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A Black Women's History of the United States

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A revealing history—at once sobering and empowering—showing Black women's expansive contributions since the 1600s. Spanning over 400 years, this book, written by two award-winning Black women historians, prioritizes all voices: from poor and working-class domestics to middle-class reform women to sex workers and female convicts. The book challenges historical stereotypes an A revealing history—at once sobering and empowering—showing Black women's expansive contributions since the 1600s. Spanning over 400 years, this book, written by two award-winning Black women historians, prioritizes all voices: from poor and working-class domestics to middle-class reform women to sex workers and female convicts. The book challenges historical stereotypes and myths but also offers a contemporary understanding of Black women in America, highlighting diverse voices and lives—from activists to athletes to rappers. Focusing on the unique and expansive experience of Black women, Berry and Gross reach far beyond a single narrative of Black women in America. The result is a book that centers race, gender and sexuality in the North, as well as the South, and in both rural and urban areas, to show that Black women are—and have always been—instrumental in shaping our history.


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A revealing history—at once sobering and empowering—showing Black women's expansive contributions since the 1600s. Spanning over 400 years, this book, written by two award-winning Black women historians, prioritizes all voices: from poor and working-class domestics to middle-class reform women to sex workers and female convicts. The book challenges historical stereotypes an A revealing history—at once sobering and empowering—showing Black women's expansive contributions since the 1600s. Spanning over 400 years, this book, written by two award-winning Black women historians, prioritizes all voices: from poor and working-class domestics to middle-class reform women to sex workers and female convicts. The book challenges historical stereotypes and myths but also offers a contemporary understanding of Black women in America, highlighting diverse voices and lives—from activists to athletes to rappers. Focusing on the unique and expansive experience of Black women, Berry and Gross reach far beyond a single narrative of Black women in America. The result is a book that centers race, gender and sexuality in the North, as well as the South, and in both rural and urban areas, to show that Black women are—and have always been—instrumental in shaping our history.

30 review for A Black Women's History of the United States

  1. 5 out of 5

    Brenda

    what a completely devastating but thoroughly inspiring book! this should be required reading for anyone living in the united states. african-american women have indisputably shaped this country yet their hard work and sacrifices have been grossly underappreciated for the last four hundred years. each chapter of this book opens with a vignette of a bold woman–from isabel de olvera seeking safe passage in the year 1600 to millie and christine mckoy, conjoined twins, who were exploited and mistreat what a completely devastating but thoroughly inspiring book! this should be required reading for anyone living in the united states. african-american women have indisputably shaped this country yet their hard work and sacrifices have been grossly underappreciated for the last four hundred years. each chapter of this book opens with a vignette of a bold woman–from isabel de olvera seeking safe passage in the year 1600 to millie and christine mckoy, conjoined twins, who were exploited and mistreated for much of their life to shirley chisolm, the first african-american woman to serve in congress–who chose to risk life and limb and liberty to move their country forward. there were so many women featured in this book that i had never heard of despite their incredible acts of bravery, like the 30-odd teenage girls who were kept in a stockade for SIX WEEKS for protesting segregation in 1963. one of the many great things about this work is that so many voices are part of this history: explorers, enslaved people, mothers, daughters, queer people, nonbinary people, artists, activists, religious people, and so many more. this book has inspired me to continue supporting and being in ally to african-american women because that is the very least i can do to show my gratitude for the incredibly work they have done for centuries now.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Jessica Howard

    I read this whole thing today, and it was fascinating! It's shocking how much of black women's history isn't covered in mainstream history curriculum. Full review coming for Shelf Awareness.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Raquel Baggins

