansas-fever exodus consisted primarily of families headed by former slaves desperate to escape neoslavery.
Although granted relatively more overall freedom than their enslaved parents, black men and women in the late nineteenth century had only a limited ability to make crucial decisions related to household and farm management. A white employer controlled not only a family’s labor, but also its furnishings and food. In this book Jones offers a thorough analysis of black women, as the title suggests, from the times of slavery through to present day. The book was originally written in 1985 but the author updated the book and it was released in a second edition in 2009.
I love studies that look at the intersection of various topics rather than examining one and ignoring the rest, because life doesn’t happen in a vacuum like that. Jones does that in a way that few do. This book is a true examination of race and gender, as well as class, and we study all of these as they interact with each other throughout the years. Starting with slavery Jones talks about how both black men and black women were affected, but she highlights the ways in which women experienced slavery in such a different manner.
Throughout history, from slavery and until present day, women have been responsible for work in and outside of the home. In this way they do more than and experience different and additional issues to those of men. For example in the time of slavery women were usually expected to work as hard or almost as hard as men, but were also responsible for bearing and raising children, and keeping a home – cooking, sewing, cleaning, and more. White women, however, were not expected to do any work outside of the home at this time and also had the black slaves to help them in the house.
For this reason examining history through the lens of only race or only gender does not give the true picture of life for black women. One of the themes that was highlighted most often through the book was that of family. Black women were forced to toil long hours for meager pay throughout history and until the present, and still expected to do most of the work at home as well. Jones talks about how work at home was prized and worth doing, often times, compared to work for whites, and how they would always try their best to find jobs with as much time with their family as they could.