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How It Feels to Be Free: Black Women Entertainers and the Civil Rights Movement Hardcover – December 24, 2013

ISBN-13: 978-0195314038 ISBN-10: 0195314034 Edition: 1st

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Editorial Reviews

Review


Winner of the Benjamin L. Hooks National Book Award


"Ruth Feldstein's important new book...is an original exploration of the little-known but central role that black entertainers, especially black women, played in helping communicate and forward the movement's goals... Ms. Feldstein brilliantly demonstrates the ways these women, their images and performance strategies animated transformative struggles for social change." - New York Times


"Feldstein's time-capsule views of Greenwich Village and Harlem in the late 1950s and early '60s are fascinating, as is the roster of performers she introduces from the realms of jazz, folk, theater and cinema." -- Dallas Morning News


"One of the many remarkable aspects of Ruth Feldstein's How It Feels to Be Free: Black Women Entertainers and the Civil Rights Movement is that it manages simultaneously to trace histories of black thought, activism, and performance, while reconstructing histories of how journalists, writers, and others imagined blackness through the civil rights era." - Los Angeles Review of Books


"Feldstein shows how these women's actions promoted, interacted with, and anticipated both black power and second-wave feminism. Many of the battles discussed are still being fought by contemporary black artists, and Feldstein's investigation provides valuable context for the ongoing struggle, 'render[ing] these social movements in all of their messy complexity and richness.' -- Publishers Weekly


"Ruth Feldstein has decided to focus on black women entertainers and successfully produced a detailed, informative and easy read, which firmly places these talented ladies in the history of the civil rights and feminist movements of the '50s-70s" --New York City Jazz Record


"By placing black female musicians and actors at the center of Civil Rights history, Ruth Feldstein has written a tremendously important study that challenges readers to consider the imaginative activism of artists who performed progressive representations of black womanhood. How It Feels to Be Free takes readers on a critical journey across the mid-twentieth century freedom struggle by way of women performers who rehearsed, remixed, and renegotiated civil rights and black power politics, as well as emergent feminisms... Feldstein places their lives and careers in conversation with one another and, in doing so, recuperates the crucial role that black women of music, film and television played in transforming our contemporary world."--Daphne Brooks, Princeton University


"In this meticulously researched and brilliantly argued study, Feldstein shows how black women entertainers expanded the very meaning of politics as they performed, contested, and reshaped race and gender at the dynamic intersection of the civil rights movement, culture industries, and global mass culture. This stunning reinterpretation of women, gender, and the civil rights movement is essential reading for anyone interested in feminism, black activism, and the transnational cultural and political dimensions of 1950s and 1960s U.S history." --Penny M. Von Eschen, author of Satchmo Blows Up the World: Jazz Ambassadors Play the Cold War


"How It Feels to Be Free stands out as an enormous act of historical recovery. Ruth Feldstein masterfully illuminates the way in which black women entertainers actively participated in the civil rights struggle and helped to transform American and international race relations. A powerful and thought provoking book that will change the way we look at gender, civil rights, and the black freedom movement." --Peniel E. Joseph, author of Stokely: A Life


About the Author


Ruth Feldstein is Associate Professor of History at Rutgers University, Newark. She is the author of Motherhood in Black and White: Race and Sex in American Liberalism, 1930-1965.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (December 24, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195314034
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195314038
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 1.1 x 6.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #887,932 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By M. McAlister on February 8, 2014
Format: Hardcover
I'm fascinated by the ways that popular culture plays a role in politics, and Feldstein's book does an excellent job of showing how black female performers were making civil rights real in their music, TV roles, and movies. Each chapter takes on a different performer (or two), and they are all fascinating and surprising, taking up figures like Lena Horne, Cicely Tyson, and Abbey Lincoln, and showing how the choices they made mattered to the ideas of equality, black pride, and feminist consciousness. But my favorite chapters are the ones on the South African singer Miram Makeba and the glorious songstress Nina Simone. Makeba's story was new to me: she was first presented in the 1950s as an exotic bit of Africa by her mentor Harry Belafonte; she later became far more political and even married Stokely Carmichael. And Simone .... wow. The discussion of her as a singer and a political activist -- I loved hearing more about the song "Mississippi Goddam." Overall, this is a great book, that people should have on their go-to list to give to friends or family.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
that ended up being a great read, I purchased it for my kindle but I wish I would have gotten a hardcopy. Such an interesting book if you are interested in the civil rights movement circa 1950-1978
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By Lana Mitchell on February 22, 2015
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The six Black women who where the subjects of Ruth Feldstein's book "How It Feels to Be Free:Black Women In The Civil Rights Movement basically answered the question this way: it feels liberated, pretty, smart, large and in-charge, bossy, talented and loved.
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2 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Linda on February 8, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The author's two-fold argument that culture played a critical role in the civil rights movement and that black women entertainers exemplified this proposition is really appealing. However the book is a mile wide in looking at the lives of six performers – Diahann Carroll, Cicely Tyson, Nina Simone, Abby Lincoln, Lena Horne, and Miriam Makeba – and an inch deep in that not much about each or about all of them together is covered. The author relied upon the written record for information. Since these performers – and black women in general – have not received their just due in the media and books, not much has been documented. I wish the author had interviewed the two living legends – Carroll and Tyson – so that she could have captured their own words about how they think about their work in the context of the civil rights movement.
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