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Labor of Love, Labor of Sorrow: Black Women, Work, and the Family from Slavery to the Present

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A powerful account of the changing role of American black women in the labor force and in the family.


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A powerful account of the changing role of American black women in the labor force and in the family.

30 review for Labor of Love, Labor of Sorrow: Black Women, Work, and the Family from Slavery to the Present

  1. 4 out of 5

    Amanda

    Professor Jacqueline Jones presents the extensively researched history of the dual working worlds of black American women–at home and in the workforce–from slavery to present. She highlights the ways in which the unique cultural history of slavery as well as being subject to both sexism and racism have impacted black American women’s lives. I believe this nonfiction work suffers for two reasons. First, the scope is huge, overwhelming really. Jones attempts to condense and impart a huge amount of Professor Jacqueline Jones presents the extensively researched history of the dual working worlds of black American women–at home and in the workforce–from slavery to present. She highlights the ways in which the unique cultural history of slavery as well as being subject to both sexism and racism have impacted black American women’s lives. I believe this nonfiction work suffers for two reasons. First, the scope is huge, overwhelming really. Jones attempts to condense and impart a huge amount of information within one book. It felt like I had bit off more than I could chew, and perhaps so did she. Whereas the early decades (slavery, Jim Crow south) consisted of a wealth of detailed information on individual's lives that truly broadened my horizons, the later decades quickly became pages and pages of statistics that simply do nothing to help me picture life for those people. Second, I feel that in Prof Jones’ passion for the plight of minorities in the US, she can sometimes over-compensate the opposite direction. By that I mean, she sometimes presents minorities as super-human or at no fault for their own actions or she’ll ignore negatives entirely. For instance, every time Jones tells a story of a woman working herself to the bone trying to provide for her children only to have her husband abandon her, Jones excuses the man by saying….”Well…..racism,” and moves on. Certainly, I am sure that some of these men were simply stressed out and thus abandoned their families, but I’m also certain that some of them were just assholes and would have done so in a completely non-racist society. To wit, I believe Jones falls too hardly on the nurture side of nature/nurture, when psychiatry has repeatedly demonstrated that it actually is a combination of the two that determines an individual’s behavior. By this I mean, I am certain that a non-racist society would lead to a larger percentage of happy, healthy families, but it by no means would wipe out all questionable behavior by all members of that race. To suggest that all members of a race would be “good” minus racism is just as racist as to suggest that all members of a race are “bad.” Now, these two criticisms did not at all prevent me from learning from this book. It is important to learn more about not just black history, but also black women's history. Too often they get skipped in historic nonfiction. I would advise, however, to perhaps acquire the print version and read about the various decades separately over a span of months so as not to become overwhelmed by the sheer wealth of information. Check out my full review.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Jaime Rispoli-Roberts

    In her book Labor of Love, Labor of Sorrow: Black Women, Work, and the Family, from Slavery to the Present, history professor Jacqueline Jones argues for the tension of black women's work for their families, communities and their work for whites. She describes this work as it is performed against the backdrop of political economy, as well as the social division of labor, particularly in terms of gender, but also by race. Jones discusses these forces as they shaped labor patterns of black women, In her book Labor of Love, Labor of Sorrow: Black Women, Work, and the Family, from Slavery to the Present, history professor Jacqueline Jones argues for the tension of black women's work for their families, communities and their work for whites. She describes this work as it is performed against the backdrop of political economy, as well as the social division of labor, particularly in terms of gender, but also by race. Jones discusses these forces as they shaped labor patterns of black women, from slavery to the paid labor force, as well as at home, and in communities, and how they affected the struggle black women (and men) faced in living their lives on their own terms. Jones covers extensive ground: starting with the rural South 1830, to rural and urban south post-antebellum, the great migration (from the country to the cities), early 20th century, the great depression, WWI and WWII, the civil rights movement, through the 1980s, until present day. Jones makes extensive use of primary and secondary materials in her book. She uses magazine articles, newspapers, books, government reports (especially the census) and statistics, manuscripts, oral histories and scholarly essays. She cites over one thousand sources. Jones uses a feminist perspective for much of her analysis, which comes through in many places. She touches on the the contrast between white and black women of the 50s and 60s, the Feminine Mystic and the "ideal woman" concept. She presents evidence from Ebony magazine which applauded black women for their careers, whereas Ladies Home Journal, which claimed white women with careers were suffering from personality disorders." There are some limitations to her study: she does not engage in a comprehensive discussion of education or religious institutions (which she admits herself), and she only touches briefly on free black women's experiences during slavery and northern and other non-southern blacks experiences are in large part ignored.Jones challenges some ideas of scholars: especially the idea that black families are matriarchal in nature. However, she is up front about the limitations and in fact she encourages further study of the subject. Much of women's labor history has often focused on white womens experiences , and more work needs to be done on how being female and black, has contributed to black women's work, family and community experiences.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Doris Raines

