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Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters' First 100 Years Mass Market Paperback – September 1, 1994

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Editorial Reviews Review

"I never thought I'd see the day that the world would want to hear what two old Negro women have to say," says Bessie Delany. But Bessie and her sister, Sadie, born in 1893 and 1891, saw plenty, by eating a low-fat, high-vegetable diet and outliving the "old Rebby [rebel] boys" who once almost lynched Sadie. This remarkable memoir was a long-running bestseller, spawning a Broadway play and adding to their list of seasoned acquaintances (Marian Anderson, Langston Hughes, Paul Robeson, Cab Calloway) such spring chickens as Hillary Clinton. Born to a former slave whose owners broke the law by teaching him to read, the sisters got a solid education. North Carolina was paradise--despite the Rebbies--until Jim Crow reared its hideous head. The girls had loved to ride in the front of the trolley because the wind in their hair made them feel free, but one day the conductor sadly ordered them to the back. The family moved to New York, where Bessie became the town's second black woman dentist and Sadie the first black woman home-ec teacher. They befriended everyone who was anyone in the Harlem Renaissance (their brother won the 1925 Congressional primary there), pursued careers instead of husbands, and lived peacefully together, despite their differences. Sadie was more peaceable, like Booker T. Washington, while Bessie was a W.E.B. Du Bois-style militant.

They're funny: Bessie notes that blacks must be sharp to get ahead, "But if you're average and white, honey, you can go far. Just look at Dan Quayle. If that boy was colored he'd be washing dishes somewhere." And they are wise: Sadie says, "Life is short, and it's up to you to make it sweet." --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

From Publishers 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.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Mass Market Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Dell (September 1, 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0440220424
  • ISBN-13: 978-0440220428
  • Product Dimensions: 4.2 x 0.9 x 6.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (203 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #29,551 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

27 of 28 people found the following review helpful By The RAWSISTAZ Reviewers on August 14, 2002
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Having Our Say is a remarkable book written by Sadie and Bessie Delany that details their lives over a hundred year period.
Bessie and Sadie grew up in a large family on the campus of Saint Augustine's school in Raleigh, North Carolina during the 90s. They led sheltered lives; Sadie was quiet and well mannered whereas Bessie was very quick to anger and opinionated. They were also very intelligent women who were taught early on to aim high. In a time when most people did not go to school beyond high school, Bessie and Sadie received college degrees. Bessie became the second black woman to practice dentistry in New York.
Sadie became the first black home economics teacher in a New York high school. The Delany sisters spoke their minds, and what they give the reader is a story of pure American history.
This autobiography is filled with stories about racism and how it affected their lives. Sadie and Bessie lived together for over a hundred years. Although the sisters are deceased, their story and words of wisdom live on in the hearts and minds of readers.
I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in American History. This book is the best history book I've read and the pictures in the book make the story come alive.
Reviewed by Dorothy Cooperwood
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By thesavvybamalady VINE VOICE on February 4, 2002
Format: Mass Market Paperback
I read this book when it first came out in 1993, and I still read it for inspiration. I am trying to get some copies for a African American History program coming up and I recalled that I never did a review on this great book, so here I am. Now these ladies have really told a marvelous story on their lives. It is honest,to the point, and a great oral history from two ladies who told it from the hip and wasn't ashamed of it neither. I was sorry to hear that they both passed on, but thank God, we still have their books to remember them by. Personally, this book should be read by every American,non American and every African American who feels that in spite of obstacles they can't make it. well, here are two examples that did. One was a school teacher and one was a dentist and both worked during segregation. Their whole family were college educated as well. I really liked Bessie. She could have kept you laughing. I know that this is probably not telling you much about these ladies, but take my word for it, once you read it, you won't be disappointed when you do.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By D. Pawl VINE VOICE on May 31, 2007
Format: Mass Market Paperback
HAVING OUR SAY: THE DELANY'S FIRST 100 YEARS is simply one of the most engaging, educational and insightful memoirs I have read about two extraordinary women (Bessie and Sadie Delaney) who saw tremendous change and evolution in the world, over the course of (more than) a century. These two fiesty women penned this wonderful book, with an introduction by Amy Hill Hearth, and I remember well how phenomenal it was to see them interviewed together, on PBS, when the book went to press, prior to the release of a made-for-TV-movie version of their memoirs.

This book is great for anyone looking to connect the present with the past; particularly through the eyes of two exceptional women who were born in South Carolina during the mid 1890s, experiencing racism firsthand (as two educated African-American women) and met many individuals who were instrumental in adding art, culture and brilliance to the Harlem Renaissance (a great cultural movement that took place between the 1920s and 1940s, in Harlem, New York, celebrating the cultural achievements of many African-American artists, musicians, dancers, photographers, writers, sculptors and radicals alike). What's more, these two women received college educations at time when it was unusual for Caucasian men to obtain them! Read this and tell two more people to check out the book, when you're through. Great reading!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By J. Jacobs VINE VOICE on April 10, 2004
Format: Hardcover
The short length and simple format belie the wisdom and inspiration contained in this book. Vignettes from the lives of two remarkable sisters, 102 and 104 years old, span the end of slavery and follow the continuum of American and black history to the present. Their lives, stories, and attitudes are admirable and this is a book well worth reading.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 23, 1998
Format: Paperback
When one of the Delany sisters died a couple of years ago, I felt a personal sense of loss, having read their engrossing and very personal memoir that was written after they each had reached the century mark. From emancipation until the 1940s, educated African Americans were in such small numbers that they were all acquainted with one another. The sisters remember meeting George Washington Carver, W.E.B. DuBois, Adam Clayton Powell (Jr. and Sr.), Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, and a continuing list of the famous and the educated among the nation's first four generations of freed slaves and their progeny. Good health has been Sadie's profession and hobby since she graduated from college with a certificate to teach domestic science. She eventually earned a Master's in education, and Bessie became a dentist. The Delanys enjoyed everything that contributes to a good life (except wealth, which has no doubt come about as a result of the success of their book). The sisters and their eight siblings remained close throughout their lives and followed their parents' example of public service and living a dignified life. A rich spiritual life and living honestly and well seem to have contributed to the longevity of these remarkable women.
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