    «Tens of thousands, perhaps millions, of African people were unceremoniously tossed into watery graves. There, in the rough waters of the Atlantic, the bones of African people—known only by their assigned number, if even that—still remain on the ocean floor.» Free review copy from Edelweiss+ in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review Daina Ramey Berry and Kali Nicole Gross state at the Author's Note of A Black Women's History of the «Tens of thousands, perhaps millions, of African people were unceremoniously tossed into watery graves. There, in the rough waters of the Atlantic, the bones of African people—known only by their assigned number, if even that—still remain on the ocean floor.» Free review copy from Edelweiss+ in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review Daina Ramey Berry and Kali Nicole Gross state at the Author's Note of A Black Women's History of the United States that «as much as possible, we chose to include the words of Black women themselves. We did so not only to have Black women's voices play a central role in the book but also because we fundamentally believe that what these voices tell us is crucial for understanding history and for using that history to help us navigate the challenges of today». They also point out that this is a book written by Black Women to Black Women and their allies, so, what a Spanish white woman could learn about this thoroughly inspiring book?: She could continue learning about silenced women's experiences that shaped the United States' history and to unlearn plenty of fixed historiographical information that shapes her cultural view of the world. I discovered the ReVisioning American History series about a year ago when I read An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States , in its Spanish translation by Capitan Swing independent publishing house, and at that time I already knew I wanted to continue reading the series as soon as I could. The entire series challenge traditional (white/eurocentric) narratives, but in this case, the authors also decided to challenge the fixed chronological periods of US history, and they open each chapter of the book giving voice to different African-American women from early seventeenth-century to our times. «Starting with the seventeenth century, we learn of more women of African descent who were forcibly moved to the New World. They were unwilling victims of genocide in the largest forced migration in history: the transatlantic slave trade.» Although with an easy to follow language, some of the passages were disturbing and not the easiest to read –as the history of slavery and racism is–, but also captivating, provoking and inspiring, as they expose the difficulties black women endured (and still do), but also their incredibly strength to overcome them. Besides, the authors did a great job of being inclusive with LGBTQ+ experiences, and I especially liked this title is meant to be an overview of many voices (explorers, enslaved people, artists, mothers, activists…) and it is not only focused on famous African-American women throughout history. In short, A Black Women's History of the United States makes you crave for more in-depth biographies of these women. If you're interested in deconstructing the single story, you should read this book. Completely recommended. «Pauli Murray […] perhaps comes closest to getting at the stifling ways that racism encapsulated African American women’s lives noting that "was the atmosphere one breathed from day to day, the pervasive irritant, the chronic allergy, the vague apprehension which made one uncomfortable and jumpy. We knew the race problem was like a deadly snake coiled and ready to strike, and that one avoided its dangers only by never-ending watchfulness."» - - - - Fills into the Reading Women Challenge (6) A Nonfiction Title by a Woman Historian.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Csimplot Simplot

    Excellent book!!!!

  5. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    i have become more of a history enthusiast in past years. the more you read about history the more you understand that there is no single narrative about any time period. how could there be? still, it is what we are taught during our early education. this book recognizes the determination of black women who were important to the development of the US: activists, artists, spiritual leaders, midwives, & other trailblazers. i was completely absorbed while reading about the complexity of their lives i have become more of a history enthusiast in past years. the more you read about history the more you understand that there is no single narrative about any time period. how could there be? still, it is what we are taught during our early education. this book recognizes the determination of black women who were important to the development of the US: activists, artists, spiritual leaders, midwives, & other trailblazers. i was completely absorbed while reading about the complexity of their lives. read this if you are at all interested in understanding the beginnings of the systemic racism that continues to be endemic in the US.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Alexis (TheSlothReader)

    A really in depth look at some famous and unheard of black women throughout American history. It covers all kind of black women: trans black women, queer black women, and disabled black women. They authors do a really good job of looking at historical documents and then using those to show the perspectives, realities, and injustices faced by black women throughout Anerican history.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Francesca Calarco

