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Bridging Race Divides

Black Nationalism, Feminism, and Integration in the United States, 1896-1935

Kate Dossett

Publication Year: 2008

High-profile rivalries between black male leaders in the early twentieth century have contributed to the view that integrationism and black nationalism were diametrically opposed philosophies shaped primarily by men. Bridging Race Divides challenges this conceptualization by examining prominent "race women" (including Amy Jacques Garvey, Mary McLeod Bethune, Madame C. J. Walker) as well as other participants in the Harlem Renaissance, Garveyism and the clubwomen's movement to reveal the depth and complexity of women's contributions to both black feminist and black nationalist traditions of activism in the early twentieth century.

Ideas of authenticity and respectability were central to the construction of black identities within black cultural and political resistance movements of the early twentieth century. Unfortunately both concepts have also been used to demonize black middle-class women whose endeavors towards racial uplift are too frequently dismissed as assimilationist and whose class status has apparently disqualified them from performing "authentic" blackness and exhibiting race pride.

Kate Dossett challenges these conceptualizations in a thorough examination of prominent black women leaders' political thought and cultural production in the years between the founding of the National Association of Colored Women in 1896 and the National Council of Negro Women in 1935. Through an analysis of black women's political activism, entrepreneurship and literary endeavor, Dossett argues that black women made significant contributions toward the development of a black feminist tradition which enabled them to challenge the apparent dichotomy between black nationalism and integrationism.

By exploring the connections between women like the pioneering black hairdresser Madam C. J. Walker and her daughter, A'Lelia, as well as clubwoman Mary McLeod Bethune and United Negro Improvement Association activist Amy Jacques Garvey, Dossett also makes a distinctive contribution to the field of women's history by positioning black women at the forefront of both intellectual and practical endeavors in the struggle for black autonomy.

Published by: University Press of Florida

Title Page, Copyright

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List of Figures

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pp. ix

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pp. xi-xiii

This book developed out of my fascination with the literary, political, and social networks that black women created across the United States in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. I was struck, initially, by what seemed to be their inconsistent approach to racial uplift. As I delved more into their...

List of Abbreviations

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pp. xv-xvi

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pp. 1-14

When Zora Neale Hurston suggested in a newspaper interview in 1943 that the segregation of southern blacks from whites was not necessarily undesirable, she provoked an outcry. Her critics charged her with endorsing Jim Crow and providing ammunition to white supremacists. Her friends wondered at...

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1. Laying the Groundwork: Washington, Burroughs, Bethune, and the Clubwomen’s Movement

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pp. 15-65

Margaret Murray Washington, Nannie Helen Burroughs, and Mary McLeod Bethune were founders and central actors in the women’s club movement of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, who went on to become involved in pan-African and civil rights struggles. This chapter looks at how these three...

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2. Black Nationalism and Interracialism in the Young Women’s Christian Association

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pp. 66-106

The black women reformers who, in 1905, came together in New York City to form a Colored Branch of the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) were skeptical about working with white women. Yet they chose to work within the interracial YWCA. Building on a tradition of social gospel reform in...

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3. Luxuriant Growth: The Walkers and Black Economic Nationalism

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pp. 107-149

Mythologized as the first black female millionaire, Madam C. J. Walker was a businesswoman, beautician, philanthropist, and political activist who came to prominence as the “inventor” of the Walker hair-growing treatment and beauty schools in the 1910s. Viewed by her detractors as a method of straightening hair...

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4. Amy Jacques Garvey, Jessie Fauset, and Pan-African Feminist Thought

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pp. 150-199

Amy Jacques Garvey and Jessie Fauset were writers and activists at the heart of the New Negro movement in Harlem in the 1920s. As representatives of Garveyism and the Harlem Renaissance, these women are usually seen as belonging to separate camps with conflicting ideologies: one a black nationalist movement...

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pp. 200-208

In December 1921 Alice Woodby McKane, M.D., wrote a letter to Herbert J. Seligmann, the Jewish author and journalist who worked on publicity for the NAACP. McKane was writing in protest against Seligmann’s article for the New York Age in which he had criticized Marcus Garvey. At the heart of...


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pp. 209-240


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pp. 241-256


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pp. 257-268

E-ISBN-13: 9780813045221
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813034959
Print-ISBN-10: 0813034957

Page Count: 280
Illustrations: 11 b&w photos
Publication Year: 2008