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The Historical Place of African American Women

Historian and author Deborah Gray White has compiled a new history of black women and their struggle against racism and male chauvinism. It's called "Too Heavy a Load: Black Women in Defense of Themselves 1894-1994" (W.W. Norton) White is a professor of history at Rutgers University and the co-director of the Rutgers Center for Historical Analysis.


Other segments from the episode on November 30, 1998

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, November 30, 1998: Interview with Mike Wallace; Interview with Deborah Gray White; Review Andrew Rangell's album "A Recital of Intimate Works."


Date: NOVEMBER 30, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 113001np.217
Head: Mike Wallace
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:06

TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR, I'm Terry Gross.

New York, it's a city that inspires strong feelings. Now, it's inspired a new passionate history called "Gotham." Our book critic, Maureen Corrigan, spoke with "Gotham's" co-author Mike Wallace.

MAUREEN CORRIGAN, BOOK CRITIC: In 1774, John Adams was attending the Continental Congress held in New York City. Adams anticipated the criticisms of later generations of visitors to the city when he complained: "with all the opulence and splendor of the city there is very little good breathing to be found. There is no modesty, their talk is very loud, very fast. If they ask you a question, before you can utter three words of your answer they will break out upon you again and talk away."

But despite the rude natives, the crowding, the crime, the dirt; New York City, more than any other city in the United States perhaps even the world, fascinates people. My guest, historian Mike Wallace, is someone who is irretrievably fallen under New York City's spell.

For the past 20 years, Wallace and his collaborator, fellow historian Edwin G. Burroughs, have been working together on a narrative history of New York City. The result, published this month, is an absorbing 1383 page book called "Gotham: a History of New York City to 1898." Volume two of "Gotham" which deals with the history of New York in the 20th century is in the works.

Mike Wallace, welcome to FRESH AIR.


CORRIGAN: How did two historians have the chutzpah, and there's a good New York City word for you, to sit down and try to write the history of New York City?

WALLACE: Well, I have to tell you that, in fact, in the beginning this was an even more lunatic enterprise. We sat down to attempt to write the history of the U.S. of A at much the same level of telling a story narrative detail.

And we put in several years and turned out hundreds and hundreds and pages and we realized that this was a project that would take about 11 lifetimes; we only had about two between us. So, first we got depressed and then we decided that we would decant this larger story into what, in our insanity, seemed like a more manageable topic which was the history of New York City.

But New York City considered in a national and a global context so that all of that work we had done would actually be able to inform this enterprise.

CORRIGAN: I would imagine, in fact I know, that the two of you would want to do more in this book then just synthesize the work of other historians which, I mean, you do a beautiful job of. But that you would want to put your own stamp on this history of New York. Can you give us a sense of the approach that you took as a historian to telling the story of New York?

WALLACE: Well, I do think it's important, first, to pay homage, an honor to the literally thousands of people -- the horrifying bibliography in this has got 2500 entries. And it's that collective labor that has made this possible, and also gave us the courage to, in fact, undertake this.

There has been an explosion of fabulous work that's been done in every single area you can imagine. Economic history, political history, cultural history, sexual history, family history, crime. But it's all been done pretty much in isolation from one to the other.

Academics have to tunnel their way through their subject, and they often have to talk in specialized language and jargon which advances the actual work in the field, but is, alas, incomprehensible to most other people.

So, we had two goals; one of them was to, in fact, take this stuff which is locked up in academic monographs and obscure learned journals in doctoral dissertations and put it into accessible language. And to connect things that are usually dealt with in isolation.

So, this is about sex, and sewer systems, and politics, and finance, and crime, and architecture, and banking, and family life. You name it; there is eight million stories in the naked city, virtually every one of them is in here.

So -- but the overarching goal was in fact to make this available to a general public. I, myself, have spent a fair amount of time during the course of this project working with museums, with places where popular culture is done; both analyzing the kinds of messages about history that get presented in places like Colonial Williamsburg or at Disneyland or documentary films.

And trying to work with that community of so-called public historians to get things out -- of the latest scholarship -- out to, you know, real people.

