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Fannie Barrier Williams

Fannie Barrier Williams: Crossing the Borders of Region and Race

Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 288
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    Fannie Barrier Williams
    Book Description:

    Born shortly before the Civil War, activist and reformer Fannie Barrier Williams (1855-1944) became one of the most prominent educated African American women of her generation. Hendricks shows how Williams became raced for the first time in early adulthood, when she became a teacher in Missouri and Washington, D.C., and faced the injustices of racism and the stark contrast between the lives of freed slaves and her own privileged upbringing in a western New York village. She carried this new awareness to Chicago, where she joined forces with black and predominantly white women's clubs, the Unitarian church, and various other interracial social justice organizations to become a prominent spokesperson for Progressive economic, racial, and gender reforms during the transformative period of industrialization. By highlighting how Williams experienced a set of freedoms in the North that were not imaginable in the South, this clearly-written, widely accessible biography expands how we understand intellectual possibilities, economic success, and social mobility in post-Reconstruction America.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09587-0
    Subjects: Sociology, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    Dressed in “beautiful blue silk,” Fannie Barrier attended the “fashionable colored wedding” of Josephine A. Stewart and George W. Ball in April 1881, which was held at Berean Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. She joined an illustrious group of what one of the leading white newspapers, theNational Republican, called “the youth and beauty of our colored citizens.” A major social event of the season, the wedding illuminated the prominence of black elite culture and highlighted the aristocratic stature of the bride’s family. Her father, Carter A. Stewart, held key positions in numerous social and political organizations and was one...

  6. 1. North of Slavery: Brockport
    (pp. 9-27)

    After a white mob lynched Richard Dixon and destroyed much of a black district in Springfield, Ohio, in March 1904, the editors of New York–based weeklyThe Independentdecided to examine “the negro problem” through a series of three articles.¹ All of the writers were anonymous because of “concern [for] their social if not personal safety,” and all were women, highlighting the significant impact of women’s voices in shaping racial discourse at the dawn of the twentieth century. The narrators viewed race and gender in unique and vastly different ways, illuminating how deep the racial fissure had become nearly...

  7. 2. “Completely Surrounded by Screens”: A Raced Identity
    (pp. 28-49)

    A young and determined Barrier left the insulation and security of Brockport in 1875 to teach in the black school system in a South confronted with Reconstruction and marked by stark contrasts with other regions of the country. She first went to Hannibal, Missouri, a small town on the Mississippi River in Marion County on the northeastern edge of the state, and then to Washington, D.C., where the largest and most cohesive group of black elites resided. These moves proved to be some of the most disconcerting, confounding, and valuable times in her life.

    Considered a border state during the...

  8. 3. Creating Community in the Midwest: Chicago
    (pp. 50-68)

    Even before Fannie and S. Laing Williams completed their wedding tour in Washington and settled into their home on Calumet Avenue in Chicago, they had been introduced to the city’s black community. TheWestern Appeal, one of the leading black newspapers in the Midwest, announced the nuptials. Listed on the front page under “Knots & Tours: Matrimonial Linkings and Spring Migration of Prominent People,” the notice highlighted S. Laing’s prominence in the community and solidified the couple’s place among the city’s elite.¹ More important, the announcement was a first step in the public ritual of introducing the two as a...

  9. 4. Crossing the Border of Race: The Unitarians, the World’s Fair, and the Chicago Woman’s Club
    (pp. 69-92)

    On the fourth Sunday in July of 1890, Barrier Williams was the guest speaker at All Souls Unitarian Church. It would not be the last time that she would appear in the pulpit, but this presentation topic, “Prudence Crandall Philleo,” had a particular meaning.¹ It honored the memory of Crandall, who had died the previous January. Crandall married Baptist minister Calvin Philleo shortly after she was forced to close her school for black girls in 1834. When the couple left Connecticut, they eventually migrated west and lived for a time in Illinois. Crandall’s life story was a strong illustration of...

  10. 5. A Distinctive Generation: “The Colored Woman’s Era”
    (pp. 93-118)

    In January 1893, Barrier Williams went to Washington to present the paper “The Opportunities of Western Women” to the Bethel Literary Association. She was there to celebrate the installation of Mary Church Terrell as president and to raise awareness about the activism of women in the rapidly growing western industrial corridor of the country. It was not the first time that she had returned to the city since her move to Chicago. She still had a strong tie to Washington and often visited her sister Ella there. But the invitation to speak at the Association in honor of Terrell’s presidency...

  11. 6. The New Century: North and South Meet
    (pp. 119-149)

    In 1899, theWashington Postcalled Barrier Williams “one of the best known colored women on the continent.”¹ Her appeal was local, regional, and national, it reached into the black and white club women’s movements, and it extended to leading black male educators and intellectuals. Her work as a journalist connected her to communities across the country and provided opportunities to discuss race, labor, and gender issues. She was an invited contributor to several black and white publications, opportunities that increased her visibility as she elucidated the important role of black women.² She was recognized for her integrative activism with...

  12. 7. A New Era: Duty, Responsibility, and Tension
    (pp. 150-172)

    For Barrier Williams, the center was anchored in the nearly 20-year-old black women’s club movement. Her involvement shifted from solidifying a national network to expanding the services of local organizations and increasing black women’s engagement with municipal work in Chicago. Responding to both hardening racial attitudes and the explosion of the black population in the second decade of the twentieth century, she joined forces with black and white club women in their attempts to solve the many problems that plagued the black community. The makings of the black ghetto that had begun at the turn of century had solidified by...

  13. Conclusion
    (pp. 173-176)

    Revealing that she had cut her ties to Chicago, Barrier Williams wrote to Francis Grimké in January 1927 that “my sister and I very much appreciated your kind words of approbation for the rather radical change we have made in our surroundings and life.” The burden of trying to inhabit “two places at once” had become too difficult and had forced her to make the decision to leave the city she had worked in for almost four decades. She didn’t regret the move but did express some unease, primarily because “it is a change of course and one which calls...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 177-214)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 215-230)
  16. Index
    (pp. 231-238)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 239-242)