The Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 might have signaled the end of slavery, but the beginning of freedom remained far out of sight for most of the four million enslaved African Americans living in the South. Even after the Civil War, when thousands of former slaves flocked to southern cities in search of work, they found the demands placed on them as wage-earners disturbingly similar to those they had faced as slaves: seven-day workweeks, endless labor, and poor treatment. In To 'Joy My Freedom
, author Tera W. Hunter takes a close look at the lives of black women in the post-Civil War South and draws some interesting conclusions. Hunter's interest in the subject was initially sparked by her research of the washerwomen's strike of 1881. This labor protest by more than 3,000 Atlanta laundresses is symbolic, Hunter posits, of African American women's ability to build communities and practice effective, if rough-and-ready, political strategies outside the mainstream electoral system.
To 'Joy My Freedom is a fascinating look at the long-neglected story of black women in postwar southern culture. Hunter examines the strategies these women (98 percent of whom worked as domestic servants) used to cope with low wages and poor working conditions and their efforts to master the tools of advancement, including literacy. Hunter explores not only the political, but the cultural, too, offering an in-depth look at the distinctive music, dance, and theater that grew out of the black experience in the South.
From Library Journal
Hunter (history, Carnegie Mellon Univ.) examines the rich dimensions of the lives of ordinary black Southern women, who were mainly confined to household labor as maids, nannies, cooks, and washerwomen in urban centers from the postbellum era through the Great Migration during World War I. In Atlanta, these freedwomen "were committed to balancing the need to earn a living with needs for emotional sustenance, personal growth, and collective cultural experience." Hunter offers valuable explorations into the complexities of African American feminine laborers and the contextualization of their lives. She is to be applauded for providing scholars with easier access to source materials, particularly primary sources. An important contribution to suffragist activism, feminist scholarship, and African American studies.?Edward G. McCormack, Univ. of Southern Mississippi Gulf Coast, Long Beach
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