And historians, scholarly historians, in the 19th century used to do that brilliantly. The Bancrofts of the world wrote exquisite literate narrative prose. We sort of lost that over the last 50 years; partly, because, again, we were embroiled in this collective enterprise of rethinking, really, U.S. and New York history.

The best thing that I hear repeatedly now, I'm beginning slowly to believe it, is that people enjoy this book; that they have fun; that it's a page turner; that it reads like a historical novel.

And, indeed, it's really only the novelists who can bring all of these different areas together and present economics and all the rest of that stuff as lived experience which is the way it actually happens for people; all of these things happen at once.

So, we're not up to novelists standards, but so far if there's some wood about I'll knock on it -- so far, people really seem to, you know, like it. That's the best thing that I've heard so far.

CORRIGAN: Yeah, well, you really have recovered, I think, some of that drama and the narrative force of 19th-century histories when people used to read history books as though they were novels and vice versa.

WALLACE: For fun.

CORRIGAN: For fun, right. But I know that you're a founding member of "Radical History Review." I know from reading "Gotham" that one of the things that you're interested in is writing history from the bottom up.

You also gave me, as a reader, a real sense of the clashes of the different classes, races, religions in New York City from the beginning. And that's one of the things that I learned -- one of the many things that I learned from this book. Just how diverse a population New York City had from its -- it seems like from its very first day.

WALLACE: Absolutely. You know, again, both of us -- I mean, I did spend a lot of time working on this journal, basically it's coming out of the 1960s and '70s.

And history, which used to be -- I mean it was grand in the 19th century, but it was also pretty delimited in its subjects. We looked at the great political movers and shakers, or the best -- the great bankers, and so forth which is, you know, crucially important.

But what happened in the '60s in tandem with many voices in the country saying: hey, we're being left out of the national conversation. There were also voices saying we've been left out of the national history. And so, suddenly, Black history was discovered, and suddenly: oops, we left out 50 percent of the population.

Its not just that you add women back into the picture, it's that when you do that the entire story is transformed. Furthermore, you begin to broaden year definition of what your subject areas are, you know, now you're interested in family life which nobody cared about much in the 19th century except for a few female historians.

And you're interested in shopping and consumption history, and retail which led you to think more about communication, and media, and popular culture. So, you know, there's been a glorious prying open of the range of subjects that historians have covered.

This book, then, again, is an attempt to incorporate various actors; so indeed the immigrants are not the "theys" who are coming into our territory. Women are not, you know, some sideshow, Blacks are central to the question because, you know, this town was built really in some considerable measure on slavery.

And we also expand the range of subjects, and we also, in fact, focus heavily on conflict. And one of the things that we look at the same historical moment often from different perspectives. So, we'll be in one chapter looking at the genteel lifestyle of the emerging upper classes in the 1830s, and then in the next chapter we'll be looking at what's happening across town in the five points with the Irish immigrants and life on the streets.

And we're not hammering people over the heads with this, but you can see by the lived experience that the one side of town is into genteel domesticity and have the resources to afford these nice brownstones, and to develop a new privacy.

Whereas, on the other side of town, you know, therefore, the women, in fact, are in the streets a lot helping one another out, they are against social networks.

And we also show how the vision, then, from the genteel side looking across town is unmitigated squalor, and, also, how from the other side it's unmitigated privilege. And, you know, New Yorkers -- I mean its the case everywhere, but New York has been famous from the get go for these phenomenal juxtapositions of wealth and then, of course, various nationalities.

And they're all fascinated with each other, and they always have been. There's a mutual voyeurism...

CORRIGAN: They're fascinated and they're afraid. There's also a lot of anxiety.

WALLACE: Every imaginable possibility. There is fear -- if you're in the upper classes, there's fear of explosion, there's fear of crime, there's fear of political takeover because there are many more them who can vote.

There's also arrogance, and there's also condescension, there's also paternalism and benevolence, and good hearted attempts to uplift and improve the lives of the poor.

And on the other side, you know, you get poor people who are enraged, want to blow things up. You get people who want to organize labor unions, you get people, also, who desperately want to become rich. But you can't tell the story from one perspective -- you could, but it would be thin and boring.