    True to its title, A Black Women's History of the United States is a great resource on the subject-matter. Truthfully, I picked up this copy for a work-related book club, and am now actually using it a source for other work projects centering on American history and gender equity. Truly, it's a solid piece of research. Perhaps my favorite element of this book, is how it tackles early history of black women in the United States. Popular historical literature tends to be sparse when it comes to eth True to its title, A Black Women's History of the United States is a great resource on the subject-matter. Truthfully, I picked up this copy for a work-related book club, and am now actually using it a source for other work projects centering on American history and gender equity. Truly, it's a solid piece of research. Perhaps my favorite element of this book, is how it tackles early history of black women in the United States. Popular historical literature tends to be sparse when it comes to ethnic minorities in general prior to the 1800s, and I have seen this all too often used as an excuse by a number of historical sites to exclude or brush over critical histories. What Daina Ramey Berry and Kali Nicole Gross do exceptionally well, can be seen with their analysis of early black women’s stories in America. In the face of sparse archival information, when forming narrative history the two fill-in the blanks, so-to-speak, with really good questions. This is by no means to be confused with bold speculations. Rather, after providing factually-based context, the two then expand the conversation of different individual’s experiences with questions geared towards building understanding and challenging pre-existing narratives derived from, in some cases, the same evidence. This is a really solid read; my only critique would be that I wish they wrote more. Each chapter evaluates a time period, and centers its narrative around (at least) one woman’s experience during that time period. There is a great deal that can be learned from these stories, both for historical knowledge, as well as general life lessons. This book definitely has my recommendation.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Caroline

    An overview of the lives of black women in the US that is both easy to read (i.e. not in academic language) and disturbing. Even for a reader who has already made an effort to learn about the history of American racism, there were some new things here. I particularly liked the anchoring of each chapter on the actions of a real person (which made the one chapter with an obviously imaginary person stand out; since there were real people mentioned later in the chapter I don't know why they did this An overview of the lives of black women in the US that is both easy to read (i.e. not in academic language) and disturbing. Even for a reader who has already made an effort to learn about the history of American racism, there were some new things here. I particularly liked the anchoring of each chapter on the actions of a real person (which made the one chapter with an obviously imaginary person stand out; since there were real people mentioned later in the chapter I don't know why they did this as I feel it weakened the story). There were so many amazing women, I done think they needed to make up that one. I kept noticing the names of women I had heard of first through the songs of Bernice Reagon and Sweet Honey in the Rock - so a big hat tip to them for the education they have done for more than 40 years. Towards the end, the last part of the last chapter began to feel like a rushed laundry list of famous women being name checked. And the authors do not shy away from calling out sexism within the modern civil rights movement, which even now seems brave of them. I wish that people who need to know this information would read this book, but I imagine they will not. You can't fail to be both inspired and discouraged by the obstacles these women had to overcome. We as a country have not done well, but if you don't want to know the truth you won't seek out books like this even though you need to know.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Kelly_Hunsaker_reads ...

    Daina Ramey Berry wrote a book that is both inspiring and brutal. Thoroughly researched, this one is an intensive and detailed overview of the lives of black women in the USA. Easy to read, this one will teach you things you didn't know even if you have previously studied the subject. Each chapter centers itself on a real woman and what she did with her life. Sojourner Truth, Katherine Johnson and Rosa Parks among many others. Some of these women's names are well-known. Others not at all. At one Daina Ramey Berry wrote a book that is both inspiring and brutal. Thoroughly researched, this one is an intensive and detailed overview of the lives of black women in the USA. Easy to read, this one will teach you things you didn't know even if you have previously studied the subject. Each chapter centers itself on a real woman and what she did with her life. Sojourner Truth, Katherine Johnson and Rosa Parks among many others. Some of these women's names are well-known. Others not at all. At one point early in the book I expected to give this one five stars. However, I found the last few chapters to be rushed. It felt like the author knew the book a sneeded to end but wanted to make sure and give credit to many more women. So it felt like a list of "names you should know." Still, the book is accessible, smart, and instructive. It is an important piece of history, and the author opened the conversation.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Margaret

    A fantastic history. I would love even more specialized studies, of disabled black women, of LGBTQ+ black women, but the writers did a great job of being inclusive.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Erica

    An important book that weaves the many stories and lives that Black women have led in the now-United States. Serves as an essential text to show that there is no "single story" of Black womanhood in this country and gives to Black women the individual and complex motivations that are always allowed in white historical figures. And now I want to read a ton of in-depth biographies to learn more about these remarkable women!

