Beacon Press: A Black Women's History of the United States
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A Black Women's History of the United States

Authors: Daina Ramey Berry, Kali Nicole Gross

2021 NAACP Image Award Nominee: Outstanding Literary Work – Non-Fiction

Honorable Mention for the 2021 Organization of American Historians Darlene Clark Hine Award

A vibrant and empowering history that emphasizes the perspectives and stories of African American women to show how they are—and have always been—instrumental in shaping our country

In centering Black women’s stories, two award-winning historians seek both to empower African American women and to show their allies that Black women’s unique ability to make their own communities while combatting centuries of oppression is an essential component in our continued resistance to systemic racism and sexism. Daina Ramey Berry and Kali Nicole Gross offer an examination and celebration of Black womanhood, beginning with the first African women who arrived in what became the United States to African American women of today.

A Black Women’s History of the United States reaches far beyond a single narrative to showcase Black women’s lives in all their fraught complexities. Berry and Gross prioritize many voices: enslaved women, freedwomen, religious leaders, artists, queer women, activists, and women who lived outside the law. The result is a starting point for exploring Black women’s history and a testament to the beauty, richness, rhythm, tragedy, heartbreak, rage, and enduring love that abounds in the spirit of Black women in communities throughout the nation.

About the Series

Beacon Press’s ReVisioning History series consists of accessibly written books by notable scholars that reconstruct and reinterpret US history from diverse perspectives.
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“This book is a font of inspiration . . . A compact, exceptionally diverse introduction to the history of black women in America.”
Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review

“A substantial addition to popular history. Will likely be well-received by black women seeking better historical representation and by allies looking to educate themselves about black history.”
Library Journal, Starred Review

“A welcome addition to the library of any history enthusiast, A Black Women’s History of the United States is an absorbing read.”
Shelf Awareness, Starred Review

“Captivating, highly readable . . . A timely and much-needed restoration.”

“This book is a gift to anyone interested in a more complete—a more truthful—story about the United States. By starting the history about Black women on this land with us as free people and as people agitating for our freedom, by prioritizing all Black women’s voices and coming up to the present day, Dr. Gross and Dr. Berry illuminate greater possibilities for our collective freedom dreams and struggles for collective liberation.”
—Charlene A. Carruthers, author of Unapologetic: A Black, Queer, and Feminist Mandate for Radical Movements

A Black Women’s History of the United States is an extraordinary contribution to our collective understanding of the most profound injustices and equalities, as well as the most committed struggles to realize true justice and equality, that have shaped this nation since its birth. Through the courageous and complex voices of black women, and with deft attention to the lives that black women have led from the earliest moments of conquest and colonialism to the dawn of the twenty-first century, historians Daina Ramey Berry and Kali Gross have utterly upended traditional accounts of the American past in ways most desperately needed in our American present.”
—Heather Ann Thompson, historian and Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy

“Remarkably comprehensive and accessible, introductory and sophisticated, two ground-breaking historians have come together to produce a ground-breaking new history of Black women in the United States. To know the story of the United States is to know this indispensable story.”
—Ibram X. Kendi, author of Stamped from the Beginning and How to Be an Antiracist

“A powerful and important book that charts the rich and dynamic history of Black women in the United States. It shows how these courageous women challenged racial and gender oppression and boldly asserted their authority and visions of freedom even in the face of resistance. This book is required reading for anyone interested in social justice.”
—Keisha N. Blain, author of Set the World on Fire: Black Nationalist Women and the Global Struggle for Freedom

“Black women have always been at the front line of change, and A Black Women’s History of the United States shows us in no uncertain terms that our DNA will have us here sculpting and writing the next chapters. Tell your sisters, mothers, and daughters to get this book for someone they love, because we owe it to ourselves, our daughters, our sons, and our future, to know the history that isn’t being taught in our schools. And it starts with us.”
—Anika Noni Rose, actor, producer, and singer

Authors’ Note

Nannie’s Legacy and the Histories of Black Women

Isabel’s Expedition and Freedom Before 1619

Angela’s Exodus out of Africa, 1619–1760

Belinda’s Petition for Independence, 1760–1820

Millie and Christine’s Performance and the Expansion of Slavery, 1820–1860

Mary’s Apron and the Demise of Slavery, 1860–1876

Frances’s Sex and the Dawning of the Black Woman’s Era, 1876–1915

Augusta’s Clay, Migration, and the Depression, 1915–1940

Alice’s Medals and Black Women’s War at Home, 1940–1950

Aurelia’s Lawsuit Against Jim Crow, 1950–1970

Shirley’s Run, Black Power, Politics, and Black Feminism, 1970–2000

Patricia’s Climb and the Sisters Holding Down Liberty

Image Credits

A Black Women’s History of the United States by Daina Ramey Berry and Kali Nicole Gross

