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To 'Joy My Freedom: Southern Black Women's Lives and Labors after the Civil War

4.6 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0674893092
ISBN-10: 0674893093
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 322 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (May 20, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674893093
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674893092
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.5 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #736,953 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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Although it is not perfect, Hunter provides an engrossing look at southern black women's labor (especially in Atlanta) from the end of the Civil War to the Great Migration. With emancipation, these women searched for identity as free women, as paid workers, and as African Americans. White woutherners developed institutions and laws to restrict the newfound freedom black southerners sought to enjoy. Black women workers responded through community awareness and activism, showing intelligence and the desire to better their lives. Hunter's innovative use of sources shapes her work and helps the women's voices come alive. Because of limited African-Americal literacy in the early Reconstruction period, Hunter turned to newspapers and white southners' diaries fo flesh-out black women's experiences. Although problematic, the attention given in them to black women domestics demonstrated the division of both race and gender. Hunter also incorporates unique sources like dance steps so show the many ways newly freed women sought to define themselves. Her haunting use of illustrations reinforces the oppression and struggle for freedom black women laborers faced. As someone who knew very little about this aspect of history, Hunter's work has developed my interest in this time.
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A wonderful book for anyone interested in women's rights and the struggles they have endured over the years for pay equity and equality. This book traces the newly freed slave women; their battle to survive on the paltry sums ex-slave masters paid them, the women's determination to organize strikes for a living wage. This book also depicts the efforts for control over the very bodies of ex-slave women even down to efforts to restrict their right to dance and 'joy their Freedom. The consensus that partying and dancing would restrict the women's ability to do a good day's work. But the truth was the desire to control and re-enslave these women by controlling their very bodies.
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For those of you who were tantalized by the community, culture, and hints of deeper history in Kathryn Stockett's recent bestseller The Help, Tera W. Hunter's To `Joy My Freedom provides an intellectually stimulating and readable history of black women's urban work and politics in the American South following the Civil War. It provides a full-bodied history of the dynamics that seem so well-established in The Help. Stockett's work narrates the dynamics between black and white Southern women in the 1960s and the complexities that labor added to those habits, but leaves the intrigued reader begging for more of the history behind those relational and economic dynamics. Hunter's historical work, centering on the 1881 Atlanta washerwomen's strike, creates a groundbreaking context for an examination of black females' efforts to create independent political, cultural, economic and labor identities in the postbellum South.
Tera Hunter's work, published in 1997, collects personal diaries, newspaper articles, court documents, letters, statistics, political cartoons, bank statements, early photographs and other primary documentation, in addition to secondary sources, to craft the first narrative of these southern black women's lives. Her excellent source work not only grants a new in-road to the academic study of this generation, but also gives depth to the stories of the women themselves. Hunter's sources enable her work to sufficiently challenge the historian reader yet remain accessible to the general reader.
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I really wanted to like this book because of the subject, and the carefully researched information it contained. But I had a very hard time reading it because of the style of writing. It read more like an academic dissertation, where the author has to prove him/herself competent by martialing all the relevant data, at the expense of telling a story that compels the attention of the reader.

So I would recommend it highly as an academic study, because it does contain some stories, but if, like me, you react badly to abstractions and generalizations, preferring instead to draw your own conclusions from a well-told tale, this is not the book for you.
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Needed this book for a class. Amazon had it for a great price.
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Fact filled and thought provoking. Answers many of the questions and addresses many situations that we continue to confront today.
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