    It. Is. True. Slavery. Also. Came. In. Other. Flavors. Of. Course. That. Is. Not. Mentioned. Not. Only. In. One. Skin. Tone. But. Many. All. In. Our. Kool. Aide. And. Dont. Even. Know. The. Flavor.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Bookworm

    Interesting book but perhaps needed a different approach. With Labor Day coming up in the US this seemed like a good time to finally pick this up after seeing this on a list a year or two ago. The book looks at the role of black women in the US work force from slavery to the more recent day (this was first published in 1986 and that's the version I read). From the fields to domestic to work to entering the workforce to wartime to the more "modern" era this looks at black women and how their role Interesting book but perhaps needed a different approach. With Labor Day coming up in the US this seemed like a good time to finally pick this up after seeing this on a list a year or two ago. The book looks at the role of black women in the US work force from slavery to the more recent day (this was first published in 1986 and that's the version I read). From the fields to domestic to work to entering the workforce to wartime to the more "modern" era this looks at black women and how their roles changed, how they worked, etc.   It's a huge, ambitious work and I think a review on Goodreads nails it well in that maybe this was too much for one volume. The initial chapters that focused in the colonial times through the Civil War were really interesting (especially when given the lack of source material due to time, the inability to read/write, etc.). But the post-Civil War chapters just sort of dragged and dragged. Sometimes it just felt the author was putting down fact after fact like a very dry textbook. It's an interesting topic but I'm not sure if the author's approach worked for me.   In some ways I found it was much easier to understand via other works. I was reminded of Isabel Wilkerson's 'The Warmth of Other Suns' which addresses the history of black people leaving the South to move North or West or even 'The Help' which has black domestic workers as a major part of the story. To be fair 'The Help' is a book of fiction that has many issues but I was reminded of that story when reading this.    If this is a topic that interests you then by all means it's worth borrowing from the library or buying as a bargain book. But if it's something you don't know much about (which may be part of my problem) OR you have an interest in a particular time period Jones writes about then you may want to look at the book first before deciding to dive in. Would not be surprised to see this pop up in a class about black people, the history of labor and other related subjects.   It might be better to go for books that focus on more specific aspects/topics. I wholeheartedly recommend 'Warmth' although that book is not about black women specifically. Otherwise this wasn't a bad read (and maybe I should have gone for the updated version instead) but I didn't quite get what I had hoped out of this text. 

  5. 4 out of 5

    Trisha

    Labor of Love is a study of the roles of Black women which analyzes the affect racial prejudice and sexual discrimination have on Black women as bread winners and as the guardians of family and stability in the black community.

  6. 4 out of 5

    John

    So many statistics but still an easy read, learned many thing which were also easily forgotten, A black female reader would find this much more interesting than this old white guy. But I am glad I read it.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Sara

    Written in 1984, Labor of Love, Labor of Sorrow covers roughly 150 years of labor and family history of black women in the United States. By focusing on work and family, Jones is able to address (among many other things) the disturbing continuities in black women's lives before, during, and after the Civil War as regards why they worked, for whom they worked, what the did, and how much they earned. However this story is also a heartening one about black women, over and over again, choosing to ac Written in 1984, Labor of Love, Labor of Sorrow covers roughly 150 years of labor and family history of black women in the United States. By focusing on work and family, Jones is able to address (among many other things) the disturbing continuities in black women's lives before, during, and after the Civil War as regards why they worked, for whom they worked, what the did, and how much they earned. However this story is also a heartening one about black women, over and over again, choosing to accentuate in their own lives the well-being of their families, kin groups and communities, in the face of dominant white pressure concerning how, when and at what a black woman was "meant" to labor, economic individualism, and profit as the highest good. Of particular interest to me was the unremitting clear-sightedness Jones provides in terms of how the specific experiences of black women in the family, at work, and in society rendered, from their perspective, the predominantly white and middle class "Women's Lib" movement not only niche but self-indulgent. The vast majority of black women had been working - from coercion and need, not preference - since they were first brought to this country (in fact, had been working for white women) and, justifiably, perceived white people, not black men, as primary oppressors. This should not be remotely surprising, yet I mention it in light of conversations contemporary white feminists continue to have, believing feminism should be expansive and inclusive, when it is actually contextual and socio-economically determined. Incidentally, I think it should be expansive and inclusive, but it's fatuous and self-centered to speak as though it were, when historically and even in the present state of things it is not. In any event, this book only incidentally offers this critique of feminist theory. It does so much more in providing an important and offensively under-represented vision of the emotional and practical lives of American black women over many decades. Most vitally Jones, as a social historian, laid a lot of groundwork for future studies. She collected and quantified a formidable amount of data and also appears to have combed through a good number of oral histories. And yet for all of the counting and quantifying, the book is a very good read. Jones has narrative flow and an appealingly empathetic, sometimes wry, mode of observation. And one final beside-the-point: Given all of the history I read, I was surprised I did not find more ready-made shelves with which to categorize this. The only other likely candidates to "American History" was "Dystopian and Other Realities".