  12. 5 out of 5

    Charles Godfrey Kamukama

    The literature is well crafted which increases ones phrasing, and vocabularies! The book is so captivating and touching to read as it exposes the difficulties black women experienced, and endured amidst the racism and sexism. In it we learn the endurance, and courage in overcoming inevitable curves life always presents.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Kristina Frazier

    This book strikes a satisfying balance between maintaining purity of historical fact and keeping the struggles of black women personal, relatable, and highly readable: the authors maintain historical integrity by following a traditional chronological narrative of American history and by providing greater economic and political historic context; the authors also achieve a relatable narrative by including the life stories of one or two women to represent each period of time - a technique that succ This book strikes a satisfying balance between maintaining purity of historical fact and keeping the struggles of black women personal, relatable, and highly readable: the authors maintain historical integrity by following a traditional chronological narrative of American history and by providing greater economic and political historic context; the authors also achieve a relatable narrative by including the life stories of one or two women to represent each period of time - a technique that successfully and vividly brings to life the struggles of black women to earn a respectable place in society. But, just a fair warning - this book is very depressing and very difficult to get through given the subject matter (at least, being a black female myself, I found it to be very disheartening!).

  14. 5 out of 5

    Krystal Rains

    Deep Breath... I just finished reading a new 2020 book, A Black Woman's History of the United States, by Daina Ramey Berry and Kali Nicole Gross. Each, an esteemed Professor of History, with a focus on Black Women in America. This is the briefest skimming of the topic, but far reaching and meant to engage the reader. It was written for Black Women, but what a primer, not only on why Black Women have little reason or desire to trust White Women, but how they have organized themselves within and thr Deep Breath... I just finished reading a new 2020 book, A Black Woman's History of the United States, by Daina Ramey Berry and Kali Nicole Gross. Each, an esteemed Professor of History, with a focus on Black Women in America. This is the briefest skimming of the topic, but far reaching and meant to engage the reader. It was written for Black Women, but what a primer, not only on why Black Women have little reason or desire to trust White Women, but how they have organized themselves within and throughout communities despite the harshest of circumstances and criticism by whites and their own communities, especially Black Men. As knowledgeable about some of the history of Black people in our country as I might be,I might have known 10% of what I read in this book and it's merely an overview. The details and cross-sections of community, from the earliest days of the 17th century, to our current climate of racism and misogyny, this book lays it out and pulls no punches. There are parts that are intense, but the History of Black Women in this country is nothing but intense. Trigger warnings are provided, but if they could live it, the least I could do was read it. "We specialize in the wholly impossible" is the motto that resonates throughout the pages.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Edith Westfall

    This book draws you in and takes you on an uncomfortable journey. One that is completely worth it. Read this book.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Diane

    Wow

  17. 5 out of 5

    Mark Ballinger

    This was filled with many fascinating stories, but all too often they were too short. I wanted to learn so much more about these women. Part of this is the missing historical record of people who are not part of the dominant narrative. These women get no attention, as a line from the book says: "They may have glanced at her once, but they did not actually see her."