Readers’ Guide Discussion Questions

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  1. In the authors’ note for A Black Women’s History of the United States, Dr. Berry and Dr. Gross recount their own histories and speak to the lived experiences and archival vacancies that led them to pursue this project. How does the framework of the authors’ personal lives shift the ways in which you understand the book? Does the book itself serve as a radical document within the tradition of Black feminist activism?
  2. What do you make of the statement in the authors’ note that this history is “purposely not comprehensive” as it resists asserting itself as the “definitive history of Black women in the United States”?
  3. The American flag on the cover of this book is referenced in the introduction as, in part, the covert product of the work of a thirteen-year-old Black indentured servant, Grace Wisher. As demonstrated with Wisher, Dr. Berry and Dr. Gross pull back the curtains on countless Black women’s stories that have slipped through the cracks of national memory. In addition to the flag, what other cultural productions do the authors reveal to be made possible by the efforts of Black women? Which of these histories did you have to re-learn, and how did you originally learn them?
  4. The first history in the book is that of Isabel de Olvera, a woman of African descent who arrived of her own volition in the United States in the early sixteenth century. What shifts in your comprehension of the history of Black women in America are introduced by Isabel’s narrative, which predates chattel slavery? What stays the same? Why do you think the authors begin this book with Isabel’s story?
  5. Throughout the text, Dr. Berry and Dr. Gross pose questions about the realities and interiorities of the lives of Black women despite a recognition of the fact that their definitive answers are unknowable. Why is it valuable for the historians to pose impossible questions, and how do these questions alter your relationship to the women in the book?
  6. What is the importance of recounting histories like that of Fenda Lawrence, a free African trader and enslaver who profited from slavery in the New World? Why is Fenda’s story included in a book that otherwise focuses on those who rebel against the station of Black women in America?
  7. Discuss the story of Monemia (mother of conjoined twins, Christine and Millie) in conversation with the efforts of Mamie Till-Mobley (mother of Emmett Till) and the numerous other Black mothers recognized within this book. According to the provided narratives, what can be concluded about the role of the Black mother throughout American history?
  8. Many of the central histories in this text are those already familiar to the American public. How is your relationship with and understanding of these histories altered by accounts that refuse to center widely celebrated Black male historical figures?
  9. How does the story of Frances Thompson, who faced sexual violence, public ridicule, and state incarceration for her gender identity, complicate conventional histories of Black womanhood in America?
  10. Think of examples of Black female solidarity in this book that extend across time, geography, ability, sexuality, age, and class. What is the role of solidarity in Black women’s history in the United States, and what particular conditions exist at the intersection of Blackness and womanhood that foster said solidarity?
  11. In reference to Anna Julia Cooper and the Black clubwomen of the early twentieth century, the authors write, “Black women are the barometer by which the soundness of the race could best be measured.” What is meant by this statement, and how is it supported by the histories held within the book? How does it counter or confirm the American and Black radical histories you’ve encountered prior to reading this book?
  12. In the discussion of the rise of domestic servitude and Black women’s longstanding history of being systematically barred from fair labor opportunities, one Black woman declares, “I live a treadmill life [. . .] Tho today we are enjoying nominal freedom, we are literally slaves.” How does Black women’s history (within and outside labor history) complicate your understanding of the progression of Black rights in the United States? What is the connection to slavery, and how does labor feel or seem different for Black women?
  13. Discuss the history of incarceration as it relates to Black women in the United States. Which of these histories surprised you given your current cultural context, and why? What is the importance of including so many histories that touch on the conditions of prisons and penitentiaries?
  14. One of the most overlooked components of the history of Black women is that of the leaps and bounds they have made and continue to make in advancing civil rights for Black people as community organizers, union strikers, and elected state officials. What figures in this book did you find compelling in their political work, either operating from within or from wholly outside and against the US government? Make a case for their approach to national change.
  15. Sexual violence and laws related to solicitation and workplace harassment play a central role in Dr. Berry and Dr. Gross’s book. How does the history of the African American woman uniquely illustrate a national legacy of racialized legislation against sex, sexuality, and the female body? What do these histories reveal about national attitudes toward the Black female body? Where do you see these histories echoed in today’s governance?
  16. What is revealed about the forces that drive historical production in the relative prevalence of the Rosa Parks story when compared to the stories of the many other women who committed identical radical acts? What is achieved in the authors’ attention to these other women?
  17. From the “Mammy” figure to the “welfare queen,” Black women have long been categorized under whichever denigrating “name” best serves the dominant American vision. In what ways do books like A Black Women’s History of the United States, which name and recite the stories of countless forgotten and sometimes unnamed Black women, counter the cultural harm done by narrow historical archives and prevalent stereotypes?
  18. In the final pages of the book, the authors conclude that “Black women’s history in its truest sense serves as a historical road map of the failures of mainstream approaches to democracy and an incisive tutorial on how to correct it.” According to this history-as-tutorial, how then might we imagine correcting democracy in continuance with the Black feminist tradition enacted by the women in this book? How might we read more recent entries in this history, such as that of Patricia Okoumou, Angela Whitehead, or Bree Newsome as part of this historical trajectory? What are the next steps in honoring and recognizing the paths they’ve forged?

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A Black Women's History of the United States

ISBN: 978-080700199-8
Publication Date: 3/16/2021
Size:6 x 9 Inches (US)
Price:  $17.00
Format: Paperback
Availability: In stock.
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