Synopses & Reviews
This political history of middle-class African American women during World War I focuses on their patriotic activity and social work. Nearly 200,000 African American men joined the Allied forces in France. At home, black clubwomen raised more than $125 million in wartime donations and assembled "comfort kits" for black soldiers, with chocolate, cigarettes, socks, a bible, and writing materials. Given the hostile racial climate of the day, why did black women make considerable financial contributions to the American and Allied war effort? Brown argues that black women approached the war from the nexus of the private sphere of home and family and the public sphere of community and labor activism. Their activism supported their communities and was fueled by a personal attachment to black soldiers and black families. Private Politics and Public Voices follows their lives after the war, when they carried their debates about race relations into public political activism.
"... these women's lives and experiences are so essential to understanding the great-granddaughters of today. The book is also a celebration of these women's work, which is rarely recognized today." --Ruth A. Charles, Winona State University, AFFILIA: JRNL WMN and SOCIAL WRK, Vol. 23.4 2008 Indiana University Press
In Private Politics and Public Voices, Nikki Brown examines African American women's efforts to organize and demand equality during and immediately following American involvement in World War I. Brown weaves an impressive volume of primary research around useful summaries of earlier works on African American women in the early twentieth century. By integrating social and political history, Brown presents interesting insights into the organizational structures of organizations like the National Association of Colored Women (NACW), the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), and the Anti-Lynching Crusaders (ALC) as well as the motivations and aspirations of individual women who struggled to uplift their race through their volunteerism and activism. Ultimately, Brown concludes that African American women were central to wartime activism within the African American community and that though the 1920s witnessed a rise in what Brown terms "male normative institutions," African American women continued to play a vital role in laying the foundation for the modern civil rights movement (p. 117).
The fact that a book subtitled "Black Women's Activism from World War I to the New Deal" only addresses the decade of the 1930s in the final five pages and then primarily as a brief biography of Mary McLeod Bethune is unfortunately not the only distracting weakness of the work. The most troubling is that Brown appears to contradict herself in a number of places, particularly in her discussions of the NACW. One of the most glaring examples begins in chapter 2 when she contends that by the summer of 1919 "middle-class black women had abandoned their belief that the federal government had the power to compel states and white peoples to recognize the labors and humanity of African Americans" (p. 64). In the final chapters, Brown examines African American women's continued effort to influence national politics, including the legislative process surrounding the Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill, through both the NACW and the National League of Republican Colored Women, calling into question their loss of faith in the federal government. With its frequent focus on the NACW, this work would have benefited from a detailed discussion about the complexities of the organization that made such a dual nature possible.
Private Politics and Public Voices provides an important contribution to the historiography of African American women. Brown effectively demonstrates the centrality of women's organizations and individual women's dedication particularly to the cause of equal access to the ballot and the political process. Additionally, she shows the continuation of Progressive ideals and methods in the women's organizations of the 1920s and throughout her work highlights the ways in which these organizations provided a foundation for the civil rights activism that would follow World War II.Michele Coffey, H-Women, October 2008
"... Through newspapers, memoirs, and government investigations, Brown traces the evolution of black women's political consciousness during and after the war.... Recommended." --Choice
"Private Politics and Public Voices provides an important contribution to the historiography of African American women." --Michele Coffey, H-Women, October 2008 Indiana University Press
The impact of World War I on the political activism of African American women
About the Author
Nikki Brown is Associate Professor and Head of the History Department at Grambling State University in Louisiana.
Table of Contents
1. Patriotism and Jim Crow
2. Investigations of the Southern Black Working Class
3. Volunteering with the Red Cross and the YWCA
4. Supporting Black Doughboys in France
5. Gender Relations and the New Negro
6. National Party Politics through the Depression