The Maid Narratives: Black Domestics and White Families in the Jim Crow South

The Maid Narratives: Black Domestics and White Families in the Jim Crow South

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The Maid Narratives shares the memories of black domestic workers and the white families they served, uncovering the often intimate relationships between maid and mistress. Based on interviews with over fifty people -- both white and black -- these stories deliver a personal and powerful message about resilience and resistance in the face of oppression in the Jim Crow South.
The housekeepers, caretakers, sharecroppers, and cooks who share their experiences in The Maid Narratives ultimately moved away during the Great Migration. Their perspectives as servants who left for better opportunities outside of the South offer an original telling of physical and psychological survival in a racially oppressive caste system: Vinella Byrd, for instance, from Pine Bluff, Arkansas, recalls how a farmer she worked for would not allow her to clean her hands in the family's wash pan. These narratives are complemented by the voices of white women, such as Flora Templeton Stuart, from New Orleans, who remembers her maid fondly but realizes that she knew little about her life. Like Stuart, many of the white narrators remain troubled by the racial norms of the time. Viewed as a whole, the book presents varied, rich, and detailed accounts, often tragic, and sometimes humorous. The Maid Narratives reveals, across racial lines, shared hardships, strong emotional ties, and inspiring strength.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780807149706
Publisher: Louisiana State University Press
Publication date: 09/17/2012
Series: Southern Literary Studies
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 320
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Charletta Sudduth is an early-childhood consultant for the Waterloo Community School District. She earned a master's in social work and a doctorate in education, curriculum, and instruction from the University of Northern Iowa.

David W. Jackson III is assistant professor in the Department of African and African-American Studies at Metropolitan State College of Denver. He is co-producer of the oral video history project African-American Voices of the Cedar Valley. In 2006, he received the Trio Achiever of the Year award for the State of Iowa.

Katherine van Wormer, who grew up in New Orleans, is a sociologist and professor of social work at the University of Northern Iowa. She is the author or coauthor of sixteen books, including Death by Domestic Violence; Human Behavior and the Social Environment; Confronting Oppression, Restoring Justice; and Addiction Treatment: A Strengths Perspective.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments xi

Prologue: Notes from the Authors xiii

Part I The Background

1 Introduction 13

2 History and Context 17

3 The Women of the Great Migration 53

Part II The Maid Narratives

4 In Their Own Words 61

"They didn't want no Negroes to have no freedom." Elra Johnson 62

"I worked in the home of William Faulkner." Pearline Sisk Jones 68

"The man didn't want me to wash my hands in the wash pan." Vinella Byrd 74

"My mother named me after her doll." Mamie Johnson 76

"I worked for white families as soon as I was old enough to walk." Annie Victoria Johnson 89

"I wish to God I could tell you more, but it's too painful." Irene Williams 102

"I came from a little nobody to somebody." Odessa Roberts 112

'"She's twelve years old; call her Miss Nancy.'" Ruthie O'neal 117

"You never went in the front door." Annie Pearl Stevenson 127

"It's just the way we lived down South; nobody bothered anybody." Jimmie Lane 137

"I always thought that my brother might have been kin to them [the white family]." Melvina Scott 146

"[My sister] told me, 'I would not only clean the bathroom but I'd take a bath in the bathtub.'" Hazel Rankins 155

"I always wanted to be a teacher." Gloria Kirkland Holmes 162

5 The Maid Narrative Themes 168

Part III The White Family Narratives

6 In Their Own Words 201

"It's just not done." Elise Talmage 201

"I don't remember experiencing any tension or problem resulting from this custom." Flora Talmage Landwehr 204

"Thanks for the memories." Anne Noell Rowan 207

"You have to talk to them, and really listen to them." Hal Chase 210

"It was what it was, and now is no more." Margaret Smith 218

"To realize… that my family was a part of it was humiliating." Mary Hart 222

"Viola was my second mother." Lettice Binnings Stuart 224

"If only I had been able to appreciate her when I knew her as a child." Flora Templeton Stuart 227

"I grew up during Freedom Slimmer." Jeannie Falkner 231

"My story… has only one act." Beth Walker 234

"It remains a difficult topic to discuss in polite company." Barbara Jentleson 236

"She remembered me as a small child." Ann Levy 238

"These photos have been in every kitchen I have ever had." Susan Burdon Hudgens 239

"I wonder if May ever thought of us being spoiled." Penny Hanks 245

"My parents were civil rights allies." Barbara Lehmann 248

"My father was Native American." Lacey Sloan 249

7 The White Family Narrative Themes 253

Epilogue 283

References 287

Index 293

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