CORRIGAN: Well, I want to get into some of these clashes and riots and all of the other dramatic moments that helped make New York what it is. But let's get to the $24 question though. Is it true that Dutch settlers bought Manhattan for $24 worth of wampum from the Native Americans?

WALLACE: Yes and no. No, in the sense that, of course, it wasn't dollars it was 60 gilders worth of trade goods. They weren't beads, they were probably, given what we -- because we don't really know, but probably given what other similar transactions involved, they were, what we would now call, high technology transfers.

You know, axes and stuff which, technically, therefore incalculable in their value to the folks on the other side. There's no question they did not pay a lot of money for this place. More important, I think, is the delight that New Yorkers take in an anachronistic reading: hey, we ripped these guys off, you know, this was going to become the most valuable real estate in the world and we got it for a song.

So, there's a little racial condescension here. Although, in fact, it's arguable that the people -- the Indians who made that transaction actually didn't even reside here and sort of took advantage of these guys and made a quick, you know, a little money.

But I think the deeper point is is that it signals -- it's taken as our primal deal, you know? And it's at the center of our cultural genetic material; we see ourselves as a city of deal makers and this was the founding deal.

CORRIGAN: Historian Mike Wallace has collaborated with Edwin Burroughs on a monumental new history of New York City called "Gotham." We'll be back after a short break.

This is FRESH AIR.


CORRIGAN: My guest is historian Michael Wallace. Together with his colleague Edwin Burroughs, he's written "Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898."

Well, in addition to characters -- human characters, you've also got some animal characters who seem to recur throughout the history of New York. And I'm thinking about pigs and the role they play in the history of New York in terms of sanitation, and also it seems like women's rights to earn a living.

Tell us about pigs and hogs, and the hog riots of the mid 19th century.

WALLACE: Pigs were, in fact, a poor people's food. And in the very early days when you were an artisan family, you had a little backyard you just kept your pig back there. But as the city grows the poor just let the pigs forage in the streets.

The new genteel classes are freaked by this. Partly because, of course, these are very uncouth beasts, and they're copulating in the street and this is violating the new genteel sensibilities. So, they decide that they're going to have hog roundups and they start sweeping these hogs up in the street.

But the largely Irish women who are attending these people, they know that they are there, they have sort of, you know, roundups every now and then.

And there are huge fights between the nascent police force and these enraged women whose property is being confiscated. And, in fact, most of the time the women are successful in saving their bacon.

It's only by mid century and on that the forces of sanitation get stronger because obviously there are also times and connections between animal -- there's a lot of dead hogs in the street, like dead horses in the street -- thousands of dead horses in the street.

This is an animal powered and animal fed place, and its also a time when there are still cows being driven through the streets because pre-refrigeration you can't have cows coming in from somewhere else. So, the slaughter houses have to be right next to the city.

None of this helps when you're dealing with a city that's prone to cholera plagues, and fever plagues, and such not. So, eventually the forces of public sanitation drive the pigs to the northern part of the city and then eventually of the island altogether, but it takes a century.

CORRIGAN: People who study New York ultimately have to confront the big question which is: is New York City America? A lot of critics say that New York is our most European city, and that it's an anomaly in the United States.

Other critics, other historians argue that New York City is the most Americans city because it's the city in which the promise of democracy seems to really come to life. You rub shoulders with everybody on the streets of New York. Where do you stand on the question?

WALLACE: I straddle it. I think the latter is the real truth, that the city -- let's face it it's not the good neighborhood club. I teach in a college that's in a public -- the City University, and I start my classes by doing a little ethnic census and asking, you know, who here with one of their ultimate great great great grandparents fitted in with this particular group, and we sort of march down in chronological order.

And virtually every semester I've got people who are Indians -- not Dutch, Dutch are hard. But English, and French, and German, and Irish, and Italians, and Poles, and you know, on into the New World of Filipinos, and Indians, and Ecuadoran, and so forth.

And I say: you want to know the story of New York? Look around this room. Now, also notice that so far this class has been relatively amicable before we're finished, you know, we may be at each other's throats here and there.

