Cover image for Sister circle : Black women and work
Sister circle : Black women and work
Harley, Sharon.
Publication Information:
New Brunswick, N.J. : Rutgers University Press, [2002]

Physical Description:
xxii, 288 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
black side of the mirror : the black body in the workplace / Flying the love bird and other tourist jobs in Jamaica : women workers in Negril / "Working for nothing but for a living" : black women in the underground economy / Between a rock and a hard place : mothering, work, and welfare in the rural south / Getting paid : black women economists reflect on women and work / "Don't let nobody bother yo' principle" : the sexual economy of American slavery / "And we claim our rights" : the rights rhetoric of black and white women activists before the Civil War / "What are we worth" : Anna Julia Cooper defines black women's work at the dawn of the twentieth century / "All of the glory-- faded-- quickly" : Sadie T.M. Alexander and black professional women, 1920-1950 / sister in the brotherhood : Rosina Corrothers Tucker and the sleeping car porters, 1930-1950 / Declaring (ambiguous) liberty : Paule Marshall's middle-class women / Searching for memories : visualizing my art and our work / Labor above and beyond the call : a black woman scholar in the academy / When the spirit takes hold : what the work becomes!
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Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
HD6057.5.U5 S576 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
HD6057.5.U5 S576 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Black History Non-Circ

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Although black women's labor was essential to the development of the United States, studies of these workers have lagged far behind those of working black men and white women. Adding insult to injury, a stream of images in film, television, magazines, and music continues to portray the work of black women in a negative light.

Sister Circle offers an innovative approach to representing work in the lives of black women. Contributors from many fields explore an array of lives and activities, allowing us to see for the first time the importance of black women's labor in the aftermath of slavery. A brand new light is shed on black women's roles in the tourism industry, as nineteenth-century social activists, as labor leaders, as working single mothers, as visual artists, as authors and media figures, as church workers, and in many other fields. A unique feature of the book is that each contributor provides an autobiographical statement, connecting her own life history to the subject she surveys.

The first group of essays, "Work It Sista!" identifies the sites of black women's paid and unpaid work. In "Foremothers: The Shoulders on Which We Stand," contributors look to the past for the different kinds of work that black women have performed over the last two centuries. Essays in "Women's Work through the Artist's Eyes" highlight black women's work in literature, drama, and the visual arts. The collection concludes with "Detours on the Road to Work: Blessings in Disguise," writings surveying connections between black women's personal and professional lives.

Author Notes

Sharon Harleyis an associate professor and chair of the African American studies department at the University of Maryland.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Research on the employment of women and minorities has neglected the specific experience of black women, according to the contributors (scholars in a range of fields from economics to social science) of this collection of essays. They explore the meaning of work in the lives of black women facing the dual limitations of race and sex. They examine how black women's jobs affect their relationships with black men and white women (the lowest on the racial/sexual totem pole) and with their families and communities. The history of black women as workers, evolving from their being slaves and domestic workers to other types of employment in the present, has always seen them overrepresented in the labor force and concentrated at the lower end. The essays also provide a fascinating look at black women in the underground economy--juke joints and numbers running--as well as a survey of writing connecting black women's personal and professional lives. Each essay is preceded by a biographical sketch of the author. Absorbing reading. --Vanessa Bush

Choice Review

A fascinating aspect of this book is that its authors were themselves part of a "sister circle," a collective that met regularly to discuss scholarship and other issues. It is difficult to discern what effect this had on the volume, however. The collection, one of a few books about black women and work, is interdisciplinary and crosses time periods. Its breadth is both a strength and weakness. Essays include discussions of contemporary workplace issues as well as 19th-century topics such as slavery, activism, labor, and the professions. One essay focuses on Jamaica; the rest are on the US. Especially provocative are the opening essay, "The Black Body in the Workplace," which raises questions of unacknowledged white standards of appearance, and one on Sadie T.M. Alexander, the first black woman PhD in economics, and why she was denied appropriate work in the field. The range of essays makes the book attractive to many specific interests and provides an excellent overview of issues relating to intersections of race, gender, and work. Yet the little morsels offered by each chapter are likely to make the reader hungry for more depth on each topic. All levels and collections. C. A. Kanes Maine College of Art