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Writing through Jane Crow

Writing through Jane Crow: Race and Gender Politics in African American Literature

AYESHA K. HARDISON
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 296
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt6wrn9t
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    Writing through Jane Crow
    Book Description:

    InWriting through Jane Crow,Ayesha Hardison examines African American literature and its representation of black women during the pivotal but frequently overlooked decades of the 1940s and 1950s. At the height of Jim Crow racial segregation-a time of transition between the Harlem Renaissance and the Black Arts movement and between World War II and the modern civil rights movement-black writers also addressed the effects of "Jane Crow," the interconnected racial, gender, and sexual oppression that black women experienced. Hardison maps the contours of this literary moment with the understudied works of well-known writers like Gwendolyn Brooks, Zora Neale Hurston, Ann Petry, and Richard Wright as well as the writings of neglected figures like Curtis Lucas, Pauli Murray, and Era Bell Thompson.

    By shifting her focus from the canonical works of male writers who dominated the period, the author recovers the work of black women writers. Hardison shows how their texts anticipated the renaissance of black women's writing in later decades and initiates new conversations on the representation of women in texts by black male writers. She draws on a rich collection of memoirs, music, etiquette guides, and comics to further reveal the texture and tensions of the era.

    eISBN: 978-0-8139-3594-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Introduction: Defining Jane Crow
    (pp. 1-24)

    The shadow of Jim Crow loomed over African Americans’ bodies and imaginations throughout the first half of the twentieth century. As the personification of racial discrimination, Jim Crow was a mocking nineteenth-century stereotype performed by blackface minstrels and a system of laws and customs practiced by whites to oppress black subjects after Reconstruction.¹ The withdrawal of federal troops from the South in 1877 and thePlessy v. FergusonU.S. Supreme Court decision in 1896 imposed racial segregation on housing, work, leisure, public transportation, and civil rights protest. The southern white policeman in James Baldwin’s short story “Going to Meet the...

  5. 1 At the Point of No Return: A Native Son and His Gorgon Muse
    (pp. 25-53)

    In the essay “How Bigger Was Born” (1940), Richard Wright first discusses the impetus behind his best-selling first novel,Native Son(1940), then divulges his intentions to complete a new, unnamed work theorizing the distinct grievances of black women. Wright credits his northern migration and participation in the labor movement for engenderingNative Son’s black male protagonist as a universal signifier for the politically disenfranchised and disinherited. Throughout his southern maturation, the writer knew personally several “Bigger Thomases” whose bullying swagger, intraracial violence, defiance of Jim Crow laws, social restlessness, and recurring melancholy fated their broken spirits, imprisonment, and death....

  6. 2 Gender Conscriptions, Class Conciliations, and the Bourgeois Blues Aesthetic
    (pp. 54-84)

    InThe Correct Thing to Do—to Say—to Wear(1940), educator Charlotte Hawkins Brown offers the etiquette advice in the first epigraph as an early twentieth-century script for African American women’s performance of middle-class respectability. The list of twenty-four do’s and implied don’ts constitutes the chapter titled “The Earmarks of a Lady.” Deemed by contemporary scholars Charles W. Wadelington and Richard F. Knapp as the “first lady of social graces,” Brown encourages decorum and admonishes uncouthness for the junior and senior high school students attending her Palmer Memorial Institute in North Carolina in addition to the adult readers of...

  7. 3 “Nobody Could Tell Who This Be”: Black and White Doubles and the Challenge to Pedestal Femininity
    (pp. 85-116)

    Despite the historically entrenched social and political divisions between black and white women, Zora Neale Hurston’s and Ann Petry’s works wrestle with Jane Crow oppression by signifying on the ironic congruity between the seemingly privileged and the institutionally disenfranchised. For example, in Petry’s short story “The Bones of Louella Brown” (1947), the exhumed bodies of the titular black laundress and a white countess are so indistinguishable that they are reburied together. Initially Louella is laid to rest in the outskirts of the all-white Yew Tree Cemetery at the behest of her white female employer, whose charge intimates a gender alliance...

  8. 4 “I’ll See How Crazy They Think I Am”: Pulping Sexual Violence, Racial Melancholia, and Healthy Citizenship
    (pp. 117-143)

    Before Daisy Bates promised her dying father that she would not allow whites’ racism to debilitate her, she nurtured a secret enmity against them. Bates became president of the Arkansas Conference of the NAACP in 1952, and she was an advisor to the Little Rock Nine during the integration of Central High School in 1957. At eight years old, however, Bates initiated a “private vendetta” after learning she was adopted. Three white men sexually assaulted and murdered her biological mother, and her biological father deserted the small mill town of Huttig, Arkansas, for fear of reprisals if he pursued criminal...

  9. 5 Rereading the Construction of Womanhood in Popular Narratives of Domesticity
    (pp. 144-173)

    Signifying on the Bible’s Twenty-third Psalm, Johnny Dirthrower’s impassioned 1950 letter to the editors ofNegro Digestcriticizes Johnson Publishing Company’s exploitation of black readers. The letter translates biblical piety into a condemnation of print discourses produced by, about, and for African Americans. The psalm’s opening verse, “The Lord is my shepherd; . . . he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake,” is the antecedent for Dirthrower’s detraction of the black press, which “leadeth me into the path of complacency for advertisement sake.”¹ Dirthrower believed the materialistic “baloney” inundating black readers delivered neither the spiritual...

  10. 6 The Audacity of Hope: An American Daughter and Her Dream of Cultural Hybridity
    (pp. 174-202)

    Before semiretiring as the international editor ofEbonymagazine in 1970 and receiving the prestigious Theodore Roosevelt Rough Rider Award in 1976, Era Bell Thompson recounted her coming of age as a black woman and a writer in her autobiography,American Daughter(1946). The memoir compellingly maps the rough terrain of her motherless girlhood among a family of men on North Dakota’s predominantly white prairies.American Daughter’s success established Thompson’s distinguished career with Johnson Publishing Company, first as an associate editor ofNegro Digestin 1947, then as an associate editor ofEbonyin 1949, and later as a comanaging...

  11. Epilogue: Refashioning Jane Crow and the Black Female Body
    (pp. 203-220)

    While the previous chapters favor portraits of black female subjectivity in mid-twentieth-century African American novels, I round off my discussion with Jackie Ormes’s contemporaneous illustrations of black womanhood. This epilogue endsWriting through Jane Crowin the manner in which the book begins: with my resistance to reinscribing old, reductive critical frameworks and to imposing new, tidy literary histories of the period. Instead of summing up my study, I continue its exploration of disparate yet related episodes in mid-twentieth-century black literary production by looking at the oeuvre of the first black female cartoonist to draw her own syndicated comic strip.¹...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 221-248)
  13. Works Cited
    (pp. 249-270)
  14. Index
    (pp. 271-281)