But it is the ability for all of us to be in the same space, and with minimal, at least, civility -- that is what is incredibly exciting about this place. And it took 300 years, in fact, to develop that.

So, the draft riots for one moment when, in fact, the people's were at each other's throats. They were innumerable other occasions when New Yorkers clashed.

But one of the consequences of all of this battling, and at the same time attraction. Because, you know, you're cheap by jail with your putated enemy -- that means sometimes you fight, that mean sometimes you make love.

And Avi's (ph) Irish Rose in "West Side Story," and such is a literary tradition that's coming out of that understanding that opposites attract as well. So, it's -- and I think it is the incredibly exciting collisions and connections between these myriads of people that generate this tremendous kinetic cultural energy which means that New York has been a source of incredible fertile cultural creativity.

So -- in fact many of the things that are created then go out onto the road. So -- and they range -- and then are seen as quintessentially American.


WALLACE: So, you know, many of the deep popular songs out of the heartland are being written in Tin Pan Alley by Eastern European Jews in conjunction with, you know, African Blacks in conjunction with Irish entrepreneurs. But then, in fact, they become putative Americana.

CORRIGAN: Well, it always -- it strikes me now is we're seeing all these disaster movies as we have been for the last couple of decades. Whenever a filmmaker wants to show the United States being threatened they show the monster stepping on the Chrysler building or the spaceship landing in Flushing Meadows. It's always New York, it seems, that's being destroyed.

WALLACE: Actually, there's a long tradition of disaster, not movies in those days, but disaster books. And there were some really quite astonishing ones.

To some extent, one of them "Caesar's Column" from the 1890s which has this wild ending which is class war, and ethnic war, and racial war with a great bonfire in Union Square when, after the masses have been maddened and seized, all the reach people killed in huge numbers and they stack their bodies up in this pyre, and they pour cemented concrete; and it reaches up to the sky.

You know, it's a horrifying vision. And it was one of the bestsellers throughout the United States. Now, to some extent it reflects that anti-New York anamist.

There are a lot of people out there who say: well, you know, this place is a collection of all these foreign people. There's Blacks, and there's more than that; there's Tamany Hall, and corruption, and there's the drink and liquor interest, there's gambling, there's sex, it's a wide-open crazy town.

Now, to some extent I think people in the West or the South or wherever are laying off on New York some of the vices which, in fact, alas, are far more general and can be found in their own neck of the woods, and that's part of the thing.

And yet, on the other side of that there's -- say, in the 1880s and 1890s they were hanging on New York society. Mrs. Astor and what the 400 did -- this was being devoured by farm girls in Montana reading the newspapers -- the national newspapers which are coming out of the national media center.

And so, people are fixated on the place in both, you know, antagonism and admiration and emulation. And, you know, there's real dependencies here. From the 1830s, when you wanted to begin building canals out in Ohio, they didn't have the money.

The money was in the eastern seaboard; so, you went to Wall Street and you borrowed the funds. Now, on the one hand you were pleased to get the funds because you could build things.

On the other hand, you were in hoc to these people and the grasping money, you know, image of Wall Street bankers had some reality to it. And they would foreclose on loans in hard times, and so, you know, Wall Street was detested because it was the center.

And yet, you needed it, and you had to turn -- so, there's been this astonishingly complex love-hate relationship, and it continues, of course, dramatically into the 20th century. But then, in fact, the balance of forces begins to change.

CORRIGAN: Well, Mike Wallace as one New Yorker to another I want to thank you so much for be my guest today on FRESH AIR. And I'm looking for to volume 2.

WALLACE: Thank you. I'm delighted to have been here.

GROSS: Mike Wallace is the co-author of "Gotham: a History of New York City to 1898." He spoke with FRESH AIRs book critic Maureen Corrigan.

I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.


Dateline: Terry Gross, Washington, DC
Guest: Mike Wallace
High: Book critic MAUREEN CORRIGAN interviews historian and author MIKE WALLACE. He's co-authored a monumental new history of New York City, "Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898" (Oxford University Press). WALLACE is a Professor of History at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York.
Spec: Books; Authors; New York City; Lifestyle; Culture; History

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Mike Wallace

Date: NOVEMBER 30, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 113002NP.217
Head: Deborah Gray White
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:30

TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR, I'm Terry Gross.

