When and Where I Enter

by Paula Giddings (1983)


I came to this book from a recent list of must-reads given by Ta-Nehisi Coates, and I’m glad to have been enlightened on the subject. From the title I was expecting more of a philosophical discussion, so I was surprised to encounter basically a straight history of the role of Black women in the struggle for racial and gender equality since the end of the Civil War. A good summary occurs at the beginning of the last chapter:

. . . At the turn of the century, Black women initiated social reform in Black communities when government fell short, and they created the means to educate their own. They went toe to toe with White feminists, defended themselves and the race, and did not hesitate to chastise the men who sought to keep them from doing so. In the process, Black women helped launch and sustain the modern civil rights movement. They also exposed the deep core of feminism, which went to the heart of women’s rights: over their souls, their bodies, their families, their labor. And in the course of all that, Black women may be said to have provided the means to free everyone.

The Black woman was able to accomplish so much in those years because she had an unshakable conviction: The progress of neither race nor womanhood could proceed without her. And she understood the relationship between the two.

The information here is vital and impressively researched, though the book itself became tedious at times with the surfeit of names, dates and organizations being difficult to follow. I do still look forward to reading Giddings’s later work, Ida: A Sword Among Lions, and I recommend this to any students (professional or otherwise) of the Civil Rights or Feminist movements.

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