For example, many of the women use the phrase "falling out" to describe the differences between male and female migration, noting that "a man can fall out of North Carolina on their own. No woman could do that." The author argues that "it was males who left the rural South with friends and without the direction of kin" (201, note 2). Although the "final and most universal step in preparation for migration centered around the male head of the home" (61), women looked to other female friends and family members to assist them in their move to the city. The oral histories reveal that many African American women called on an array of female-based folk customs and rituals to insure good luck and safety. Observance of travel restrictions during certain phases of the moon or during a menstrual cycle, carrying potions, and taking ritual baths prepared and administered by female elders comprised part of these customs. I wish the author had dug more deeply into this little-known area, but it appears that the interviewees' reluctance to discuss these topics prevented further exploration.

Clark-Lewis argues that the female migrational experience was influenced by the narrow employment options open to African American women. Domestic service was, overwhelmingly, the option available to young black women, who either "lived in" their employer's residence, where they suffered the indignities of no privacy and little free time, or "lived out," laboring as "day workers." The transition from living in to living out was not easily accomplished and required a period of careful preparation or "getting set" (135). The benefits of this transition were relative, however. Interviewees were careful to point out that "life for a colored woman didn't never get `better.' The most it got was `different'" (148). Nevertheless, living out "meant the difference between doing a `job,' or `work' and `serving'" (149). The oral histories provide vivid explanations of the factors involved in this change and reveal the implications the transition had not only for the economic autonomy of black female domestic workers, but for their personal, political, social, and cultural growth as well. Clark-Lewis argues that the "new path of their work did raise their collective consciousness about personal and social change and about their right to effect such change" (148).

The book includes a number of photographs of the interviewees, their employers, and their residences. The photos complement the narrative but the captions could be more precise in identifying the people and places shown. Similarly, the book could be strengthened by the inclusion of one or two demographic and employment charts or graphs. For example, the text in endnote number 6 (204) citing statistical data on African American female employment in the District of Columbia from 1900 to 1940 would be better placed in a chart or graph in the introductory chapter. 

 

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HUAN 6 
November 2000