African-American women activists dealing with issues of race and gender sometimes find they're expected to choose one over the other. My guest, Deborah Gray White, wondered if Black women earlier in the century faced the same dilemma.

She's written a new book about African-American women's groups through the 20th century called "Too Heavy a Load: Black Women in Defense of Themselves." Deborah Gray White is a professor of history at Rutgers University where she co-directs the Rutgers Center for Historical Analysis. She is also the author of "Let My People Go: African-Americans 1804-1860," and "Aren't I a Woman: Female Slaves in the Plantation South."

She says that she was inspired to write her new book after watching Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill testify at Thomas' confirmation hearings.

DEBORAH GRAY WHITE, PROFESSOR, RUTGERS UNIVERSITY; AUTHOR "TOO HEAVY A LOAD": As I watched them almost do their verbal sparring on -- day by day on national television. I just wondered, you know, how it was that Anita Hill got herself into that situation. I felt for her, as I did also feel for Clarence Thomas.

And, as I say in the book I felt divided against myself. I felt like I could empathize and sympathize with Thomas because I saw this Black man being put on trial for his -- for, you know, his sexuality, and then I saw Anita Hill who people, I thought, really didn't understand.

She came out of a tradition of Black women being thought to be sexually promiscuous, and I don't think anyone knew that history.

GROSS: So, what were the questions most on your mind when you started your study?

WHITE: Well, there were a couple of -- there were lots of questions, and one of them was: how Black women dealt with Black men, and whether or not there had been the kind of gender tension, the kind of animosity that I saw sparked between Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas?

I wanted to know when that began, and what kind of history there was for it. I wanted to know if Black women had come to the Black women's defense because I did not see Black women coming to Anita Hill's defense.

And I also wanted to know what kind of issues -- one of the things that I think the Anita Hill-Clarence timeless confrontation sparked was a discussion between people of the Black middle class and working-class. And I wanted to know what kind of issues had sparked people's interest before that.

GROSS: Your book begins with the African-American women's clubs that began being organized in the 1890s. Clubs that led to the formation of the National Association of Colored Women. What issues did these clubs organized around?

WHITE: They organized, principally, around the issues of race leadership. Originally, Ida Wells Barnett (ph) was the person who they organized around.

She had gone to England as part of an anti-lynching crusade, and while there trying to get Englanders to support the anti-lynching crusade in America she was called by American journalists, one journalist in particular, a promiscuous licentious woman.

And that was sort of the gauntlet that was thrown down, and the National Association of Colored Women picked it up, and one of the things that they organized nice for was around defense of their name.

They wanted people to understand that Black women had a history of sexual exploitation, but it wasn't something that they had brought on, that they were respectable women just like other American women.

GROSS: And you say that a lot of the Black women in these organizations in groups at the turn-of-the-century believed that women were more nurturing, more moral, and more altruistic than men; they had moral superiority. How did that come into play in the women's groups?

WHITE: Well, first of all, I think we have to put it into some context because at the time -- it's the turn-of-the-century -- lynching was at its height. And Black people, and meaning by that Black men in particular, were being disfranchised. The vote had been granted with the 15th amendment and now it was being taken away.

There was segregation which was being instituted legally for the first time. So, here the thinking was that somehow Black men were really not able, and, in some cases, not capable of leading the race.

And that Black women being more moral, being more altruistic, being more in touch with the real needs of Black people; that, in fact, Black women were the salvation of the race; far more than Black men.

GROSS: How did Black men react to that idea?

WHITE: Well, with difficulty, I think. But, interestingly enough there were a lot of men who supported Black women at the turn-of-the-century, and who thought that Black women really could do the job that Black man either were not doing or could not do.

And, understanding that Black men were under siege; many men said: you know, you go right ahead, you write a book of acts for the race. On the other hand, there was a significant number of Black men who said: you know, we need our women to act like women.

GROSS: Give us a sense of what life would have been like for a woman who was active in the National Association of Colored Women in the early part of the 20th century.

