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Talk with You Like a Woman

African American Women, Justice, and Reform in New York, 1890-1935

Cheryl D. Hicks

Publication Year: 2010

In this manuscript, Hicks examines the lives and experiences of working-class black women in early twentieth-century New York. By placing the hopes, concerns, and decisions of these women at the center of an urban narrative, Hicks explores average women's expectations of themselves and their communities as well as their families' and communities' expectations of them. She presents a range of women's ideas about and responses to respectability, domesticity, safety, and sexual desire in the urban North, thereby revealing the complexity of black women's experiences from a vantage point different from that provided by uplift studies. The manuscript focuses on three major themes: urban reform and justice, gender and the criminal justice system, and the dynamics of black families. These themes work to articulate a more full and heretofore-neglected understanding of black working-class women, their relationships with their families, and their interactions with the social welfare and criminal justice systems.

Published by: The University of North Carolina Press


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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vi-vii


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p. ix

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pp. xi-xiv

It gives me great pleasure to thank the many institutions, colleagues, friends, and family members who have supported and encouraged me during the research and writing of this book. Many of them are as happy as I am that I have arrived at this stage....

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INTRODUCTION: Talk with You Like a Woman

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pp. 1-19

Anna Julia Cooper and Lucy Cox both struggled to be understood as women of intelligence and vision, yet their differing positions shaped how they voiced their grievances regarding the treatment of black women in America. Cooper, born into slavery in 1858 in Raleigh, North Carolina, exemplified...

I: African American Urban Life and the Multiple Meanings of Protection in the City

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CHAPTER 1. To Live a Fuller and Freer Life: Black Women Migrants’ Expectations and New York’s Urban Realities, 1890–1927

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pp. 23-52

The will to improve their lives propelled African Americans from the South to the urban North. Beginning with a steady trickle during Reconstruction and increasing through the turn of the twentieth century, the Great Migration swelled to a flood during the years around World War I. Women migrants...

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CHAPTER 2. The Only One That Would Be Interested in Me: Police Brutality, Black Women’s Protection, and the New York Race Riot of 1900

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pp. 53-90

According to May Enoch’s statement about the events that took place on August 12, 1900, Arthur Harris had attempted to protect her from a physical assault.1 The act of defending his common-law wife from attack in New York’s Tenderloin district turned into more trouble than either could have...

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CHAPTER 3. I Want to Save These Girls: Single Black Women and Their Protectors, 1895–1911

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pp. 91-121

Social welfare campaigns aimed at protecting single, black women in New York underline the significance of black women’s urban presence at the turn of the century. Reformers shared W. E. B. Du Bois’s fear that “excess” working-class black women caused problems within their...

II: Urban Reform and Criminal Justice

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CHAPTER 4. Colored Women of Hard and Vicious Character: Respectability, Domesticity, and Crime, 1893–1933

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pp. 125-158

As Madeleine Doty, a white reformer, entered the New York State Prison for Women at Auburn, she was less concerned with protecting vulnerable black women than with being protected from black criminals. In her 1916 book, Society’s Misfits, Doty revealed the grave concerns she had felt...

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CHAPTER 5. Tragedy of the Colored Girl in Court: The National Urban League and New York’s Women’s Court, 1911–1931

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pp. 159-181

Dominant narratives of the troubled female migrant emphasized grave moral dilemmas. All too often, these stories overlooked the legal problems that many black migrant women endured. Sixteen-year-old Faith Towns’s experience shows how some migrants ended up in prison. A native of Lenoir...

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CHAPTER 6. In Danger of Becoming Morally Depraved: Single Black Women, Working-Class Black Families, and New York State’s Wayward Minor Laws, 1917–1928

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pp. 182-203

In 1923, after attending a Fourth of July party, Gail Lewis missed her curfew. Instead of coming directly home, the black seventeen-year-old New York native decided to stay out all night and face her parents the next day—especially her father, whom she feared would be angry. By the time...

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CHAPTER 7. A Rather Bright and Good-Looking Colored Girl: Black Women’s Sexuality, “Harmful Intimacy,” and Attempts to Regulate Desire, 1917–1928

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pp. 204-233

Mabel Hampton’s experiences in Harlem never quite measured up to the popular image of the black neighborhood. Visitors from other parts of the city would go to “the night-clubs . . . and dance to such jazz music as can be heard nowhere else.”1 Elite and middle-class white voyeurs, finding...

III: Rehabilitation, Respectability, and Race

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CHAPTER 8. I Don’t Live on My Sister, I Living of Myself: Parole, Gender, and Black Families, 1905–1935

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pp. 237-252

Lucy Cox was angry. In 1924, the black North Carolina native admitted that she had made mistakes, one of which landed her in the New York State Reformatory for Women at Bedford for prostitution. But Cox believed that at the age of twenty-four she could take charge of her life, deal...

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CHAPTER 9. She Would Be Better off in the South: Sending Women on Parole to Their Southern Kin, 1920–1935

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pp. 253-269

Parole board commissioner Moore’s comments about a southern migrant at Auburn reflect New York State prison administrators’ anxieties about black women’s presence in the urban North.1 Moore’s attribution of twenty-six-year-old Carrie Green’s criminal offense to her innate inability to handle...

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CONCLUSION: Thank God I Am Independent One More Time

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pp. 271-277

In the early 1970s, sixteen-year-old Harriet Jones told John Langston Gwaltney, a black anthropologist who was interviewing ordinary African Americans, “I don’t see myself or most people I know in most things I see or read about black people. . . . I wish I could read something or see a movie...


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pp. 279-334


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pp. 335-354


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pp. 355-372

E-ISBN-13: 9781469603759
E-ISBN-10: 1469603756
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807834244
Print-ISBN-10: 0807834246

Page Count: 392
Illustrations: 2 line drawings, 1 map
Publication Year: 2010

OCLC Number: 698110362
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Talk with You Like a Woman

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • African American women -- Employment -- New York (State) -- New York.
  • African American women -- New York (State) -- New York -- Social conditions -- History.
  • Sex role -- New York (State) -- New York -- History -- 19th century.
  • Women's rights -- New York (State) -- New York -- History -- 19th century.
  • Racism -- New York (State) -- New York -- History -- 20th century.
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