  18. 5 out of 5

    Kristy

    I received this book from a Goodreads giveaway. I really enjoyed reading about some women in history whose stories aren't often told. Of course, you have your heavy hitters in Black women's history: Harriet Tubman, Ida B. Wells, Rosa Parks, Shirley Chisholm, etc. However, you also get to hear about early free Black immigrants and Union spies and unsung civil rights warriors. I understand that the book is meant to be an overview and not comprehensive, but I actually would have enjoyed more details I received this book from a Goodreads giveaway. I really enjoyed reading about some women in history whose stories aren't often told. Of course, you have your heavy hitters in Black women's history: Harriet Tubman, Ida B. Wells, Rosa Parks, Shirley Chisholm, etc. However, you also get to hear about early free Black immigrants and Union spies and unsung civil rights warriors. I understand that the book is meant to be an overview and not comprehensive, but I actually would have enjoyed more details, as some of the women seem like they could carry far more narrative on their own. Guess I'll just have to seek out further reading on my own (which is probably the point).

  19. 5 out of 5

    Greg Barbee

    I thoroughly enjoyed this challenging revisioning of American History through the lives of black women that have shaped, prodded and endured America as it is today. The stories related by Professors Berry and Gross provide an overview of incredible paradigms of black women throughout American history, while at the same time providing the depth of narrative to stoke further curiosity and study into the brave, amazing women depicted and others within their orbit. The context, details and layers of I thoroughly enjoyed this challenging revisioning of American History through the lives of black women that have shaped, prodded and endured America as it is today. The stories related by Professors Berry and Gross provide an overview of incredible paradigms of black women throughout American history, while at the same time providing the depth of narrative to stoke further curiosity and study into the brave, amazing women depicted and others within their orbit. The context, details and layers of community throughout the book lay plain the incredible contributions and sacrifices black women have made to and for this country. I was left inspired and disturbed, and of the resolute view that this book should be required reading for all of us.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Yanira

    Nothing like I ever read before.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Jo

    If you are interested in Social Justice this book is for you. Fantastic powerful stories hi-lighting the courageous and rich history of Black Women in the US.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Bookworm

    Another in a series of books that looks at the history of what we now know as the United States through Black Women. We often hear history through certain or select perspectives: the European colonists who "discovered" the land, the story of Rosa Parks but not the others who came before her, etc. So this was an interesting read. The authors take us through various time periods and ask some hard questions that certainly weren't brought up in my education and I'd bet is still the same now. What of Another in a series of books that looks at the history of what we now know as the United States through Black Women. We often hear history through certain or select perspectives: the European colonists who "discovered" the land, the story of Rosa Parks but not the others who came before her, etc. So this was an interesting read. The authors take us through various time periods and ask some hard questions that certainly weren't brought up in my education and I'd bet is still the same now. What of the women who came to these shores unwillingly, perhaps raped, starved, beaten, etc.? Why do we only know of people like Rosa Parks but not others who took similar actions? Why or how could Black Women also own slaves? This is not to judge, but rather to show how many perspectives we often don't hear about and are very often lost to the mists of history. It was a lot to think about, but in a good way. Overall, though, I'd say the book wasn't the best written. There are some really fascinating passages and as I said, it's food for thought. But overall I found it to be a tough read at times and would not be surprised if it's meant to be more of a textbook for a class. That said, I wouldn't dissuade someone from reading it, just be aware it isn't the easiest text, either by content or reading. Library borrow for me was best.

  23. 4 out of 5

    bet mercer

    A necessary hard read -- the way the authors so clearly tell the stories of black women's experiences in the US from the time of slavery to now requires attention. This is not shock and awe, this is the peeling back of obstructions that have blinded too many of us for too long. It was sad and eyeopening to hear how black women in America have a very distinct experience of racism that is still strong today. I will definitely need to read this again because my mind couldn't hold all the info; but A necessary hard read -- the way the authors so clearly tell the stories of black women's experiences in the US from the time of slavery to now requires attention. This is not shock and awe, this is the peeling back of obstructions that have blinded too many of us for too long. It was sad and eyeopening to hear how black women in America have a very distinct experience of racism that is still strong today. I will definitely need to read this again because my mind couldn't hold all the info; but the audiobook is a good place to start.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Alisa Wilhelm