WHITE: Well, I think she would have been married; she might have had maybe one or two children; if she didn't have one or two children she would have been taking care of some other family members children; she probably would have worked outside the home as a teacher or as a social worker, perhaps as a nurse.

She would have given time to her formal job, but on Sundays and Saturdays, and in her spare time she would have worked with the club; she would have met with them on an annual basis. And, more than likely, if she lived in the North she would have been an advocate for women's suffrage.

If she lived in the South she probably would have been very hemmed in. her life would have been really really different from the woman who was an agricultural worker, who was a sharecropper who worked from dawn to dusk in the fields.

She would not have worked in a White person's home which would have really differentiated her from the masses of Black women.

GROSS: How did the National Association of Colored Women connect with the White women's groups of the period.

WHITE: They didn't connect. In fact, one of the reasons, and just one of the reasons why the National Association of Colored Women is founded was because the General Federation of Women which was a White woman's group would not allow them to become members, and they did everything possible in scheming to make sure that Black women did not join.

Particularly the very very light skinned women who could've passed for White -- who were Black but could've have passed for White. They made sure that they could not join their organization. So, as a consequence Black women organized in their own racial group.

GROSS: Let's look at the 1920's. You describe the '20s as the age of the new Negro, and the new woman. What was new in each of these cases?

WHITE: Well, the new Negro signified by a new emphasis on the fight for civil rights. Black men had gone to World War I, they had been soldiers, they had died for the country. There was a sense that they deserved to be citizens in the fullest sense of the term, and what was new with the new woman was that she could vote.

And also there was the sense that she was now free to express her sexuality in a way that she hadn't been earlier in the century or in the 19th century. So, both the new Negro and the new woman emerged in the 1920s, and they really changed the nature of American life.

GROSS: How did they change the nature of the Black women's groups?

WHITE: Well, particularly for the National Association of Colored Women; here was a group that had argued that women were the best leaders of the race, and now Black men who had been soldiers were arguing: no, women are not the best leaders of the race, we are.

We have died, we have fought for this country. There was the Harlem Renaissance movement; most of the poets and the novelists, and the artists of the Harlem Renaissance movement were men. And there was a new militancy that they expressed, and it was about manhood rights.

What happened with the new woman movement is that Black women -- one of the things that the National Association of Colored Women had always done was to represent Black women as really very very moral, but also really very respectable. And respectable in a very asexual way, but here in the 1920s was the new woman claiming a sexuality and an openness about sexuality that was certainly very new.

And so, for the National Association of Colored Women to be, first of all, met with men who were going to be militant and who were going to say: women, you have to step back and men now have to lead. For the new woman to come up and say: it's okay to be very openly sexual, the national association was challenged, and was challenged on its very very premises.

GROSS: You say one of the crushing blows to the women's movement of the '20s was the Black Nationalism of the Garvey movement. How did they come into conflict?

WHITE: Well, Garvey was a Black Nationalist, and in arguing for Black Nationalism he argued that Black people ought to look to Africa not to America. He argued for sort of a racial purity movement that Black people should stay within their own group, they should buy within their own neighborhoods, and they should marry within their own groups.

And Black Nationalism was expressed in very masculine language; women became very symbolic in Black Nationalism as Queens and idols. They were symbolically the nurturers of the race, but as far as the leaders the Black Nationalist movement was for men, and for very manly representation of the race.

And as such, with all these things in mind, Garvey really did crush the National Association of Colored Women. Not the least because he argued for racial purity, and so many of the Black women who were head of the National Association of Colored Women were very very light skinned Black people.

And, you know, Garvey himself being very dark skinned and a very Black Nationalist; he did not see women as been adequate or, you know, leaders other race. He thought that in the international councils -- and this is one of the things he wanted Black people to do -- Black people in America. He wanted Black people in America to join with West Indian Blacks, to join with African Blacks, and in that arena he saw men as being the primary leaders.

And, you know, it's really hard for Black women to say no to that. And that, I think, was a really difficult choice because the movement was so short-lived it was a choice that Black women really didn't have to make in the 1920s. But who could resist being thought of a Queen, as a goddess, as someone who really didn't have to work, who would be taken care of.

