Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Social Upheaval

Norton. Feb. 2019. 304p. illus. notes. index. ISBN 9780393285673. $28.95; ebk. ISBN 9780393285680. HIST
As black women streamed into cities at the turn of the 20th century looking for better lives, they struggled to push back at a system that forced them into domestic work, sexual violence, and police brutality. Hartman (English & comparative literature, Columbia Univ.;$SPACE$Lose Your Mother) scoured police and court records, as well as files and photographs of social workers and sociologists such as W.E.B. DuBois and Mary White Ovington, to tell these women's stories. These accounts primarily take place in Harlem, NY, and Philadelphia, as Hartman seeks to rewrite them from the women's perspectives. While Hartman veers into speculation about their inner lives (including paragraphs of unanswered questions), and her nonlinear chapter organization is difficult to follow, the book shines in its details of individuals including Mattie Jackson, Mamie Shepherd, Esther Brown, Eva Perkins, and Mabel Hampton, who fought against an unfair and racist system. As they sought freedom for themselves as performers or in relationships with other women, Hartman argues that they should be deemed revolutionaries.
VERDICT Recommended for readers of black women's history who don't mind when the author meanders into conjecture.
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