Black folk The roots of the Black working class

Blair Murphy Kelley, 1973-

Book - 2023

"An award-winning historian illuminates the adversities and joys of the Black working class in America through a stunning narrative centered on her forebears. There have been countless books, articles, and televised reports in recent years about the almost mythic "white working class," a tide of commentary that has obscured the labor, and even the very existence, of entire groups of working people, including everyday Black workers. In this brilliant corrective, Black Folk, acclaimed historian Blair LM Kelley restores the Black working class to the center of the American story. Spanning two hundred years--from one of Kelley's earliest known ancestors, an enslaved blacksmith, to the essential workers of the Covid-19 pandem...ic--Black Folk highlights the lives of the laundresses, Pullman porters, domestic maids, and postal workers who established the Black working class as a force in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Taking jobs white people didn't want and confined to segregated neighborhoods, Black workers found community in intimate spaces, from stoops on city streets to the backyards of washerwomen, where multiple generations labored from dawn to dusk, talking and laughing in a space free of white supervision and largely beyond white knowledge. As millions of Black people left the violence of the American South for the promise of a better life in the North and West, these networks of resistance and joy sustained early arrivals and newcomers alike and laid the groundwork for organizing for better jobs, better pay, and equal rights. As her narrative moves from Georgia to Philadelphia, Florida to Chicago, Texas to Oakland, Kelley treats Black workers not just as laborers, or members of a class, or activists, but as people whose daily experiences mattered--to themselves, to their communities, and to a nation that denied that basic fact. Through affecting portraits of her great-grandfather, a sharecropper named Solicitor, and her grandmother, Brunell, who worked for more than a decade as a domestic maid, Kelley captures, in intimate detail, how generation after generation of labor was required to improve, and at times maintain, her family's status. Yet her family, like so many others, was always animated by a vision of a better future. The church yards, factory floors, railcars, and postal sorting facilities where Black people worked were sites of possibility, and, as Kelley suggests, Amazon package processing centers, supermarkets, and nursing homes can be the same today. With the resurgence of labor activism in our own time, Black Folk presents a stirring history of our possible future."--Publisher.

Saved in:
2 people waiting

2nd Floor New Shelf Show me where

0 / 1 copies available
Location Call Number   Status
2nd Floor New Shelf 331.6396/Kelley (NEW SHELF) Due Sep 24, 2023
New York, NY : Liveright Publishing Corporations [2023]
Main Author
Blair Murphy Kelley, 1973- (author)
First edtion
Physical Description
338 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
Includes bibliographical references (pages 283-321) and index.
  • Introduction Solicitor
  • Chapter 1. Henry, a Blacksmith
  • Chapter 2. Sarah at Home, Working on Her Own Account
  • Chapter 3. Resistant Washerwomen
  • Chapter 4. The Jeremiad of the Porter
  • Chapter 5. Minnie and Bruce
  • Chapter 6. The Maids of the Migration
  • Chapter 7. Everything Sufficient for a Good Life
  • Conclusion Brunell
  • Acknowledgments
  • Notes
  • Index
Review by Booklist Review

Kelley's indictment of the systemic barriers that have affected countless Black families in work, housing, and more begins with her own family history of enslaved ancestors. Kelley, director of the Center for the Study of the American South and codirector of the Southern Futures initiative at the University of North Carolina, discusses how her grandfather John went to North Carolina and then Philadelphia, where he could not get hired as a carpenter despite his experience and faced housing discrimination. His wife, Brunel, only found work as a laundress or domestic. Kelley explores the topic of the Black working class in America by following a clear chronology, adding a necessary subtopic to the field of contemporary labor studies. Working class is coded as white and ignores racial hierarchies that ensured Black people always inhabit the tier below white peers. Readers will learn how washerwomen fought back against sexual advances or nonpayment. Other professions profiled include train-car porters, maids, postal workers, and farmers. The conclusion reminds readers of the inequalities and injustices that have disproportionately affected Black workers during the ongoing pandemic. Kelley calls on readers to remember "the most active, most engaged, most informed, and most impassioned working class in America is the Black working class." Recommended for academic and public libraries.

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Historian Kelley (Right to Ride) delivers a poignant and celebratory chronicle of Black labor movements in America. Alongside more well-known stories, such as the unionization of Pullman porters, Kelley also sheds new light on Black women's contributions to labor struggles. In the late 19th- and early 20th-century South, Black laundresses, recognizing white employers' dependence on their skilled work, cooperated to control their working conditions and time through jointly planned holidays, labor strikes, and an insistence on collection service rather than in-home service. When Black women joined the Great Migration north in the early 20th century, informal labor restrictions pushed them into domestic work, which made them especially vulnerable during the Great Depression. With 90% of Black women working in positions ineligible for Social Security, minimum wage, and other benefits, "New Deal regulations gave racial bias the force of law," according to Kelley, who posits that these women were architects of the organizational structures, such as informal childcare networks and fund-raising systems for family reunions, that laid the groundwork for the civil rights movements of the 1950s and '60s. Full of persuasive insights into Black working-class life and the legacy of communal care spearheaded by Black women, this is a powerful reimagining of the history of labor in the U.S. (June)

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Kirkus Book Review

A study of Black workers from enslavement to the present. Award-winning historian Kelley, director of the Center for the Study of the American South and author of Right To Ride, provides a powerful counter to the assumption that the term working class refers only to Whites. Rather, she argues convincingly, Black workers have been the nation's "most active, most engaged, most informed, and most impassioned working class." Rooted in her family's stories--she is the descendent of enslaved people--Kelley's history draws on census data and archival sources, as well, to offer vivid portraits of Blacks working as laundresses, porters, domestic workers, and postal carriers. She begins with Henry, her earliest identifiable ancestor in her maternal grandfather's line, who was enslaved as a boy and picked cotton and became a blacksmith as an adult. In 1865, he was freed to make his way in the working world, and in 1867, he registered to vote. Although Blacks often were relegated to menial jobs, they established vibrant and supportive communities for their families and at work. Kelley recounts bold efforts to resist exploitation. In 1898, for example, laundress Callie House led the establishment of the National Ex-Slave Mutual Relief, Bounty and Pension Association, which called for reparations due to Blacks for unpaid work during slavery; although short-lived, it presaged future calls for reparations. In the 1920s, many Blacks joined the Great Migration from the South to the North, Midwest, and West. Women aspiring to office or factory jobs usually found only arduous, demeaning domestic work--at least until World War II opened more opportunities. Black men were in demand as porters. Overworked and underpaid by the racially segregated Pullman company, they established the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the first all-Black railway union. The history of Black workers, Kelley asserts, is a continuing fight for "justice, fair pay, union representation, secure housing, and equal citizenship." A well-researched, engaging, corrective American history. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.