Black women who had such a really long history of working in the fields and in other people's kitchens, you know, Garvey held out this promise that, you know, you won't have to work; we'll take care of you; we will be the supporters; we will be the bread winners; and you can sit back and you can be on the pedestal in the same way as White women.

GROSS: My guest is Deborah Gray White author of "Too Heavy a Load." We'll talk more after our break.

This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: If you're just joining us my guest is Deborah Gray White, and she is a historian based at Rutgers University, and the author of a new book called "Too Heavy a Load: Black Woman and Defense of Themselves 1894-1994." And it's a look at Black women's groups through the 20th century.

Now, you describe the 1960s as the era in which America's racial consciousness was masculinized. What do you mean by that?

WHITE: Well, at the very turn of the century there was this phrase that a race can rise no higher than its women. And both Black men and Black women supported this idea that Black women, when they became professionals -- again, because Black women had to deal with sexism and racism so that the entire race would rise.

But the 1960s a very crucial change came about, and that was that, you know -- it was sort of a completion of what had begun in the 1920s. That Black men had to lead the race; that if the family, for example, was to prosper then it had to be led by men; that men had to make a living wage; that women had to take a step back.

And not the least of one of the reasons for this happening was not the Moynihan Report that was released in 1965 that, literally, vilified Black women for having had a higher level of educational attainment and for doing better vis-a-vis White women than Black men had done vis-a-vis White men. There was this idea that voting rights; that segregation; that men really, as leaders of the race, had to prosper before the race would prosper.

GROSS: And you write too that there was the sense that a lot of Black women and their activism were being too domineering. They were emasculating men -- Black men.

WHITE: Many men felt that way. In fact, when you looked at -- and see, historically it had been the case that Black women could get away with being a little bit more assertive then Black men. I mean, lynching was a reality, and Black men were perceived to be a lot more threatening.

So, historically what had happened was that Black women did take the leading role in many families, did take the leading role in speaking up against discrimination. Historically, also, Black women generally had a higher level of education because in families the thinking was that: if I don't want my daughter to wind up as a domestic worker in somebody's kitchen then she has to get more education than my son who can, you know, find jobs better, but jobs that won't be as threatening to them particularly as far is being raped, as far as sexual exploitation.

My son can get a factory job or some kind of job, my daughter can't. So, families that could bring together money -- they put the money into the women's education. But by the 1960s those facts were taken out of historical context, and when you looked at them; when Black men look at him; when Moynihan looked at them they said: hey, Black women are doing better than Black men, and we need to put a stop to this.

GROSS: Are you suggesting that by putting a stop to it instead of just like raising the education of Black men, Black women were pushed down?

WHITE: Black women were told, they were told to take a step back.

GROSS: Do you think we're still there?

WHITE: I'd like to think that we are not, but I'm afraid that certain events of the last few years have shown that we still are there. For example, when Mike Tyson was released from prison, and he was imprisoned for raping a teenage girl, he was celebrated.

And there was this sense that, you know, there was something -- that, you know, this woman, this girl had done something to him as opposed to him having done something to her. He was seen as a hero. No one seemed to remember why he was in jail.

The Million Man March which said: that, OK, Black men had to atone for, well, whatever they had done in the past, and that this was not a time for women to march with Black men. There was a sense that: well, we can't be partners here that men have to take the lead.

GROSS: One of the issues you've dealt with in your new book "Too Heavy a Load," is how African-American women activists have dealt with their identity as women and as African-Americans. And I'm wondering if that's ever been a kind of divisive issue for you?

If you've ever had to ask yourself: which am I putting first, my identity as a woman or as a Black person, as a Black woman? I mean, does this just come naturally or do you have to like think all this through and find there's little battles waging inside of you?

WHITE: There are little battles waging inside of me when I'm challenged. Generally, I can't -- I mean, there's no way I can divide myself and be a woman on the one hand, sometimes, and then a Black on the other hand. Everything I do, every way I think has to do with me being both Black and female.

And when I answer when I'm challenged, and then people will say: well, aren't you Black? Don't you see yourself as Black, and why are you always dealing with women's issues? I say: well, I see things this way because I'm Black and female, and I'm also challenged...

