African-American women have left a distinct mark on the history and culture of the United States. In African-American Women Confront the West: 1600-2000, authors Quintard Taylor and Shirley Ann Wilson Moore – as well as a number of other contributing authors — try to introduce some of the ways that women have driven the course of events over the last 400 years. It shows how African-Americans have gone from slavery and a less-than-human status to being a proud, free and equal ethnic group in the country, and how none of that would have been possible without the efforts of women within the community and political landscape.
Probably the earliest and most readily recognizable stereotypical image of an African-American woman is that of the “mammy.” This woman is hard-working, obedient, quiet, nurturing, and wholly bent on caring for her family – except that in this case, the family means the white people for whom she works. She is seen as having no value, thought, or personality beyond her service. The cover of African-American Women Confront the West: 1600-2000 depicts a woman who outwardly fits the “mammy” image, and the stereotype is among the first subjects discussed in this book.
Women broke through and moved beyond the stereotypes by means such as community service, political activism, authorship, films, and much more. Taylor and Quintard break each chapter into the story of one such woman and her contribution to civil rights. It includes such notable figures as Mary Ellen Pleasant, Elaine Brown, Hattie McDaniel, and Jane Elizabeth Manning James.
Other than a few minor typos, the writing couldn’t really be clearer or more concisely written. Despite numerous contributing authors, it has great continuity in style. Any differences in tone from one chapter to another are only appropriate, since each tells the story of a different person with different types of experiences.
Stories are organized by decade, though there is a definite imbalance in the number and detail of stories. There are hardly any at all from 1600-1800, and most fall between the early and mid 1900’s. Some of this is because there were so few records of women during the days of slavery, and certainly before the United States was formed. Some of it also seems to be that it leaves more room to cover the most active times in the fight for civil rights.
While the book is well-written, I must confess that I was a bit disappointed. The back cover and inside flap doesn’t explain much of the book, except that it describes how women made inroads in the western United States. This could mean so many things.
Not long ago, I read a book called Women of the West, by Cathy Luchetti and Carol Olwell (linked below). This book described how women not only survived, but thrived in the frontier West, even in areas where men couldn’t make ends meet. Personal journal entries, photographs, and letters let the women tell their stories in their own words. I’d hoped that African-American Women Confront the West: 1600-2000 might be something like that book, just extended into the modern day. Unfortunately, it’s not.
Almost the book is about the part women played in attaining equal civil rights. While civil rights are crucially important, that particular struggle is well-documented in countless other books. The title led me to believe that I might find something different here, and possibly add another facet to my knowledge base on the contribution of African-American women. It did expand the knowledge base, but not nearly as much as I’d hoped, and in more of a textbook format
Despite my own disappointment with this book, it’s still most certainly a worthwhile read – you just need to know what you’re getting into and what you’ll actually learn. Truthfully, the description and possibly the title are the only things I’d think the author might change about this book so that they’re a little more revealing about the content. As far as the format, depth of research, and subject choice, it’s an awesome book that certainly deserves some time and attention. I still enjoyed reading it, and learned quite a bit, it just wasn’t what I was hoping to learn at the time I picked it off the shelves.
Disclosure statement: I have no affiliation with the author or any other representative of this book. Its publishers, author, agent, or other affiliated individuals have not offered compensation for my review. The opinions expressed here are entirely my own.