Saturday, February 28, 2015

February Reread - Having Our Say - Sarah L. Delany and A. Elizabeth Delany with Amy Hill Hearth

The subtitle of this wonderful book is The Delany Sisters' First 100 Years and that really says it all. This book contains the autobiographies of Sadie and Bessie Delany, two remarkable women who lived through Jim Crow, the Harlem Renaissance, two world wars (and then some), the Depression, the Civil Rights Movement, and really made their mark on the world. I first heard of these amazing ladies many years ago through a stage production based on this book (it was great, if you haven't seen it and you get the chance, definitely go!), and then I got this book soon after that. I've been wanting to reread it for a while, but I kept putting it off because of the enormous TBR pile, but I decided now was the time. This book is written in a conversational style that makes you feel like you are sitting with the sisters and they are speaking directly to you in a conversation. It's a great read, and I recommend it highly.

When this book was originally published in the 1990s, the sisters were 105 and 103 respectively, still living on their own and evidently still sharp as tacks. They have both since passed away. Their life stories are amazing; their father was born into slavery, and eventually became the first black person to be elected a bishop in the Episcopal church in the U.S. Sadie was the first black person allowed to teach high school domestic science (what we later called home ec) in New York City, and Bessie was only the second black woman licensed to practice dentistry in New York State. These ladies were in Harlem during the Harlem Renaissance and they knew Langston Hughes, James Weldon Johnson, W.E.B. Dubois, and other prominent people of color of that time. They had close encounters with racist organizations like the KKK and everyday racist creeps, and lived to tell the tales; they had to deal with the entrenched racism in society and managed to work around it as much as they could. I can't imagine having to deal with some of the things they dealt with.

There are two other books I haven't yet read, The Delany Sisters' Book of Everyday Wisdom, and a book written by Sadie, On My Own At 107: Reflections on Life Without Bessie. I'll have to add these to my ever-growing virtual TBR pile. I hope to live as long as these ladies, and to be even half as wise and smart and hardworking. This was a great way to wrap up this month's reading.

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