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Legacy 20.1&2 (2003) 207-209

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Ida B. Wells-Barnett and American Reform, 1880-1930. By Patricia A. Schechter. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001. 386 pp. $55.00/$19.95 paper.
The Other Reconstruction: Where Violence and Womanhood Meet in the Writings of Wells-Barnett, Grimké, and Larsen. By Ericka M. Miller. New York: Garland, 2000. 153 pp. $55.00.

Patricia Schechter's Ida B. Wells-Barnett and American Reform, 1880-1930 and Ericka M. Miller's The Other Reconstruction: Where Violence and Womanhood Meet in the Writings of Wells-Barnett, Grimké, and Larsen add to our understanding of the intersections of sexuality, gender, class, and politics in both African American and white women's lives in the late nineteenth [End Page 207] and early twentieth century. Although Miller's book investigates lynching in the work of several writers, including Wells-Barnett, these books are closely related, for both she and Schechter examine violence directed against African American women and men in U.S. culture and the ways in which African American women's writing was a force for social change.

Through analysis and contextualization of Wells-Barnett's life as a teacher, journalist, lecturer, and club woman, Schechter demonstrates that conceptions of "belonging" in the United States are raced, classed, gendered, and dependent on constructions of sexuality. Schechter notes that Wells-Barnett refused to be bound by the constraints imposed on African American women or policies of conciliation like those of Booker T. Washington. Wells-Barnett's "writings, lectures, and community work enabled African American women to imagine and act in creative and even daring ways in matters of survival and social change throughout the period [of her work]" and beyond (Schechter 251). As both Schechter and Miller note, Wells-Barnett refused to be silent about the ways in which the fictions of the black male rapist and/or the sexually available African American woman were employed to terrorize and disempower African Americans.

As Schechter points out, in the late nineteenth century Wells-Barnett was also the leading authority on lynching in the United States. Wells-Barnett and other African American women (notably, Pauline Hopkins, Frances E. W. Harper, and Anna Julia Cooper) were able to write and lecture, championing advancement of the race to great, if double-edged, praise, for Schechter notes the Negro press often asked "where are the men?" Schechter's work, as much a cultural history of the time as an analysis of Wells-Barnett's work and life, notes a change in leadership at the turn of the century. Wells-Barnett and other women lost power and recognition in the public sphere as governmentally supported organizations like the Urban League gained strength and as the focus of leadership moved from women's grassroots activism to "credentialed," university educated males. Leadership in the early twentieth century became less radical and focused more on New York as the center of African American culture and authority.

Schechter's analysis requires more than one reading because of the extensive ground that she covers as she places Wells-Barnett's work in its social and political contexts. Her bibliography and notes are extremely valuable. Schechter sometimes employs passive constructions that hinder comprehension, but the historical framework and the analysis that she provides make rereading worthwhile.

Both Schechter and Miller examine Wells's Southern Horrors, A Red Record, and Mob Rule in New Orleans. The slimness of Miller's book belies its contents, for not only does she discuss lynching in Wells-Barnett's pamphlets, Angelina Weld Grimké's stories, and Nella Larson's Quicksand and Passing, but she also provides excellent economic, social, political, and critical contexts for these writings. Miller notes that "[t]hese writers expose lynching as an outgrowth of a widespread societal ill, the effects of which reach beyond the murder victim" (xvii-xviii). She contends that the significance of their work "lies in its interrogation of the factors that sustain such violence...


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