    Fascinating. I liked learning about specific black women in US history, both famous and not. Even famous ones, like Rosa Parks, I was surprised to learn a lot of info about. I was also happy to learn about Mary Church Terrell, whose archives I am helping digitize at the Library of Congress but didn't really know all that much about her big-picture life contributions. What life was like for the average black woman during different periods of US history is also covered. It's nice to have such a pe Fascinating. I liked learning about specific black women in US history, both famous and not. Even famous ones, like Rosa Parks, I was surprised to learn a lot of info about. I was also happy to learn about Mary Church Terrell, whose archives I am helping digitize at the Library of Congress but didn't really know all that much about her big-picture life contributions. What life was like for the average black woman during different periods of US history is also covered. It's nice to have such a personal and intimate lens to look through—most of my history classes were presidents and wars.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Peter Heisler

    With so much history to cover, the authors do a tremendous job connecting the narratives into a unified whole. Their transitions and recaps really helped me follow along and retain knowledge--though I found myself flipping back to remember names and events, making me think of this work almost as a reference book. Yet the themes they draw out are inspiring and galvanizing in a way that goes far beyond the encyclopedic.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Sara

    I'm ashamed to admit how much I learned because this book contains so much important history that I should have been taught in elementary and high school. I feel the book did an amazing job of highlighting a lot of inspiring and uplifting stories of black women who persevered, throughout the entirety of American history, despite all the discrimination and obstacles that were a constant presence in their lives. A must read.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Cara

    While Harriet Tubman and Rosa Parks do make an appearance in A Black Woman's History of the United States, Berry and Gross focus their extensive research mostly on black women who have not been given as much public renown. While most of the women they feature accomplished amazing feats and it's a tragedy their names and histories are not more widely known, the authors have also made an effort to intertwine stories that illuminate day-to-day life for black women through US history.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Justin Drummond

    Another solid entry into the ReVisioning American History series. Like the Queer entry in the series, it stops short in the 1990s, thus avoiding much of recent history, including the Black Lives Matter movement, which was mostly headed by black women. But the afterword does touch on recent events and helps frame the history included in the book in such a way as to show how it serves as a legacy of black women’s leadership, organizing, and advocacy in the face of blatant racist and sexist policie Another solid entry into the ReVisioning American History series. Like the Queer entry in the series, it stops short in the 1990s, thus avoiding much of recent history, including the Black Lives Matter movement, which was mostly headed by black women. But the afterword does touch on recent events and helps frame the history included in the book in such a way as to show how it serves as a legacy of black women’s leadership, organizing, and advocacy in the face of blatant racist and sexist policies that sets the stage for the activism of the past 20 years.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Leigha Bickford

    This book expanded my awareness so much! I feel like it taught me more than any history class ever has. In 2020, I'm positive it is one of the most impactful books someone doing the work to be an ally and anti-racist can read- especially anyone who considers themselves a feminist! I am in awe of the strength and activism of Black women. I loaned it from my local eLibrary but will be buying a copy for my personal library!

  30. 4 out of 5

    Anjie

    It's a tall order capturing black women’s places in U.S. history from pre-pilgrims days to the 80s, but these authors are up to the challenge. They start each section with vignettes of ladies (often little known) whose experiences are representative of each era's struggles. Then the authors broaden the perspectives to show what most African American women faced at the time. Entrepreneurs, entertainers, suffragettes, lesbians, transgender women, women who served on the military, slaves, freed bla It's a tall order capturing black women’s places in U.S. history from pre-pilgrims days to the 80s, but these authors are up to the challenge. They start each section with vignettes of ladies (often little known) whose experiences are representative of each era's struggles. Then the authors broaden the perspectives to show what most African American women faced at the time. Entrepreneurs, entertainers, suffragettes, lesbians, transgender women, women who served on the military, slaves, freed blacks, faith leaders, politicians, the incarcerated, those who built new lives outside of America-- all are given their space to shine. Hard to believe that standard history classes only touch on a handful of names found in the book. All of these women deserve to be remembered, and they can be thanks to this 5-star book.

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