  8. 5 out of 5

    Addy

    At first the book was very concise. It did what it said it would discuss in the first part: southern black women. Then in the second part which was to discuss Northern women, it went all other the place. It was constantly shifted from North to South. If you say you're going to do one part Southern only and the one part Northern only, then I expect that. I also don't agree with was the belief that the labor unions are what made business owners give their workers higher pay. I did however like how At first the book was very concise. It did what it said it would discuss in the first part: southern black women. Then in the second part which was to discuss Northern women, it went all other the place. It was constantly shifted from North to South. If you say you're going to do one part Southern only and the one part Northern only, then I expect that. I also don't agree with was the belief that the labor unions are what made business owners give their workers higher pay. I did however like how the book revealed the truth about some unconstitutional laws that hurt black families: forbidding of child labor which many black families needed because of racism. It also covered how many labor unions wouldn't allow black women and would sacrifice them for the gains of white people. All in all, it was very good and I would recommend.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Chanel

    In essence, black women have not just stoically endured the inequities of the racial caste system; they have attempted, individually and collectively, openly and clandestinely, to transform the workplace and make it more responsive to their own and their households' needs. P. 323 In the absence of governmental prodding, at least some personnel officials will have little incentive to allow significant numbers of black women to penetrate the previously all-white sanctuaries of academic departments, In essence, black women have not just stoically endured the inequities of the racial caste system; they have attempted, individually and collectively, openly and clandestinely, to transform the workplace and make it more responsive to their own and their households' needs. P. 323 In the absence of governmental prodding, at least some personnel officials will have little incentive to allow significant numbers of black women to penetrate the previously all-white sanctuaries of academic departments, corporate boardrooms, business suites and lawyers' offices. P. 325 The above statements summarizes this nonfiction account of black women role and place in American workplace's both before and after the arrival in 1619 in Jamestown, Virginia. This was an excellent book. And although, this book was published in 1985, the historical analysis is still relevant today in 2017.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Cassandra

    The content of this book is extraordinary. It follows closely the circumstances of black women from pre-Civil War through to the 1980s. It does this without romanticizing their lives and without trivializing their struggles. However, the writing is dense and can sometimes be hard to get through. At several points, I found myself skimming through pages where I felt like I was being told the same story/information for the second, third, multiple time. At that point, some of the anecdotes cease to The content of this book is extraordinary. It follows closely the circumstances of black women from pre-Civil War through to the 1980s. It does this without romanticizing their lives and without trivializing their struggles. However, the writing is dense and can sometimes be hard to get through. At several points, I found myself skimming through pages where I felt like I was being told the same story/information for the second, third, multiple time. At that point, some of the anecdotes cease to have impact and begin to feel preachy. Despite this, the book closely examines the lives of black women throughout American history in a comprehensive, highly academic way.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Kendra Lee

    This book is a brilliant primer on institutional and systemic racism in America. It is NOT an easy read, though. Think a textbook for an African-American and/or Women's Studies college course. I am typically a fast reader. Not on this book. There is so much information to absorb. But, it did what a good text should do: it gave me new understanding and perspective, and it stoked my desire for more knowledge. This book is a brilliant primer on institutional and systemic racism in America. It is NOT an easy read, though. Think a textbook for an African-American and/or Women's Studies college course. I am typically a fast reader. Not on this book. There is so much information to absorb. But, it did what a good text should do: it gave me new understanding and perspective, and it stoked my desire for more knowledge.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Anne

    Lots of historical information about African American women. A little dry, but a must read for anyone studying Black Feminism.

  13. 5 out of 5

    LaShonda Katrice Barnett

    If you can only read one book on black women and slavery, let it be this one.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Angela

    historical documentation of black women in the family and their role as caregivers! An important read.

  15. 4 out of 5

    عمرو صلاح

  16. 4 out of 5

    Rachel

  17. 5 out of 5

    Anna

  18. 5 out of 5

    Misty

  19. 5 out of 5

    Vista-Kay McCroskey

  20. 5 out of 5

    Renee Jones

  21. 5 out of 5

    Kate Monteiro

  22. 4 out of 5

    Timothy Tyson

  23. 5 out of 5

    Joseph lewis

  24. 4 out of 5

    Max Vanderheyden

  25. 5 out of 5

    Amanda Geno

  26. 5 out of 5

    Eric Gugick

  27. 5 out of 5

    Lauren

  28. 4 out of 5

    Zachary Harless

  29. 5 out of 5

    James Hill Welborn III

  30. 5 out of 5

    Elle

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