- Colored No More: Reinventing Black Womanhood in Washington, D.C by Treva B. Lindsey
In Colored No More: Reinventing Black Womanhood in Washington, D.C., Treva B. Lindsey rethinks our periodization of the New Negro movement, which usually focuses on World War I and the Great Migration. This periodization, she argues, masculinizes the New Negro movement and centers on New York City. By focusing on the Jim Crow era of the 1890s through the 1920s and border cities like Washington, D.C., Lindsey identifies as New Negro women the members of the National Association of Colored Women and other groups who aimed "to transform themselves and their communities through demanding autonomy and equality for African American women" (p. 9).
A chapter on education points to the aspirational nature of "New Negro womanhood" as symbolized by the presence in the nation's capital of premier educational institutions like M Street High School and Howard University (p. 143). Howard promised equal education but was mired in sexist ideas that privileged leadership training for black men. Lucy Diggs Slowe became the university's first dean of women in 1922. She fought for black women's equality and access to leadership positions at Howard and created a women's campus with housing for female students by 1931. Slowe lived off-campus and was in a loving relationship with another black woman, the writer Mary Burrill. The New Negro women who knew them privately, Lindsey suggests, accepted a broader range of behaviors than current narrow understandings of respectability politics allow.
As a key element of New Negro womanhood, black beauty culture allowed black women, as entrepreneurs and consumers, to promote themselves as modern, urban, and beautiful in the face of a hostile, dominant white culture, Lindsey argues. Black women emulated the looks of famous race women they admired, such as the political celebrity Mary Church Terrell. Lindsey incorrectly cites Terrell's autobiography as proof that black women participated in a "modern black beauty culture" in the early 1870s by adding hair pieces to achieve the popular looks of the day (p. 73). In fact, Terrell was describing the self-adornment of elite white women who patronized her mother's hair store in Memphis. Even so, Lindsey's overall point is well taken: "Bodily adornment for New Negro women of Washington … signaled the importance of self-care within a society that repeatedly denied the humanity of black women" (p. 85).
A chapter on the politics of New Negro women focuses on "the Women's Suffrage March in Washington of 1913 as a specific site of inquiry" (p. 89). Black suffragists were determined to make themselves seen, in spite of white suffragist Alice Paul's racist reluctance to let them join the march. After identifying Terrell as "the face of the African American women's suffrage activism," Lindsey concludes that Terrell, twenty-two women of Howard University's Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, and other black suffragists agreed to march at the end of the parade (p. 95). Lindsey's evidence is thin, as it consists [End Page 198] of Paul's "personal recollections" and the seeming absence of black women in photographs of the march (p. 103). Paul's memories are unreliable since she repeatedly made racist statements and then evaded questions regarding her comments. W. E. B. Du Bois concluded, "an order went out to segregate them [black suffragists] in the parade, but telegrams and protests poured in and eventually the colored women marched according to their State and occupation without let or hindrance" ("Along the Color Line," The Crisis, 5 [April 1913], 267). Overall, Lindsey rightly identifies these black suffragists as courageous New Negro women who took a strong public stand for full equality and citizenship.
Lindsey's final chapter evocatively captures the dynamic intellectual and cultural life of the black women playwrights who gathered at writer Georgia Douglass...