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W e s t e r n A m e r ic a n l it e r a t u r e F a l l 2 0 0 5 African American Women Confront the West, 1600-2000. Edited by Quintard Taylor and Shirley Ann Wilson Moore. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2003. 390 pages, $34-95. Reviewed by Michael K. Johnson University of Maine at Farmington A s editors Quintard Taylor and Shirley Ann Wilson Moore observe in their introduction, African American Women Confront the West demonstrates that “African American women in the West have played critical and varied roles in the region’s development” (16). Each of the eighteen chapters shows that black western women have contributed to “building communities, caring for families, founding and maintaining institutions” and that black women also have pio­ neered social change by working “individually or collectively” to fight against racism and to attain “social and economic justice” for themselves and for oth­ ers (17). The scholarship collected in the anthology demonstrates both the widespread presence of black women in the American West from the earliest days of exploration to the present and the influence these women had on the development of western communities, institutions, politics, and economies. The historical material covered in the anthology ranges widely in both time and space. Dedra McDonald analyzes “mulatta servant” Isabel de Olvera’s deposition filed in 1600 before moving from Mexico to New Spain to request that her rights as a free woman be officially recognized in the new tenitory (33). Barbara Welke describes the role Mary Ellen Pleasant played in gaining black San Franciscans “the right to equal access to public transit” in 1860s California (74). Claytee White examines how membership in the Culinary Workers Union helped black women employed by Las Vegas hotels in the 1950s gain “a level of employment flexibility” and “control over their work environment” (282). Articles by Merline Pitre, Cheryl Brown Henderson, and Linda Williams Reese show how black western women won key victories in the Civil Rights Era that led to the integration of schools and public spaces in Texas, Kansas, and Oklahoma and that set the stage for similar changes nationally. One advantage of this broad historical scope is that it enables us to see continuities of experiences. Thus, as Claytee White reveals in her article, the stories told by blacks who migrated to Las Vegas in the 1950s echo the experi­ ences of earlier black migrants, whether fleeing from slavery or from the racial violence of the post-Reconstruction South. When the bus station in Tallulah, Louisiana, refused to sell African Americans tickets to Las Vegas, blacks began operating a kind of underground railroad by driving “carloads of passengers to Las Vegas,” sometimes “without stopping to sleep” because of the lack of inte­ grated public accommodations along the way (279). Ifeach chapter documents the continuing and widespread problem of racial prejudice, each author also documents individual and collective activism and resistance to oppression. B o o k R e v ie w s 3 5 7 One of the difficulties in reconstructing the history of black women’s participation in western settlement is the scarcity of primary sources. The anthology is particularly valuable for the variety of sources uncovered and dis­ cussed: census, court, and church records; oral histories; newspapers; published and unpublished memoirs; and minutes from meetings of black women’s clubs. Of particular interest to literary scholars are the vignettes drawn from these sources and interspersed throughout, including poems, letters, and excerpts from interviews, oral histories, and memoirs. The Open Space of Democracy. By Terry Tempest Williams. Great Barrington, Mass.: Orion Society, 2004. 107 pages, $8.00. Reviewed by Tara Penry Boise State University, Idaho Like so much of Terry Tempest Williams’s work, The Open Space of Democracy is both lyrical and purposeful. “The Arctic is balancing on an immense mirror,” begins the second chapter. “The tundra is shimmering” (28). Such images of balance, fragility, and immensity abound in this slender book, providing layers of literary texture beneath the book’s political purpose—to demonstrate how citizens in a democracy can participate in constructive dialogue across ideologi­ cal differences. Illustrated with paintings...


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pp. 356-357
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