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Private Politics and Public Voices

Black Women's Activism from World War I to the New Deal

Nikki Brown

Publication Year: 2006

This political history of middle-class African American women during World War I focuses on their patriotic activity and social work. Nearly 200,000 African American men joined the Allied forces in France. At home, black clubwomen raised more than $125 million in wartime donations and assembled "comfort kits" for black soldiers, with chocolate, cigarettes, socks, a bible, and writing materials. Given the hostile racial climate of the day, why did black women make considerable financial contributions to the American and Allied war effort? Brown argues that black women approached the war from the nexus of the private sphere of home and family and the public sphere of community and labor activism. Their activism supported their communities and was fueled by a personal attachment to black soldiers and black families. Private Politics and Public Voices follows their lives after the war, when they carried their debates about race relations into public political activism.

Published by: Indiana University Press

Series: Blacks in the Diaspora


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pp. v

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pp. vii-viii

This book would not have been possible without the support of friends, family, mentors, professors, librarians, and institutions. First and foremost, I thank James and Maxine, Scot and Kimberly, Thomasina and Annie Lou, Herbert and Bill Sr., Beverly, Carol, Bill Jr., Shirley, and Khaula for their enduring love and guidance. My exceptional cousins—Deon, Reginald, Adam, Abdul Khaliq, Ahmed, Abdullah, Yusef, Usama, and Thomasina—listened...

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pp. ix-xii

The following story of black women and World War I began with a brief note by Willie Mae King in an article about the war’s impact on black women. In the July 1918 issue of the A.M.E. Church Review, King provocatively wrote, “This World War is destined to solve the problems of colored women just as it will solve other problems. . . . We colored women are in...

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1. Patriotism and Jim Crow

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pp. 1-29

The twenty-four months between the summer of 1916 and the summer of 1918 marked the African American women’s club movement at the height of its political influence. In the summer of 1916, the National Association of Colored Women (NACW) achieved a feat that no other organization, black or white, male or female, had accomplished: it had saved Frederick...

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2. Investigations of the Southern Black Working Class

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pp. 30-65

"Occupied the pulpit in the largest colored church in the city (Baptist) this morning. Preached a sermon,” dashed off Alice Dunbar-Nelson in a hurried letter to Hannah Patterson in September 1918. Dunbar-Nelson hardly had enough time to finish her lecture before her next engagement. The listeners were a captive audience in Jacksonville, Florida, earlier that morning,

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3. Volunteering with the Red Cross and the YWCA

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pp. 66-83

Aileen Cole had studied for some time to earn a registered nursing degree. She began her career as a young, eager, and hardworking student of nursing at the Freedmen’s Hospital and Training School in Washington, D.C. “I was one of the stout-hearted probationers who survived the rigorous three-month testing period,” Cole remembered. The probation period...

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4. Supporting Black Doughboys in France

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pp. 84-107

When Addie Hunton and Kathryn Johnson arrived in Paris on 21 June 1918, neither could have predicted the enormity of the tasks that awaited them as YMCA secretaries. They spent much of the summer of 1918 attending conferences, enjoying various social activities, and sorting out their work instructions. Kathryn Johnson recounted many of the experiences in...

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5. Gender Relations and the New Negro

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pp. 108-135

By December, the year 1919 had entered history as the bloodiest on record for American race relations since the turn of the century. It could have been called “the Year of the Red Rope.” In the course of twelve months, seventy-seven black men and one black woman were lynched by hanging, shooting, burning, and other means. Eleven of the men were war veterans, some of...

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6. National Party Politics through the Depression

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pp. 136-160

The NACW embarked on its reformist and social welfare agenda in 1920, with much of its political influence undiminished by the World War and the Red Summer. At its July 1920 biennial convention at Tuskegee, Alabama, the NACW and its 700 delegates spent the weeklong conference debating the organization’s future. The lukewarm relations with white women’s...


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pp. 161-185


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pp. 187-194

E-ISBN-13: 9780253112392
E-ISBN-10: 0253112397
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253348043

Page Count: 208
Illustrations: 6 b&w photos
Publication Year: 2006

Series Title: Blacks in the Diaspora