Skip to main content

Book 30 of 52: Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters' First 100 Years

I don't know what I could say about Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters' First 100 Years that hasn't already been said. This oral history of Sarah L. Delany and A. Elizabeth Delany, which was published in 1993, has been a sensation. Not only was it a New York Times bestseller (where it stayed for 28 weeks), but it was turned into a TV movie and play.

I can see why. The book is wonderful, and the oral history format is perfect for it. Amy Hill Hearth, who wrote the narrative, captured the wit and humor of the 100 year+ old Delany sisters, and their story says a lot about racism in America.

Their father was born a slave, and their mother was the daughter of a white man and black woman who couldn't marry because it was illegal in Virginia (though they considered themselves married). Together, they had 10 children, and all of them went to college. A. Elizabeth "Bessie" was the second black female dentist to be licensed in New York, and Sarah "Sadie" was the first black person to teach high school domestic science in a New York public school. Together, they give first person accounts of what it was like to live through everything from Jim Crow to Depression-era Harlem to moving into a white suburbs.

A few passages stuck out to me, who read the book 15 years after it was first published. One was on moving into that white suburb. Bessie says, "Back when Negroes were started to move into Mount Vernon, some of the white folks were mighty ornery. They would complain about such petty things, like the way that Negro children would play in the was little things like that, little cultural differences, that were the source of tension."

It reminded me of a recent post on about a movement to keep African Americans out of the Fishtown part of Philadelphia. I wasn't so shocked that Sadie and Bessie got the cold shoulder, but that, 50 years later, this attitude still exists? And people actually post it on telephone poles? Unbelievable.

Then, given the close race between Hilary and Obama, this was really interesting -- Bessie says, "See, I think while people would rather die than vote for a Negro president. I predict there will be a white woman president before there is a Negro president. And if a Negro is elected president? That person will be a Negro woman." Will Bessie be right? We'll see.

I'm interviewing Amy Hill Hearth on Monday. Her next book, "Strong Medicine" Speaks: A Native American Elder Has Her Say, comes out in March. It's another oral history, and I can't wait to start reading it. I'll write more about my interesting connection to Hearth in the next stay tuned!

But I'll leave you with my favorite line in the book, again from Bessie: "When Negroes are average, they fail, unless they are very, very lucky. Now, if you're average and white, honey, you can go far. Just look at Dan Quayle. If that boy was colored he'd be washing dishes somewhere."



Popular posts from this blog

Book 23 of 52: Because of Miss Bridgerton by Julia Quinn

More romance? Of course! The world is on fire, and I can't ingest all the fires all the time. Sometimes I want to turn to genre fiction as an escape, even if an escape is into a patriarchal society where it's SCANDAL that a woman sometimes, when riding a horse, wears pants. Because of Miss Bridgerton is the first book in Julia Quinn's Rokesbys Series , which are prequels to her enormously popular  Bridgerton Series  (and now a  Netflix show ). These books are similar, of course, but instead being set in the Recency era of the 1810s, these books take place at the same time as the American Revolution (though still in England).  Here we meet Sybilla "Bille" Bridergton, who is stuck on the roof of a building because she chased a cat up there. She climbed up herself (scandalous woman!) but also twisted her ankle in the process, which is why she needs help to get down.  That help comes from George Rokesby. Their families are neighbors, and they've known each other

Book 12 of 52: Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi

Marjane Satrapi is an author and graphic novelist who grew up in Iran and, as a tween and teen, lived in the country through  the Iranian Revolution before her parents sent her to Europe for school, and for her safety.  As an adult, she wrote Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood ,  a nonfiction graphic novel, originally in French. I read the English translation, which was published in 2003, three years after the original. It was a critical success, won a slew of awards, and became a movie . I haven't read the sequel, Persepolis 2 , but I hope to (you can also  buy them in a set . I found Persepolis  in a Little Free Library, or I'd have bought them combined).  In the tradition of Art Spiegelman's  Maus , which is about the author's father talking to him about the Holocaust,  Persepolis  is a memoir of trauma told through a mix of images and words that when combined, combust into powerful, beautiful and soul cracking art.  For example, Satrapi portrays the 1978 Cinema R

Book 26 of 52: The Palace Papers: Inside the House of Windsor — the Truth and the Turmoil by Tina Brown

I'm not going to write a long review of Tina Brown's The Palace Papers: Inside the House of Windsor — the Truth and the Turmoil  for two reasons. First, it's been hashed to death already, as anything about the royals is, by people who are far more invested in this whole thing than I am. And second, I'm in the frantic "do I really need a jean jacket AND a windbreaker" level of packing before a long trip. I can say that I didn't mind listening to this nearly 18 hour audiobook while the rest of the world is on fire, although of course they are not insulated. We can pretend that the Royal Family lives in a bubble, but they are enormously influential; touched by the same issues of race, class and gender; and Queen Elizabeth II is one of most influential politicians of modern times — and she is a politician, no matter what anyone says. Her death will be a global, cultural moment. Same thing with the Pope, on both fronts. I listened to Brown's  The Diana Chro