And they say: well, how come you don't identify more with women? Well, I'm Black woman; so, even women's issues they have different significance than they would be if I were White.

During the Hill-Thomas confrontation I was asked to take a side, you know, by friends, by colleagues; you know, who do you side with? And it's like, I can see -- I side with both of them.

GROSS: Well, I want to thank you very much for talking with us.

WHITE: Oh, thank you for having me.

GROSS: Deborah Gray White is the author of "Too Heavy a Load: Black Women in Defense of Themselves." White co-directs the center for historical analysis at Rutgers University.

This is FRESH AIR.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.


Dateline: Terry Gross, Washington, DC
Guest: Deborah Gray White
High: Historian and author DEBORAH GRAY WHITE has compiled a new history of black women and their struggle against racism and male chauvinism. It's called "Too Heavy a Load: Black Women in Defense of Themselves 1894-1994" (W.W. Norton) WHITE is a professor of history at Rutgers University and the co- director of the Rutgers Center for Historical Analysis.
Spec: Race Relations; Civil Rights; Women

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Deborah Gray White

Date: NOVEMBER 30, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 113003NP.217
Head: Lloyd Schwartz
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:52

TERRY GROSS, HOST: Classical music critic Lloyd Schwartz is excited about a new CD by pianist Andrew Rangell; it's called "A Recital of Intimate Works." Although Schwartz isn't crazy about that title which sounds to him like an album of romantic dinner music. Lloyd says Rangell is someone who makes everything he plays sound as if it were intended for the individual ear of the listener.


LLOYD SCHWARTZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC CRITIC: Rangell has a reputation as an eccentric which seems to me a condition any artist who doesn't fall into a conventional mode ought to cherish. For instance, on this recording he plays the 17th century composer Johann Jacob Froberger's somber "C Minor Ricecare" as a prelude to Rangell's own transcription of the profound opening slow movement of Beethoven's "C Sharp Minor String Quartet" written a century and a half later.

The Froberger, Rangell says, embodies almost prophetically, the atmosphere which Beethoven breathed into his fugue. He's right, and this juxtaposition turns out to be extremely moving. Rangell is one of those players who seems to be thinking out loud as he plays.

Every note seems both inevitable and thoroughly felt -- lived through. Each phrase leads to another or answers one that's gone before. This is as true of such large-scale works as Bach's "Goldberg Variations" as of such miniatures as Bach's "Chorale Prelude: Sheep May Safely Graze" which Rangell plays here in a heavenly transcription by the great and almost forgotten Austrian pianist Agon Petry (ph).

It's good this is the last track on the CD because if you heard it earlier you might be tempted just to keep playing it over and over.


SCHWARTZ: I love the range of this Andrew Rangell disk. From Bach, and such earlier masters as Falink (ph) and Froberger; to Mozart; to colorful 20th-century jams by Georges Enescu and Olivier Messiaen.

Along with Bach though, Rangell's main man is Beethoven. And the centerpiece of this album is his wonderfully surprising and intricate performance of Beethoven's "Sixth Lay Opus 126 Bagatelles" (ph) another misleading title that suggests a triviality that belies the eloquence and gravity with which Beethoven grounds his poignant playfulness.


SCHWARTZ: Most of these performances were recorded between three and four years ago during an extended period when Rangell was prevented from performing in public by a serious hand injury incurred by overuse.

I'm delighted to see that this season Rangell is reentering the public arena. Between live performances and this enchanting and scintillating disk, we'll have the best of both worlds.

GROSS: Lloyd Schwartz is classical music editor of the "Boston Phoenix." He reviewed "A Recital of Intimate Works" by pianist Andrew Rangell on the Dorian label.

I'm Terry Gross.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.


Dateline: Terry Gross, Washington, DC
Guest: Lloyd Schwartz
High: Classical music critic LLOYD SCHWARTZ reviews "A Recital of Intimate Works" (Dorian label) by pianist Andrew Rangell.
Spec: Entertainment; Lifestyle; Culture; Music Industry; Lloyd Schwartz; Andrew Rangell

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Lloyd Schwartz
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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